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What is FIRE research collective?
When children are asked about the most important things in their lives, the following things always come up in the TOP-5 list: that one would have friends, that one could be safe, that there would not be a need to fear other students. Experiences that feel nice, but also experiences that feel unfair and hurtful are a part of every child’s everyday life in friendships.
The troubles and challenges in peer-relations might weigh on a child’s mind more than adults might think they would. It is therefore important that there is an active conversation about children’s peer relationships, and that there is time and resources set aside for it both in everyday life, and in school, for example. This work is at the heart of the FIRE research collective.
The aim of the FIRE research collective is to promote safe friendships and peer-relations for children and young people. The aim is to identify the links between gender and power and the unfair use of power, as early as possible, before those become prolonged and develop into bullying.
Together with children, schools and collaborators, the FIRE research collective carries out research and develops and implements a variety of creative activities – workshops, activist events) and campaigns, on the themes of child wellbeing and peer-relations.
Our goal is to raise awareness of the abuses of power and harassment in children’s peer-relations and to explore art-based and research-activist methods. The aims are to enable children to express and address experiences of harassment in a safe way and build safer friendships/peer-relationships. In addition, we explore ways to communicate children’s experiences to other children, adults, educators, and decision makers to bring about sustainable change.
FIRE research collective is a group of researchers and professionals working in the field of gender and power in the peer-relations of children and young people. The collective includes researchers from the Faculty of Education of the University of Oulu, a media-producer, artists, educational professionals, and international experts. Learn more about our team here.
Many people might not think that bullying is just the tip of an iceberg.
Bullying is often preceded by various kinds of hurtful things occurring in peer-relations between children and youth. This is the type of action that happens in the interfaces of occasional violence, bullying, humor, mutually agreed-upon activities, friendship and caring. It is also intertwined with the popularity systems of children and youth. This harmful activity is often unconscious, normalized and/or subtle. That is why it is so difficult to recognise.
One form of this kind of hurtful behaviour is sexual harassment. It refers to attention related to gender or sexuality that feels confusing, unwanted, and embarrassing to the children or other children around. This can mean sexually toned jokes, or gender degrading speech about body, appearance, or personal life.
Sexual harassment can also be about a child being forced to judge their own “worthiness” in a romantic sense. Harassment can occur in both relations among girls and boys and between genders. Studies show that harassment in children’s peer relations can be visible, but often it is very subtle. Harassment is often entangled in friendships, romantic relationships or the pressures of being a girl or a boy.
Thus, harassment in children’s peer-relations is not necessarily easy to identify, as it is often a powerful mixture of excitement and mischief, fun and annoyance, pleasure and pain. In addition, harassment often occurs before the abusive power relations turn into a systematic bullying.
Majority of children feel left alone with questions related to harassment. Harmful power relations relations between children negatively affect children’s well-being, safety and school satisfaction. When prolonged, these abusive power relations may also lay a foundation for intimate partner violence and sexual harassment in adulthood.
FIRE collective aims to raise awareness about harassment that is commonplace for many Primary school children, and that relationship education in schools has a significant role in preventing harassment that might occur later in life. This should be considered in decision making, legislation, practical measures and in the allocation of recourses to teaching. We believe that new research knowledge, creative methods, awareness raising and support for children’s peer-relationships can help children to form equal and respectful relationships.
“FIRE” refers to the spark and will at the heart of the collective to nurture and build research-based knowledge, practices and collaboration to activate change towards safe peer culturess. FIRE stands Fostering Feminist Intra-activist Research in and around Education, which summarizes the theoretical, methodological, and ethical commitments of our work.
Fostering, to foster
Feminist and gender research
The work of the FIRE research collective is linked to past and ongoing research projects that focus on the entanglements of gender, violence, and power in children’s peer-cultures in educational setting, and how these issues can be addressed in ethically sustainable ways with children.
Currently this work is carried out in the Academy of Finland funded research project ‘Arts and research-activism for addressing sexual harassment in pre-teen peer cultures’ (2019-2023) and in a University of Oulu Eudaimonia institute's spearhead project Intervening sexual harassment in primary school: how arts and research activism matter (2022-2025). These projects are led by senior research fellow Tuija Huuki.