Geographies of Children and Childhood

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The social sciences traditionally have tended to be adult-centric, with perspectives from and about children largely marginalized and underrepresented. Sociologists began to challenge this in the 1990s, with the development of theorizations of the social construction of childhood. Proponents of this argued that children were not simply developing adults but social agents in their own right who should be acknowledged and given voice to in academic and policy debates. Concurrently, geographers were developing an interest in childhood and children’s lives, but they emphasized that the social construction of childhood was also inherently spatial, initially emerging from studies of children’s spatial cognition, but ultimately developing into a diverse understanding of the importance of space and place in children’s lives. In many respects, the development of a geographical interest in childhood and children’s lives has mirrored the growth of understanding around gender in the discipline; both of these address populations that appeared to have been overlooked or marginalized by the mainstream discipline. For geographers, the environment of childhood is intertwined intimately with its meanings. Particular contexts, such as the “home” or the “street,” influence the social constructions of childhood, with the former being a space where a child might belong and the latter possibly generating a sense of unease around a child’s “place.” The study of childhood within geography is often denoted in the plural of geographies, indicating multiple meanings and experiences in children’s lives at different stages of age and in different contexts. Geographies of childhood often, but not always, focus on the ways in which adult society shapes childhood, whereas children’s geographies often are centered on the everyday lives of children and thus are slightly distinct yet interconnected fields of study. Since the early 2000s, the sub discipline of children’s geographies has coalesced into a vibrant, interdisciplinary field. Geographers have striven to provide nuance and clarity about the everyday nature of children’s lives and often mirror sociological studies of childhood and children through an often-specific attention to the agency and mobility of children. Geographical explorations of childhood have often been focused at the micro-scale, exploring power dynamics between adults and young people in such settings as the school and the home, or tracing the mobilities and explorations of children in urban and rural neighborhoods. More recent work has begun to “scale up” geographical engagements with children and childhood and to consider children’s involvement in such phenomena as global development processes, climate change, and war. Alongside the foregrounding of the everyday in children’s geographies, considerable interest has developed in the ways in which adults conceptualize childhood and the resulting spatial implications of these discourses on children, particularly in terms of urban planning or policy directed at children. In international policy, children are often defined as ranging in age from birth to eighteen; however, such boundaries of age are often socially and culturally constructed and are thus contested and negotiated by adults and children themselves. Problematizing the transition of childhood to youth to adulthood as a linear process has also been the focus of geographical literature. Although this article is focused on children and childhood, it does include certain relevant references to young people.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Bibliographies
Subtitle of host publicationGeography
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameOxford Bibliographies Online
PublisherOxford University Press


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