Rosee Neville MPH 2015
Neighbourhoods have long been investigated as sources of influence in the lives of children. Exploring the way that children experience their neighbourhood is a vital component in understanding these influences and requires investigation of children’s own perceptions. Despite this, little research has been in Aotearoa New Zealand to understand the way that children perceive their own neighbourhood and how these perceptions are formed and affect them. This study sought to better understand children’s perception of neighbourhood as one of the myriad influences on a child’s life in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with thirteen children between 10-13 years old living within one high deprivation neighbourhood of Christchurch. In these interviews the children discussed their experiences, thoughts and feelings about their neighbourhood. Children were also given the opportunity to use drawing as a way to express the perceptions they had of their neighbourhood. Working with the children in this study has shaped the thesis to reflect neighbourhood through children’s eyes, identifying their interaction with is as a physical and social space, as well as a place that represents identity and belonging.
The data collected from interviews with the children was analysed using critical thematic analysis. The analysis shows that the children had complex perceptions of their neighbourhood which incorporated both the social and physical realms and the children in this study specifically focused upon two aspects of their neighbourhood experience. The first was the disrespectful attitudes expressed by outsiders towards their neighbourhood. Children’s accounts of attitudes and behaviours towards their neighbourhood reflected the presence of spatial stigma. They also discussed the nuanced ways that this stigma affected their sense of place and identity.
The second aspect of their experience that the children focused on in their interviews was the social networks with which they were familiar. These social networks functioned as a fundamental theme that was woven throughout their dialogues. Viable and tight-knit social networks were important to their perceptions of place, as well as to how they wished to present their place to outsiders. Social networks provided the children in this study with social capital which met emotional needs and to a lesser extent, physical needs. These networks also acted as an invaluable source of reassurance of the value of their place. In future research, these concepts should be considered and further investigated to uncover the relationship between spatial stigma and children’s tight social networks in more detail.