Not available in 2021/22
AN458      Half Unit
Children and Youth in Contemporary Ethnography

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Catherine Allerton OLD 6.13


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in Law, Anthropology and Society and MSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course explores the paradoxes and contexts of social science work on children and youth through an intensive focus on contemporary ethnographies exploring children’s social worlds. This ethnographic work is multi-disciplinary (emerging from anthropology, geography, sociology, media studies), and builds both on earlier ethnographies of childhood from the mid-twentieth-century onwards, and on growing theoretical interest in cross-cultural understandings of ‘the child’ and their competencies.

In the first half of the course, we investigate 5 central paradoxes that emerge through a consideration of children and childhood. These are: 1) Universal/ Constructed; 2) Being/ Becoming; 3) Structure/ Agency; 4) Protection/ Participation; and 5) Representation/ Reality. These paradoxes allow us to consider important questions such as: What does it mean to see childhood as a 'construction'? How has ethnographic work questioned universal frameworks for child development? How should we understand children’s agency? How successfully can 'child rights' be achieved in different cultural contexts? Why should children's perspectives be taken more seriously in the social sciences?

In the second half of the course, we turn to 5 key contexts for ethnographic analyses of children's lives. These are: the street, school, work, play and war. How have the lives of 'street children' been approached and understood? What do critical ethnographies of schooling tell us about its role in reproducing inequalities? What, if anything, is the difference between beneficial child work and harmful 'child labour'? How can we recognise and theorise children's play? And how have ethnographic accounts documented both trauma and resilience in the context of 'child soldiering'?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of LT. 4 hours of film screenings in LT. 

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

R.A. LeVine and R.S. New (eds) 2008. Anthropology and child development: a cross-cultural reader; N. Scheper-Hughes and C. Sargent (eds) 1998. Small wars: the cultural politics of childhood; K.F. Olwig and E. Gullov (eds) 2003. Children's places: cross-cultural perspectives. D. Durham & J. Cole (eds) 2006. Generations and globalization: youth, age and family in the new world economy; M. Liebel. 2004. A will of their own: cross cultural perspectives on working children; V. Amit-Talai and H. Wulff (eds) 1995. Youth cultures: a cross-cultural perspective; A. James. 1993. Childhood identities: self and social relationships in the experience of the child. A. de Waal and N. Argenti (eds) 2002. Young Africa: Realising the rights of children and youth; J. Boyden and J. de Berry (eds) 2004. Children and youth on the frontline: ethnography, armed conflict and displacement; Levinson, B, D. Foley & D. Holland. (eds) 1996. The cultural production of the educated person: critical ethnographies of schooling and local practice; H. Montgomery. 2009. An introduction to childhood: anthropological perspectives on children's lives; 


Coursework (100%, 4000 words) in the ST.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills