Key Discourses in Early Childhood Intervention: A Case Study of an Early Intervention City

  • Clionagh Boyle

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The focus of this thesis is on understanding Early Intervention as a discourse; how it is generated and reproduced and how it makes possible certain processes and practices and limits others. In particular the study explores the dominant discourses of neuroscience and evidence-based practice that are associated with the notion of early childhood and how these are translated in policy and practice. The thesis identifies approaches to Early Childhood Intervention being implemented in the community, considering what kind of evidence these are based on as well as exploring how dominant discourses from research and policy might support some approaches and inhibit others. This is explored through a single complex case study of a self-proclaimed Early Intervention City in Northern Ireland. The framework for the study uses Bourdieu's 'thinking tools' of 'habitus', 'capital' and 'field' to explore the ways in which Early Intervention discourses impact on young children, parents and communities as well as in the broader political and policy context. The study findings highlight the ways in which the policy discourse, claiming an evidence base from neuroscience and research, locates the origin of a range of social problems in a deficit model of neurological development in early childhood and advocates parenting programmes as a solution which will bring transformative change. The analysis of accounts from the field however demonstrated a high degree of critical engagement amongst parents/carers, programme providers and policy makers. Community based practice and 'home grown' initiatives struggle within the policy field for recognition, yet 'home grown' carries significant social capital within and across communities. Professional wisdom, experience and expertise also carries significant capital in communities and with parents, particularly when this is flexible and attuned to their needs. It is suggested that the most significant challenge in all of this however is that while 'silver bullet' claims from evidence based programmes persist and 'home grown' initiatives promise community contextualised solutions, social inequalities for young children in the case study area remain persistently intractable.
Date of AwardDec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPaul Connolly (Supervisor) & Sarah Miller (Supervisor)

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