ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Children and society
Location Room 10
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2


  • Gitanjali Pyndiah (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
  • Anna Arnone (SOAS) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Children are significant research subjects as they mirror social contexts where they belong and re-elaborate their experience to become agents of change. What can we learn about our discipline, our society and our future by engaging with children in different set ups?

Long Abstract

Children are potent research subjects for their social role and the questions that research on youth impinge on the academic subject that studies them. Understanding children is not a linear task and leads to a variety of epistemological questions. They can be seen as mirrors of the daily lives they experience: families, schools/national curricula, youth culture and a variety of institutions and social environments are to be taken into account when carrying out research on children. On the other hand it is important to consider the agency they enact when they describe their own opinions and engage with school, family, friends and social networks. We are thus interested in understanding children as research subjects but mostly as citizens-to-be. Children hold a great power over society's future and in many societies important resources are put in projects that concern youth for this very reason.

We believe it is urgent to analyse the role of youth critical thinking and would like to stimulate a discussion on different forms of analysis about, with and for children. The anthropology of children is an extremely interesting example of the role of social science; it can be seen as critical and at the same time a potentially effective agent of social change.

This panel is open to projects that consider children, their social persona and roles. We welcome papers about children in education, family, friendship and different social networks which engage in participatory projects, children research, cultural studies, art and/or ethnographic work.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Challenges and opportunities of studying perceptions of child protection in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Author: Franziska Fay (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the challenges of accessing Zanzibari children's ideas about childhood and personhood in schools and regards them as crucial to improving children's realities and informing "child protection" development policy.

Long Abstract

"Child Protection" aims at increasing children's life quality and their experiences in a web of influential factors shaping their becoming. My ethnographic fieldwork in Zanzibar, Tanzania engages with children's perceptions of so-called inter/national "child protection" efforts in school. Doing research with children , the ultimate anthropological "other", re-establishes methodological possibilities and limitations. Trying to work with, about and most importantly for children and the dynamics of subjectivity and objectivity arising from their inseparability are core to my inquiry. My attempt to work with a feminist, Freire-ian methodological approach that thinks beyond the universally agreed boundaries of child-rights ideas came to face much of the Western bias I tried to escape.

While co-existing logics of child-rearing shape prevailing discourses in Zanzibar, I focus on philosophical concepts of personhood and ask how they shape ideas about childhood. Efforts to forbid corporal punishment in educational settings make impossible the achievement of personhood which leads people to reject such projects as their society's social complex realities are rendered technical. I argue that the concept of "child protection" needs to be understood beyond universalized ideas of well-being and instead build on children's ideas of protection and personhood. I do not contest the idea of children's critical agency, but I regard it in relation to their environments shaping their views - something that spatialized child protection interventions often dismiss. Hence I regard ideas of "participation", strongly emphasized by development agencies and childhood anthropologists alike, as very fragile.

Anthropological anxieties and the child at play: 19th and 21st century ethnographies of children in East Anglia

Author: Richard Irvine (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on Haddon's 1896 ethnographic work with children in South Cambridgeshire, UK, as well as contemporary research in the same location, I consider the symbolic role occupied by the child, and argue for an ethnography that moves beyond the social and cultural anxieties projected onto children.

Long Abstract

What role does the evocation of "the child" occupy in our social and cultural analyses? This paper analyses archival and ethnographic data concerning the lives of children in South Cambridgeshire, UK. In 1896 the pioneering anthropologist Alfred Haddon collected data on children's games, alongside other ethnographic and anthropometric material, as part of a pilot study for the Torres Straits expedition. I will consider the place of the child - and the place of the children of Barrington in particular - in Haddon's theory of the development of cultures and social change, before moving onto the findings from more recent ethnographic work in the same location. As part of a study on perceptions of environmental change, we explored children's sense of engagement with place. Through play, storytelling, and creative engagement with their surroundings, children found ways to re-appropriate an environment from which they felt themselves excluded. Yet their intense engagement sits uncomfortably with presumptions that children are disconnected with their environment, inherent in theories such as "Nature Deficit Disorder". Today, as when Haddon was working, the child is deployed as a symbol that congeals wider social concerns. The challenge for the ethnographer, then, is to consider social life in ways that draw on the child's point of view rather than reproducing the social anxieties that are projected onto children.

Children and food in Warsaw

Author: Zofia Boni (SOAS, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

I will discuss the changing roles of children in the Polish society, by focusing on food and analysing how and why children exercise their agency and in many intentional and non-intentional ways change their families' foodways. The paper is based on 12 months of ethnographic research in Warsaw.

Long Abstract

Children's roles and their place in societies are changing. Poland, as many other countries, is becoming a neontocracy - a society focused on children (Lancy 2008). This growing focus on children and their changing roles in the society are well reflected in discourses and practices related to food. Studying how children are fed and how they eat allows us to look at the structures in which they are embedded whilst not neglecting their agency.

This paper will focus on the issue of children and food in Warsaw. It is based on twelve months of research conducted between September 2012 and August 2013. The ethnographic research was mostly centred on families and primary schools, but also included studying state institutions, food industry, non-governmental sector and media. This paper will be mainly informed by my research with children aged between 6 and 12 years old, which included interviews, drawing, taking photographs.

What and how children eat is becoming of interest to various social actors in Poland, not only their parents and grandparents, but also teachers, state administrators, government officials, food producers and marketers, activists. Diverse groups of adults want to influence what and how, when and where children eat. I argue that children exercise their agency and in many intentional and non-intentional ways influence not only these feeding practices, but also how others eat. I will discuss the broader issue of children and food in Warsaw through analysing how and why children change and influence their families' foodways.

Reflections in the water: embracing time, coping mechanisms and side by side engagement as methodology for research with 'disaffected' youth

Author: Natalie Djohari (Goldsmiths)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on research with angling based youth intervention programs, this paper reflects on angling as an introspective methodological tool. It advocates an unhurried ethnographic approach that capitalises on young people's own coping mechanisms, allowing them time to articulate complex emotions.

Long Abstract

Research on young people is shaped by innovative, participatory approaches that are particularly effective for accessing young people's voices within time constrained research programs. However an unhurried ethnographic approach that allows both researcher and young person to simply share time/space is valuable for engaging young people suspicious or antagonistic to authority figures, and where emotional motivations are difficult to articulate or yet to be fully realised. This paper reflects on two years ethnographic research on UK angling-based intervention programs with young people aged 13-18. It explores how angling, adopted by young people as a coping activity, can become a methodological tool for discussing emotionally complex topics.

Young people proactively use angling to regulate emotions and carve spaces beyond the reach of daily pressures. In situating interviews on the bankside, young people are able to draw upon angling as a resource to articulate difficult thoughts and feelings. On the bankside young people experience a space outside the 'everyday world', where they engage in productive work that is both completely absorbing (providing mental and emotional breaks), and providing opportunities for mind-drifting reflection. Fishing alongside in this time/space, one synchronises with these patterns, asking questions answered hours later in time stretched moments of clarity. In taking an adjacent rather than face-to-face approach, where young people can vary the intensity of discussions, bankside ethnography embraces young people's own coping mechanisms within research methodology, providing young people greater control over the research process and offering opportunities to express complex emotions.

Forest school and children interaction in a superdiverse context

Author: Anna Arnone (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

School projects often aim at leading children to specific directions and giving them tools and opportunities to elaborate. Forest school in a superdiverse context seems to be generating unpredicted outcomes which may allow children to build their own grammar to interact in unexpected ways.

Long Abstract

This paper presents an ongoing anthropological investigation at a primary school in Hackney, London where pupils from different backgrounds are experiencing a super diverse context. My inquiry is cast on an innovative project developed around environmental issues. I have chosen to focus especially on a case study called "Forest School": children are allowed to play and interact with nature and each-other, they spend time doing activities such as climbing trees and making fire in the little forest on the school grounds. The school runs this project to produce awareness of outdoor play and to increase learning outcomes for all disciplines.

Outdoor activities positively influence not only children's learning but also their interaction. Children go beyond cultural and social class differences and elaborate new patterns of socialisation when engaged in a neutral outdoor environment. The question that this research is leading to is: Can children embrace superdiversity and build up a sense of global citizenship? Can Anthropology and participant observation among children answer this question or is it necessary to involve the children themselves in a participatory research?

Games of imagination: how children use and relate to images and sounds to imagine ways of belonging and coexisting

Authors: Nicole Sanches (Utrecht University )  email
Jordi Halfman (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

A transactional framework offers opportunities to re-examine anthropological/educational practices. Through playful engagement with the visual and sounded imaginations of future citizens in Amsterdam Zuidoost, we learn from alternative but always present practices of belonging and coexistence.

Long Abstract

In the most commonly shared understanding, schools are spaces in which both the reproduction of social norms and the shaping of critical future citizens is supposed to take place. This common construction of the school is premised on selfactional and interactional frames of analyses. Therein, as an anthropologist, one cannot but focus on the social reproduction of inequalities and exclusionary politics of belonging.

A transactional framework, based on the relational poetics of Eduoard Glissant and the pragmatic imaginations of John Dewey, challenges the social researcher to also conceive of the school as scholae, based on the Greek schoolè, meaning free or un-destined time (Masschelein). Freetime is the space between the actual and the possible, more than anything, it is the space of imagination. Following Ingold, who intricately relates anthropology to education, the chosen framework prompts us to work with and within this space.

In this presentation/paper we ask you to engage with our innovative research conducted with primary school children in Zuidoost, a superdiverse neighborhood in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The pupils were invited to use and relate to existing images and sounds from their school surroundings and the internet. They were also encouraged to create new images and sounds, using both analogue and digital apparatus. The created space of scholae allowed for us to learn from the ways children imagine ethical ways of belonging and coexisting. These do not replace institutionally backed dispositions of "us and them making", but strengthen the deconstructive tendencies always and already at play.

Learning at home and in the neighbourhood: childhood socialisation and work in a crafting community

Author: Niamh Collard (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

Drawn from an ethnography of Ghanaian weavers, this paper examines the link between work and play in early childhood socialisation and considers the impact both have on the formation of the social networks and strategies that craftspeople come to rely upon in adulthood.

Long Abstract

Drawing on a broader ethnography of the working and educational lives of Agbamevo Kente weavers and their families in Agotime, a border town in south-eastern Ghana, this paper takes the perspective that children are actors within their own, distinct communities of practice to argue that the processes of socialisation fundamental to the formation of adult craftspeople are rooted in childhood experiences of play and work.

Looking at how the social strategies and networks used by adult weavers are established in childhood, the paper examines how play, work and learning overlap and are mutually constituted in the experience of Agotime children. Considering that weaving has historically been a form of household work, the home and the neighbourhood are taken as key sites of childhood socialisation. The important part played by sibling and peer care-taking will be linked to discussions of family structure, fostering practices and the gendering of household work within Agotime's community of weavers. The rich social networks children develop and engage in through play and work with siblings, neighbours, friends and classmates will be considered in terms of how these peer-networks enable learning. Similarly, children's role play is analysed in relation to the diverse and sophisticated problem-solving strategies of adult craftspeople.

Through critical engagement with the complex social lives of Agotime children, it is hoped that this paper will contribute to broader debates surrounding apprenticeship and craft learning as well as discussions of the part childhood experience plays in socialisation into work and education.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.