People & Research: Maija Lanas is focused on discursive production of childhood and youth in school and in teacher education

The AGORA Research Centre brings together a wide diversity of researchers and research groups interested in current issues of social justice and equality in education. Here we will present their research. This time, we introduce professor Maija Lanas, University of Oulu.

What are your research top­ics?

I am a professor of education and I lead the research group SAFE (Social justice as the focus of education) in the university of Oulu. I am interested in the discursive production of childhood and youth in school and in teacher education. It is an interesting and important topic. Education has a major role in the production of childhood and youth but this is not commonly recognized in school context.  We tend to think of childhood as youth as determined by age, not as something constructed by how children and youth are positioned, or by the normalising practices in society but also, importantly, in school.

How does your research re­late to is­sues of so­cial justice and equal­ity?

In many ways. Most importantly, perhaps, the positions produced for children and youth in education have a direct impact on their possibilities to lead a life they choose and impact their surroundings.

Tell something about your latest/​​current research?

Quite recently published a research about how performing happy childhood can be seen as an occupational skill for children. The research is based on an in-depth analysis of how one Finnish girl’s perception of herself as a proper student changed as her life circumstances changed and it became increasingly difficult for her to perfom the role of a happy, contained child. The research was published in Childhood. In another research published in British Journal of Sociology of Education I and Kristiina Brunila argue that behind the idea of disturbing behaviour are the ideas of a normal developmental course and an idealised student, as well as increasing emphasis on management and measurement in school.

I find that educators and educational researchers sometimes take the ideas of bad behaviour and proper student too lightly, at face value without necessarily critically assessing who gets to define disturbance, under which conditions, and whose gaze is prioritized. In another study I, Eva Bendix Petersen and Krstiina looked into this, analysing 19 expert sources that are readily available for Finnish teachers. We found that the professional discourse about disturbing behaviour in Finland places the problem on the individual child or family while also silencing the individuals in question and portraying them as deficient. Furthermore, the sources produce a decontextualised notion of behaviour and describe it as either acceptable or unacceptable, completely overlooking any societal, historical or cultural aspects of behaviour or other mitigating circumstances. That study was published in Critical Studies in Education.

What kind of dis­cus­sions would you wish to ini­ti­ate with your research?

I would like my research to provide tools for those educators who wish to contribute to societal justice through education. It is a hard pill for Finnish educators to swallow that our education system is not completely equitable, and that it might even hurt some of our students. It is hard because we don’t want it to be true, and because fixing it is not simple. Equity is a core value on Finnish education, important to us all, and we hate feeling we may be failing in it without knowing a recipe for fixing it.

But it is like many social justice issues, simply raising awareness, asking difficult questions, and being open to critically reflect own practices already helps.  It is essential.


Lanas, Maija, Petersen, Eva Bendix, Brunila, Kristiina (2020) The discursive production of misbehaviour in professional literature. Critical Studies in Education. DOI:10.1080/17508487.2020.1771604

Lanas, Maija, Brunila, Kristiina (2019) Bad behavior in school: discursive approach. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 40 (5), 682-695. DOI:10.1080/01425692.2019.1581052

Lanas, Maija (2019) Can performing happy childhood be an occupational skill required of students? Childhood. 26(2), 250–262. DOI:10.1177/0907568218823882

Published 4.5.2021