AN243      Half Unit
Children and Youth in Contemporary Ethnography

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Catherine Allerton OLD 6.13


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Social Anthropology, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Cape Town), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Fudan), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Melbourne) and Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Tokyo). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Undergraduates taking this course should normally have completed an introductory course in anthropology unless granted exemption by the course teacher.

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 10 hours of classes in the LT.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of the LT. Film screenings in the Lent Term.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

RA LeVine and RS New (eds) 2008. Anthropology and child development: a cross-cultural readerScheper-Hughes and C Sargent (eds) 1998. Small wars: the cultural politics of childhoodKF Olwig and E Gullov (eds) 2003. Children's Places: Cross-cultural perspectivesD Durham and J Cole (eds) 2006. Generations and globalization: youth, age and family in the new world economyLiebel. 2004. A will of their own: cross cultural perspectives on working childrenAmit-Talai and H Wulff (eds) 1995. Youth cultures: a cross-cultural perspectiveA James. 1993. Childhood identities: self and social relationships in the experience of the childBoyden and J de Berry (eds) 2004. Children and youth on the frontline: ethnography, armed conflict and displacementBA Levinson, DE Foley and DC Holland (eds) 1996. The cultural production of the educated person: critical ethnographies of schooling and local practiceH Montgomery. 2009. An introduction to childhood: anthropological perspectives on children's lives.


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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