Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Wendy Luttrell

Committee Members

Ofelia Garcia

Amita Gupta

Suzanne Carothers

Subject Categories

Early Childhood Education


critical childhood studies, play, ethnography, agency, interdependency, intersectionality, early childhood, relational pedagogy


This critical ethnographic exploration of play analyzes how preschool children use fantasy play to understand gender, race, and ethnicity as they navigate social hierarchies, power, and identity. Theoretically, I frame play as agentic social action, with particular attention to how micro-interactions within the childhood classroom push against larger macro-ideological and pedagogical discourses. My central focus is on children’s exercise of agency through fantasy play, which I argue does not take place within a separate children’s culture but is interdependent and interconnected with adult culture and adult-controlled social structures and ideologies within the relational space of the classroom. My dissertation research informs and advances child focused research methodology through what I have termed “play ethnography.” I find that children take up specific intersectional dispositions in fantasy play; rather than the intersections of oppression that Critical Race Theory proposes, I suggest that children find intersections of power, intersections of agency in which they can maintain or exert power. Exploring fantasy play in classrooms reflects the dynamics of the instructional, institutional, and structural forces that shape childhood. Play is a form of cultural and political agency, and when children’s play is ignored, children’s agency is ignored. When play is lost, limited, or denied to certain children, we lose what can be learned about children and the experience of childhood in the classroom environment, as well as how children’s play relates to and reflects larger societal patterns and complexities.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Sunday, June 02, 2024

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.