Children, Youth and Development
One of the tenets of the so-called new sociology of childhood was the appreciation of children as social actors. Coupled with the ‘participation’ rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child this has contributed to a real shift in research on children. Children may for long have been objects of research, this is no long the case. There is now a wealth of material in which children, as subjects, are the central focus of research.
At times however, this child-centred research has become child-only research thereby losing sight of important other actors shaping children’s lives. Children’s domestic work is the case in point. Despite a growing body of research on children as domestic workers we know relatively little about the adults employing them (but note Raya Muttarak’s work in Thailand).
In a recent article in the journal Children’s Geographies Natascha Klocker contributes an important corrective to this picture. Her piece is entitled ‘Struggling with child domestic work: what can a postcolonial perspective offer?‘ By employing a postcolonial perspective, Klocker seeks to ‘expose the hegemony of Minority World knowledge systems and their neocolonial imposition on Majority World lives, issues and spaces’ (p465). In relation to the issue of child domestic work this means for Klocker 1) giving voice to those that have been silenced by Minority World knowledge systems. This includes child domestic workers themselves, but also their employers. 2) Critiquing the suggestion that Majority World children need rescuing from their adult compatriots as much NGO discourse implies. 3) Finding scope to go ‘beyond discourses of exploitation formulated around western economic theories and notions of appropriate employment arrangements, to the potential for ethics of care and more-than-economic relationships in children’s working lives’ (p466), 4) emphasising the West’s complicity in the conditions experienced by many in the Majority World.
In the pages that follow Klocker gives a rich overview of how employers of child domestic workers look at the arrangement and their experiences with and perceptions of child domestic workers. She does so on the basis of interview work with a total of 75 employers of child domestic workers in Tanzania. Importantly, the interviews were conducted by a team of Tanzanian researchers, including some former child domestic workers, in order to avoid the likely bias in responses generated by the presence of a foreign researcher.
The qualitative material works to nuance stereotypical images of employers of child domestic workers. Certainly, some are abusive and exploit their young workers, yet this does not appear to be a universal picture. Such research, Klocker points out, contributes to further decolonising our understanding of children’s domestic employment. Moreover, it may also be of strategic relevance. Many employers agreed that more must be done to improve the living and working conditions of child domestic workers – perhaps working with employers offers more scope for realising this aim than working against them.
posted by Roy Huijsmans
Marking its 150th anniversary, Oxford Brookes University offers a number of full-time PhD studentships.
This includes a PhD position in a project entitled ‘Urban Futures: Aspiration, inequality and transitions to adulthood among young people in London and New York City’. The anticipated project is described as follows: ‘The research will involve a year of long-term ethnographic research with a cohort of individuals making the transition from schooling to early adulthood, coupled with an intensive period of observation and interviews with students and school leavers in London (with a smaller comparative study in New York City, partly funded by the studentship provided by Oxford Brookes).’
Unfortunately, only UK and EU national applicants are eligible. For further details go HERE.
Open Democracy is a digital commons that hosts a number of sections. Since a few months this includes a section entitled ‘Beyond Trafficking and Slavery‘ which is an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and researchers from Africa, Asia, America, Australia and Europe.
The editors envision the site ‘to be an alternative to the many ‘Modern-Day Slavery Hubs’ dotted across conventional media’. The site, thus, seeks to challenge ‘both the empty sensationalism of mainstream media accounts of exploitation and domination, and the hollow, technocratic policy responses promoted by businesses and politicians’. This will be done through ‘a regular stream of articles’ as well as a pedagogical section with short introductions to major issues and debates.
To date, the site features a number of interesting critical reflections by renowned academics. This includes an interview with Bridget Anderson, a reflective piece by Anne Gallagher on how the trafficking debate has evolved over the past two decades, and a contribution by Siobhan McGrath that critically reflects on the USA’s self-assigned role of global anti-trafficking monitor. No doubt more will follow.
posted by Roy Huijsmans
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the prize jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai ‘for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education’.
Malala Yousafzai’s story is well-known, and described in much detail in ‘I am Malala‘. She was shot by Taliban fighters in rural Pakistan for her promotion of girls’ education. Malala survived the injuries and is since celebrated as an important global symbol for the right to education of girls in particular. Malala’s message is certainly an important one. However, critical voices have pointed at the silencing of other Pakistani children’s voices that happens at the same time that Malala’s story is celebrated. This echoes Spivak’s question whether the subaltern can actually speak.
Malala’s co-winner is Kailash Satyarthi, a long time anti-child labour activist from India. Kailash is the founder of the Indian Bachpan Bachao Andolan (‘save the childhood movement’), a key figure behind the ‘Global March Against Child Labour‘, one of the architectures behind the ‘rugmark’ initiative that is meant to guarantee child labour free carpets, and known for his raids aimed at rescuing working children from bonded and forced labour conditions (see HERE and HERE).
Together, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai seem to represent an simple yet powerful message about children’s rights: the right to education and the right to a workfree childhood are two sites of the same coin. Hence, the joint award. However, here some nuancing is important.
For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child does not speak about a ‘workfree childhood’. Instead, it calls in Article 32 for the regulation of children’s work and for the protection of children ‘from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.’ This is broadly in line with what working children themselves call for (see HERE and HERE), who furthermore also stress the importance of safety, respect and dignity in their work.
It is to be hoped that with the boost the theme of children’s rights receives with these two Nobel Peace Prize laureates such important nuancing is maintained.
posted by Roy Huijsmans
With ‘Working Childhoods’ Jane Dyson presents a rich ethnographic account of the significance of everyday work practices in young people’s lives and in the social reproduction of Himalayan village life more generally.
Much research on children’s work is guided by policy concerns. This is reflected in the working definitions that are employed and the objectives of such studies. Typically these studies concentrate on the school-work relation, how work impacts on various dimensions of children’s present and future lives, the household poverty-children’s work nexus, and above all: it presents the role of work in children’s lives as a problem.
Such policy oriented studies certainly have a function, yet they typically tell us very little about the role of work in being young and growing up, the role of children’s work in social reproduction, and the sociality of work more generally. To shed light on these issues an ethnographic and relational perspective is required. This situates children’s work within wider sets of social, economic and ecological relations. Such a perspective also seeks to appreciate work for what it means to those directly involved, thereby registering important gender, age, and caste related differences. This is often best done through the anthropological approach of ‘participant observation’ by joining in and co-experiencing the practice – however awkward, difficult and perhaps impossible this may be for an adult outsider.
The main bulk of the research for Working Childhoods was conducted in 2003-04 (15 months of fieldwork) and complemented with several return visits since. The research was conducted in one village (referred to with the pseudonym Bemni) in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, where Dyson’s research concentrated on ‘fifteen key informant young people [aged 10-18] and their families…chosen to cover a range of social differences, including age, gender and caste’ (p20).
The book is organized into a total of 7 chapters. The first chapter introduces the reader to the study setting and to some key debates the book speaks to: children’s agency and the place of the environment in young people’s lives. The second chapter describes the study setting in more detail and situates it in social, historical and geographical terms. Next, children’s work is introduced. Excerpts from children’s diaries are used to give an overview of the range of work activities children are involved in and how they experience and negotiate this. The chapter also reflects on children’s schoolwork because in Bemni ‘most children could combine household tasks and educational work’ (p61). The next three chapters are each dedicated to a specific working activity. One chapter concentrates on herding, one on leaf collection (leaf litter is used in cattle stalls), and one on lichen collection. Collectively these empirical chapters show in vivid detail how the environment intersects with gender and the complexity of this relation as children’s gender subjectivities unfold whilst growing up, whilst also the environment constantly changes (for example due to its seasonality) and comes to take on a different meaning as children’s gender subjectivities transform.
In the final chapter Dyson returns to the theme of ‘agency’ and the ‘environment’. The contribution she makes to the former is highlighting the importance of children’s agency in processes of social reproduction. This is often overlooked in the study of children’s agency as the spotlight, typically, has been on how children’s agency counters dominant norms, thereby ignoring children’s agentic contributions to everyday forms of social reproduction. The focus on the environment allowed Dyson to return to the materiality of children’s work and highlights the environment as important ‘site of social activity and cultural production’ in children’s lives.
Altogether, the book demonstrates the importance of ethnographic approaches in studying children’s lives. This includes the importance of time. After all, it is only after conducting a full year of research that the importance of seasonality can be fully apprehended. Unfortunately, this seasonal dimension is typically lost in shorter research which is mostly carried out when the seasonal conditions are conducive (read: pleasant) for research. In addition, ethnography seeks to understand social practices from the perspective of the research subjects. It is this ethnographic route that let Dyson to write about often ignored dimensions, such as the place of friendship through work, and uncover how the same activity (collecting lichen) can take on a rather different meaning (for example between boys and girls).
posted by Roy Huijsmans
Are you an MA student and interested in studying young people’s trajectories into farming in India? Then, check this out:
Becoming a young farmer
Funded field research opportunity
Students currently enrolled in a Masters’ program are invited to undertake empirical research on young people’s trajectories into farming in India. The global phenomenon of an ageing farming population, poor returns on farming in the current economic paradigm and an apparent lack of interest among youth in agrarian and rural futures have attracted considerable attention among policy makers and researchers. At the same time, what is overlooked is that not all young people leave farming and the countryside, and some urban youth establish themselves as first-generation urban or rural farmers. By studying young people’s trajectories into farming futures we aim to fill an important void in current work on rural youth and agrarian studies and in policies related to rural poverty reduction and employment generation. First, the research studies will go beyond documenting the various barriers that keep young people from establishing agrarian futures to examining how at least some young people manage to overcome these. Second, they will assess the working of intergenerational dynamics underpinning trajectories into farming, ranging from inheritance to the intergenerational transfer of knowledge. Third, they will shed light on generational innovation in farming practices across the globe. Gender will be treated as a key relation of social differentiation shaping all three areas of inquiry.
Up to $3000 will be provided for two graduate students to undertake field research in India. Students will have the opportunity to interact with other researchers, to present in seminars/ workshops, and to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. Funding will be distributed on a competitive basis and selection will be based on submitted research proposals. The individual funds will be released in three installments. The first, following the submission of a detailed fieldwork plan and ethics approval; the second, following the submission of a report summarizing the research findings; and the final, following the submission of a substantial output (thesis, research paper). The funds will be allocated between March 2015 and June 2016.
Interested students please send a CV and a 1000-word research proposal (consisting of research objective, questions, data collection methods, budget and time table) to Dr.Sharada Srinivasan, University of Guelph, firstname.lastname@example.org by 20 October 2014.
The International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, the Netherlands offers, among other things, a 15.5 months MA programme in Development Studies. A unique feature of the ISS course offering is that it includes a number of elective courses that specifically focus on questions pertaining children and youth in contexts of development. In addition, other courses integrate a generational perspective that highlight the specific position of children and youth (as well as older people) as a critique to the adult-centric perspective that dominates much development studies.
The 2013-14 students started their programme in September 2013 and finished their course work in June 2014. The summer months were dedicated to individual research projects, often involving primary data collection in countries in the South. Next week students present a first analysis of their material in their research paper draft seminars. Each student has a full hour, which starts with a short presentation followed by feedback from peer-discussants, the supervisory team and other students.
Looking at the titles we have an interesting week ahead of us:
‘The Effects of Cross-border Violence on Uganda Children and Young adult between age 15-24 in Kasese District of Rwenzori Region: The coping strategy for survival’ by Mabel Kabatalya.
“How Are You All Doing?”: Exploring the life experiences and struggles of young generation of South Korea through “narrativization” by Min Jee Park
‘Youth School to Work Transition Experiences in Urban Ethiopia: In the lens of Unemployed and Jobless Youth Experiences’ by Beshir Butta Dale
‘Mothering Fathers? Fathers’ New “Care” Identity and Navigating the Health Needs of their Children’ by Maurene Ann Donato Papa
‘Migrant Boys and Their Work on Streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’ by Degwale Gebeyehu Belay
‘The Social Impact of the Zimbabwean Crisis: The Case Study of Access and Quality of Education for Rural Secondary School Children’ by Samuel Kapingidza
‘Diverse experiences of teenage pregnancy in Monterrey, Mexico’ by Brenda Janett Rodriguez Cortes
‘Gender Barriers to Policy formulation and Re-entry Policy for pregnant teenagers in Ghana: Examining the silence discourses ‘ by Yenutien Kombian
‘Responsibility of the State and parents: Child maintenance claims administered in the parallel Kadhi Court system in Zanzibar’ by Sheikha Mohamed Ramia.
‘The Difficulties of Ending FGM: Case of Afar Pastoralist Communities in Ethiopia’ by Masresha Yazew Andarge
‘Societal stigmatization and prejudice: A challenge to the survival of street children in Kampala city of Uganda’, by Annet Najjuma.
‘Eternal Outsiders? Social Exclusion and the Rights of Children with Albinism in Kenya’, by Irene Katunge Nyamu.
‘Troubling Paradox: Gaps between Policy and Reality; Child Poverty and Wellbeing in India’, by Pranab Kumar Chanda
‘Universal Primary Education under Decentralization: An asset or liability to rural schools and communities of Uganda?’ by Agnes Kawala
‘Examining the Dichotomies of Social Protection: Is the South African Child Support Grant alleviating poverty or perpetuating dependency?’ by Zanele Silo
‘Urban poverty and social protection; Ideal versus reality in the intervention strategies. A Case study of Kazi kwa Vijana (Work for Youth) in Kenyan slums’, by Dominic Ngumbi Mutuku
‘Exploring the Phenomenon of Child-adult partnership for street begging in Tamale, Ghana’, by Wedadu Sayibu.
posted by Roy Huijsmans
Development studies and practice has a tendency to represent large parts of the world as places of poverty, misery and underdevelopment. In this regard, a look at the creative industry works as a useful corrective. It brings to the forefront the dynamic and creative dimension that is also part and parcel of the so-called ‘developing world’, and at times sheds an interesting light on questions of development.
…research on comics cultures is dominated by the comparison between North America, Western Europe and Japan, occasionally including Korea and also the Chinese-language markets, in particular with respect to manga.
From a youth studies perspective I would have liked to see more about the consumers of comics and the role of comics in youth sub-cultures. The contribution about Vietnam by Nguyen Hong Phuc goes someway into such a direction where it discusses the controversy around the picture book Sát Thủ Đầu Mưng Mủ by the Vietnamese artist Nguyen Thanh Phong. The book recreates Vietnamese proverbs and includes new slang which it does through a total of 120 drawings that are each accompanied by a short caption playing on common informal Vietnamese idioms. Nguyen Hong Phuc illustrates this with the following example:
…the traditional Vietnamese saying “when a horse is sick, the whole stable refuses grass”, which means “love people like loving oneself”, was revised to “when a horse is sick, the whole stable can eat more grass” which implies a degree of selfishness and uncaring for others.
Although such creative use of language received considerable critique leading to a halt on the publication of the book, it also received support. Nguyen Hong Phuc reports that in a debate organised at the French Cultural Centre in Hanoi (in 2012) on ‘the language of youths in the internet age’ many youth voiced their support for Nguyen Thanh Phong’s work. Importantly, some Vietnamese scholars took side with these youth by pointing out that:
new ways of playing around with Vietnamese words and re-creating idoms were innovative since the official Vietnamese language could not reflect such expressions well enough, thus, it created new value from the old
Perhaps, then, development studies scholars have much to learn from reading comics as it arguably captures people’s experiences and perceptions of socio-economic change much more aptly than any large scale survey on such matters.
posted by Roy Huijsmans
A recently issued report of a qualitative research project sheds important light on the living conditions and well-being of undocumented migrant children in the Netherlands, but also raises some questions about researching this group of children.
In May 2014, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Defence for Children, and the ‘Stichting Landelijk Ongedocumenteerden Steunpunt‘ issued a report detailing the findings of a collaborative research project into the living conditions and well-being of undocumented children in four Dutch cities (Utrecht, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam). The study was designed to address the following questions:
What is the number of undocumented children in the Netherlands (and particularly in the city of Utrecht)?
How do these children experience their housing and living conditions?
To what extent are the conditions for child development ensured among the research population?
What recommendations may be drawn for municipality level policies to ensure the conditions for child development among this research population?
Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the research population the first question is not answered conclusively. Still, this section makes an interesting read about the various dilemmas encountered in attempts to quantify the research population (for example, schools or other institutions may not be willing to share such sensitive data) as well as on the methods by which some other organisations nonetheless produce numbers, whilst also making one wonder about the apparent desire to quantify even in situations where this is inherently difficult, if not impossible.
The other research questions are addressed on the basis of semi-structured interviews with a total of 29 undocumented migrant children (from 27 different households). Key findings include the poverty in which many of these children live, resulting in, for example, little varied and at times unhealthy diets. Poverty also characterised the housing conditions, with children often sharing one room with their parents. Many of the children also frequently moved house. All the interviewed children attend school, and accessing basic health services (GP) appeared in most cases possible. Nonetheless, many children experienced stress related to their undocumented status with all due consequences. The research further found a fairly tight safety net around these children comprising of teachers, social workers, neighbours, etc. These networks functioned as an important source of support (e.g. gifts) and also worked in a protective manner as the research team found it hard to convince such ‘gatekeepers’ to have these undocumented migrant children participate in the research.
Despite the importance of making visible the well-being and living conditions of this group of children, the methodology used also raises some questions. First, whilst on the one hand this group of children is considered ‘vulnerable’ all interviews were conducted by students (fourth year students in relevant programmes). The report includes a note (p9) on the deep impact this research work has made on the concerned students yet fails to engage with the ethics of delegating the fieldwork component to relatively inexperienced (and no doubt cheap) field researchers. A good argument for involving students in the research would have been to broaden the language range of the research team (allowing for interviews in children’s first language in case this is not Dutch). However, this seems a road not taken as children with insufficient Dutch language skills were excluded from the research – a rather strange practice in researching undocumented migrants. Lastly, the young respondents were accessed through the networks of the Dutch foundation (‘stichting’) that collaborated in the research. As the report rightly notes (p29), this means that possibly a rather large group of undocumented migrants have remained invisible to the research team. However, I would add that this may also have affected the sample as it may possibly have excluded undocumented migrant children not attending school or with greater difficulties accessing basic health services. Furthermore, it also means one of the key findings (the presence of a safety net) needs some further qualification as this may not necessarily apply to many other undocumented migrant children in the Netherlands.
posted by Roy Huijsmans
ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.