Shifting Conceptions of Self and Society in Fijian Kindergartens



Play with peers in urban Fijian kindergartens leads to significant changes in conceptions of self, gender, ethnicity, and social class. Rural children play in mixed gender groups where relationships among children are defined by relative age and kinship; children learn to see themselves as playing a role in a community. In contrast, urban kindergarten children negotiate their way through large groups of unrelated same-age peers by distinguishing friends from outsiders, leading to increased preoccupation with individual preferences and identities. Being in large groups of unfamiliar children of the same age causes Fijian children to categorize by gender, a relatively clear category marked by all the ethnic subcultures. Ethnic differences are de-emphasized in school settings, whereas class differences are increasingly important, as upwardly mobile professional parents invest in multiple years of kindergarten to improve children's skills in English. Kindergarten attendance both marks, and contributes to creating, an emerging middle-class community espousing modernist values and using consumption to index membership in an international community. [preschool, Fiji, acquisition of culture, gender, social class]