Research Staff Interests

Dr Abigail  Hackett


Abi's career began in museums and heritage, supporting the cultural sector to develop new approaches for working with diverse communities. She completed her PhD at University of Sheffield with Professor Kate Pahl, focusing on the experiences of two years old children in museum spaces. She is currently a Research Fellow at ESRI, focussing particularly on method and theory connected with the lived, embodied everyday experiences of very young children.

Research Interests

My focus is on the meaning making of young children, particularly those aged under three years. I am interested in the complexity of young children's non-verbal meaning making, and in particular I have developed a focus on their use of movement as a communicative practice. This connects with my theoretical interests in new materialism, sensory ethnography, multimodality, critical spatial theory and anthropology of childhood.

I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow (2017-2020). My project is entitled "The emergence of literacy in very young children: place and materiality in a more-than-human world." Working ethnographically in community settings in Northern England, I will investigate the role of place, materiality and the body in the emergence of literacy in young children between the ages of 12 and 36 months.

Research Groups

Children, young people and community
Theory, methodology and knowledge production

Research Projects

How do families with under fives experience museums?
This research is being carried out in collaboration with Humber Museums Partnership, a consortium of museums who are developing new approaches for working with children aged under five year. The research will address two research questions:
How do under 5s and their families use and experience the museum spaces in Humber?
How do museums identify their strengths for family audiences with young children under five years?

Creative Families (2015-2016)
A consultancy and research project on behalf of Cape UK, which involved developing research led guidance materials for a new Creative Families Award, a programme to be delivered to families with 1-4 year old children in museums.

Sounds of Childhood (2015)
This research drew on spatial theory and arts based research methodologies to explore how children experience and interpret sound in the environment.
With PI Lisa Procter at University of Sheffield.

How do children take health messages from an exhibition about the body? (2015)
Knowledge Exchange project with Eureka! The National Children’s Museums. The methodology for the project was a collaborative ethnography through which nursery and museum staff were trained to write fieldnotes and collect visual data.
With PI Hannah Fairbrother, University of Sheffield

Community Arts Zone (2013-2015)
The project looked at the intersection between literacy, arts practice and community at sites in Canada, USA and Rotherham.
With PI Jennifer Rowsell, Brock University.


Hackett, A., Procter, L. and Seymour, J. (eds) (2016) Children's Spatialities. Embodiment, Emotion and Agency. Palgrave Macmillan

Refereed Journal Articles

Hackett, A.C. & Somerville, M. (2017) Posthuman literacies: Young children moving in time, place and more-than-human worlds. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 17 pp 374-391

Procter, L.H. & Hackett, A. (2017) Playing with place in early childhood: An analysis of dark emotion and materiality in children’s play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 18 pp 213-226

Hackett, A.C., Pahl, K. & Pool, S. (2017) In amongst the glitter and the squashed blueberries: crafting a collaborative lens for children’s literacy pedagogy in a community setting. Pedagogies 12 pp 58-73

Hackett, A. (2016) Parents as researchers: collaborative ethnography with parents. Qualitative Research Available Online First

Hackett, A. (2016) Young children as wayfarers: learning about place by moving through it. Children and Society 30(3) pp169-179

Hackett, A., Pool, S., Rowsell, J. and Aghajan, B. (2015) Seen and Unseen: Using video data in ethnographic fieldwork. Qualitative Research Journal 15(4) pp430-444

Hackett, A. (2014) Zigging and Zooming 'll over the place: Young children's meaning making and moving in the museum. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 14(1) pp5-27

Hackett, A. (2012) Running and learning in the museum: a study of young children's behaviour in the museum, and their parents' discursive positioning of that behaviour. Childhoods Today 6(1) pp1-21

Hackett, A. and Dennell, R. (2003) Neanderthals as fiction in archaeological narrative. Antiquity 77(248)

Book Chapters

What parents know: a call for realistic accounts of parenting young children. Re-Imagining Contested Communities: Connecting Rotherham through Research

Hackett, A. (2015) Multimodality and Sensory Ethnography, in J. Roswell and K. Pahl (eds) Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies pp295-307

Hackett, A. (2015) Children's embodied entanglement and production of space in a museum, in Hackett, A., Procter, L. and Seymour, J. (eds) Children's Spatialities. Embodiment, Emotion and Agency London: Palgrave Macmillan pp75-92

Hackett, A. and Yamada-Rice, D. (2015) Producing visual records of movement: making meaning of young children's interactions with place, in E. Stirling and D. Yamada-Rice Visual Methods with Children and Young People. Academics and Visual Industries in Dialogue London: Palgrave Macmillan pp29-49

Other Publications

Edited special issues
Hackett, A. and Yamada-Rice, D. (2014) Special issue on New directions in research on emergent literacy. Early Education Journal 74

Book reviews
Abdi, M. and Hackett, A. (2016) 'Critical Literacy in the early childhood classroom: Unpacking histories, unlearning privilege.' by Candace R. Kuby Journal of Early Childhood Literacy

Non-peer reviewed journal articles
Hackett, A. (2014) Toddlers in Museums. Journal of Education in Museums 35 pp29-34

Hackett, A. (2014) Movement and Emergent Literacy. Early Education Journal 74 pp4-5

Research Reports

Hackett, A. (2012) Evaluation of Connecting Light. On behalf of Hadrian's Wall Trust

Hackett, A. (2011) Read on Write Away evaluation report. On behalf of Derbyshire County Council

Hackett, A. (2011) Evaluation of learning programmes at Cannon Hall museum. On behalf of Barnsley Council

Hackett, A. (2010) 'Now this is my museum!' Evaluation of the Belonging project. On behalf of Museums Sheffield

Hackett, A. with Pahl, K. (2010) i Transform Evaluation. On behalf of Leeds Museum Service

Cremin, K., Edwards, J. and Hackett, A. (2009) Scoping the Educational Potential of Saltaire World Heritage Site. On behalf of Bradford City Council

Cremin, K., Edwards, J. and Hackett, A. (2008) Generic Social Outcomes Toolkit. On behalf of Tyne and Wear Museums Service

Keynote Addresses or Prestigious Public Lectures

Hackett, A. (2016 forthcoming) Exploring the temporal and spatial nature of movement as methodological challenge. Invited speaker at Summer Institute of the Antipodes University of Western Sydney, Australia

Hackett, A. (2016 forthcoming) Young Children as Wayfarers. Learning about place by moving through it. Invited speaker at Place as agent in kindergarten practices University of Tromso, the Arctic University of Norway

Hackett, A. (2016) Making the ephemeral concrete? The role of data collection and transcription in recognising the fleeting and the tacit at Sheffield Hallam University

Hackett, A. (2016) Publishing in the digital age. Invited panel participant, The Qualitatives 2016 Brock University, Canada

Hackett, A. (2015) What parents know: collaborative ethnography with families in communities. Paper as part of the international conference Collaborative Ethnography in Practice Sheffield

Hackett, A. (2014) Zigging and Zooming all over the place: young children and their families in museums. Keynote speaker at Kids in Museums Family Fortunes conference hosted at the People's Museum, Manchester

Hackett, A. and Novitsky, J. (2010) Evaluating Adult Learning, presented at European MuMae conference (museums and adult learners together) on behalf of NIACE, Copenhagen

Evidence of Impact on Policy and Professional Practice

Research methods for exploring children's experiences of museums
I organised this one day seminar for museum practitioners, consultants and researchers to connect practice in the cultural sector with the latest visual, sensory and arts based methodologies for researching children's experiences.

External consultancy
I have extensive experience of consultancy in the cultural and educational sector. Over the last ten years, I have carried out over £100K worth of consultancy work. Clients have included English Heritage, Museums Sheffield, Hadrian's Wall Trust, National Museums Liverpool, BBC Learning, Tyne and Wear Museums and Yorkshire Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. I am frequently called upon to provide expert consultancy advice on learning and audience development initiatives for families and communities. Indicative examples include:

  • Cape UK: Expert advisor on supporting Yorkshire museums sector to work with early years audiences. Producing and piloting a research led resource for art engagement for young children in museums, 2015-2016.
  • Humber Museums Partnership: expert consultancy on how young children experience museums, 2015-2016.
  • Derbyshire County Council: Evaluation of the Read on Write Away programme of family literacy interventions, 2011.
  • Barnsley Council: Evaluation of learning programmes at Cannon Hall Museum and recommendations for future learning provision, 2011.
  • Museums, Libraries and Archives Council: Inspiring Learning for All Pilot Programme. Intensive organisational development programme with three local authorities in order to develop an ethos of learning at the heart of their provision for communities.
  • Museums, Libraries and Archives Council: Open Doors. A three year pioneering project to map the potential of museums, libraries and archives to address adult functional literacy agenda, through pilot projects, advocacy materials and development of staff training and resources.

Research-based Contributions to Practitioner and Academic Conferences

Kraftl, Procter, Hackett, Blazek and Horton (2016) Materialising and Spatialising Methodologies for Childhood Studies. The Biological, the Social, the Material Child. Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth Sheffield

Hackett, A. (2016) Messiness, Unknowing, Obstacles, Making-neat: Exploring the intersection between research and arts practice as ways of knowing. The Qualitatives 2016 Brock University, Canada
My attendance at this conference was funded by The Sociological Review early career bursary scheme

Caswell, R. Fairbrother, H. andHackett, A. (2015) Untangling children's play and learning in a children's museum. Hands On! International Association of Children in Museums Conference Amsterdam

Hackett, A. (2015) Making the ephemeral concrete. Everyday Language, Everyday Literacies conference, Sheffield

Hackett, A. (2015) Emplaced and tacit funds of knowledge for starting school. 5th International Conference on Emotional Geographies Edinburgh

Hackett, A. (2014) Out of the museum and into the academy. Royal Geographic Society Annual Conference London

Hackett, A. (2014) Walking as a route to ethnographic knowledge. Space, Culture and Literacies Conference Sheffield

Hackett, A., Kirk, E. and Yamada-Rice, D. (2014) A Time and a Place: exploring the impact of space on research methodologies with children. Researching Children's Everyday Lives, Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth Conference Sheffield

Hackett, A. (2012) Running, dancing and walking as multimodal communication of young children, paper given at 6th International Conference of Multimodality London

Hackett, A. and Procter, L. (2012) Children, Space and Placemaking Symposium. Celebrating Childhood Diversity, Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth Conference Sheffield

Hackett, A. (2012) How the museum became a children's place. Space, Place and Social Justice Symposium Manchester Metropolitan University

Taught Courses

  • Collaborative research with communities
  • Visual methodologies
  • Spatial theory
  • Museums
  • Early childhood literacy

Position/Post: Research Fellow
Location: Room 1.06
Brooks Building
Twitter: @AbiHackett