Resisting the Tyranny of Talk


  • Christina MacRae Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)
  • Charlotte Arculus Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)


Complicité, More-than-words, Early years’ pedagogies, Speech and language therapy, Early years’ arts practitioners


This article is based video data from a project called SALTMusic, for young children diagnosed as having “language delay.” The interdisciplinary action-research project was co-delivered by speech and language therapists and early childhood arts practitioners, with children and their parents. Addressing a concern that children’s lack of words places anxiety, guilt, and stress upon families, SALTMusic explored ways of engaging with children using minimum words, by focusing on playful encounters of bodies responding to a range of materials, objects, and sounds.  In this paper, we consider two filmed events from this project. We explore these events through the theme of this special issue, with its emphasis on the “complex intermingling of knowledges” between children, their families, early years’ arts practitioners, and speech therapists. We wish to think more deeply about what happens when adults talk less, and instead use space, sound, materials, and bodies to converse with toddlers.  In particular, we turn to the dramaturgical notion of complicité in order to enlarge our understanding of communication and conversation towards a mutually transformative sense of unfolding collective action. In particular, we ask what the potential of the concept of complicité might offer early years’ practice in an era of accountability, where the professionalisation discourses of early childhood education are creeping into and infecting parenting discourses. We ask if the concept of complicité might help adults working with young children to resist the domination of word-oriented discourses that eclipse implicit, bodily, and materially attuned ways of relating to the young child.

Author Biographies

Christina MacRae, Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)

Christina MacRae is a research fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University whose interests lie in early childhood care and education. She has a particular interest in the way that sensation, affect, and movement express a bodily relationship engagement with the world. She has recently carried out an ethnography called “The Sensory Nursery,” where she has experimented with methodologies that give more weight to materiality, relation, and bodily ways of knowing. She also has experience of working with young children in diverse settings a nursery teacher.


Charlotte Arculus, Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)

Charlotte Arculus is an artist-animateur and has worked with very young children for over 30 years. She is currently a doctoral student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her doctoral project “More Than Words” uses innovative film technologies and the temporal arts to understand the complex worlds of two-year-old children. She has presented, research, arts installations, and workshops nationally and internationally. She is the is the artistic director of Magic Adventure, an immersive, multi-arts installation project.