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header nz childhood studies colloquium

What does Childhood Studies mean for Research, Policy and Practice?

Dunedin, 20-21st October 2015
St, Margaret's College, University of Otago, 333 Leith Street

Children and young people deal with widening inequalities in their social and physical environments and a lack of visibility and voice. Researchers from many disciplines, practitioners, policy makers and advocates often work individually to improve the lives of our young citizens. While children and young people's economic, social, cultural and physical well-being lie at the heart of such efforts, debates continue about what working under the umbrella term of 'Childhood Studies' actually means, theoretically and practically, to address the pressing issues facing children and young people in the 21st century.

This colloquium will provide an opportunity to reflect on how we conceptualise Childhood Studies and put it into practice. It will enable critical reflection about improving and contributing to all aspects of children and young people's wellbeing in Aotearoa and across the globe. This interdisciplinary colloquium will be of relevance and interest to a wide range of participants including academics, researchers, students, advocates, policy makers and practitioners.

This colloquium follows on from the very successful 1st Childhood Studies Colloquium held in Auckland in November 2014. The 2015 Colloquium is being co-hosted by the University of Otago 'Children and Young People as Social Actors' Research Cluster, the Children's Issues Centre and the organisers of the 1st Colloquium. We are grateful to the University of Otago Humanities Division for their generous financial support for this event. The 20th anniversary of the Children's Issues Centre will also be celebrated at the Colloquium.

Keynote speakers

  • Professor Nigel Thomas, Professor of Childhood and Youth Research, School of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, England
  • Associate Professor Affrica Taylor, Geographies of Education and Childhood, University of Canberra, Australia
  • Alison Cleland, Chair, Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Auckland Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland, New Zealand


Nigel Thomas

Professor Nigel Thomas

Recognition, capability and children's participation in society: A new move in childhood studies?

This presentation will look at different ways of understanding children's participation in society, and intergenerational relations, with a focus on two theoretical approaches in particular:

Honneth's account of 'the struggle for recognition' as the motor both of individual development and of social progress, and his articulation of three distinct modes of recognition, have been seen by a number of authors as providing powerful analytic tools for opening up questions about children's place in social relationships.

Sen and Nussbaum's development of capability theory, which brings physical and social resources together with individual capacities to provide a nuanced and complex explanation for social inequalities and an account of what is needed to overcome them, also has great potential for understanding children's position.

Both theories have an important ethical content. This presentation will examine critical differences between the two theories and consider the potential for using them in combination to provide a stronger underpinning for interdisciplinary childhood studies, and a richer foundation for practice with children.


Nigel Thomas is Professor of Childhood and Youth Research at the University of Central Lancashire, where he is Co-Director of The Centre for Children and Young People's Participation, and also a Visiting Professor at Southern Cross University in Australia and an Honorary Professor at Aberystwyth University. He was previously a social work practitioner, manager and advisor, and then a social work educator. Nigel's research interests are principally in child welfare, children's rights, children's participation and theories of childhood. His publications include Children, Family and the State: Decision-Making and Child Participation (Macmillan 2000, Policy Press 2002); Social Work with Young People in Care (Palgrave 2005); Children, Politics and Communication: Participation at the Margins (Policy Press 2009); and A Handbook of Children and Young People's Participation: perspectives from theory and practice (with Barry Percy-Smith, Routledge 2010). He is Chair of the Editorial Board of Children & Society, and is on the Editorial Board of The International Journal of Children's Rights.

Affrica Taylor

Associate Professor Affrica Taylor

What does the more-than-human turn mean for childhood studies research?

The field of childhood studies has always been multidisciplinary – incorporating research from a wide range of the social sciences and humanities. In response to growing awareness about the interconnectedness of all life forms and life-sustaining geo-bio systems in ecologically challenging times, a growing movement of social science and humanities scholars are now questioning the usefulness of conducting research that continues to separate human histories, contemporary experiences and future concerns off from the rest of the world. They are encouraging researchers to engage with more-than-human perspectives and methodologies. This turn towards more-than-human research is only just beginning to impact upon childhood studies, and it poses a particular set of challenges and new possibilities for a field that is centrally concerned with young human beings and their futures.

In this presentation, I explore what the more than human turn means for childhood studies research. More specifically, I consider how childhood studies might be reconfigured if it were to engage with recent calls from the environmental humanities to reposition human being within the environment, and reposition the environment with the domain of ethics. One such reconfiguration is the 'common world childhoods' research framework that I use, that moves beyond an exclusively socio-cultural framing and resituates children in their multispecies life-worlds. To illustrate what this kind of research looks like, I draw examples from a recent multispecies ethnographic research project that I was involved in, that traced the entanglement of children's and kangaroos' lives in Canberra through their intersecting settler colonial and environmental histories and their everyday encounters. I consider the ethical implications and possibilities of these children's and kangaroos' entangled lives and futures in this era of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change.


Affrica Taylor is an Associate Professor in the geographies of childhood and education at the University of Canberra. Her background in Indigenous Australian education and her doctoral studies in cultural geography have shaped her abiding interest in the relations between people, place and other species in settler colonial societies. She is a founding member of the Common World Childhoods Research Collective that explores children's relations within their more-than-human worlds. She discusses these relations in her recent books, Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood and in the co-edited collection (with Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw) Unsettling the Colonial Spaces and Places of Early Childhood Education.

Alison Cleland

Alison Cleland

Social justice for Aotearoa's children: A child rights framework

This paper argues that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) provides a framework for research and advocacy that promotes social justice for children and young people in Aotearoa. The paper demonstrates the failure of the government to implement UNCROC progressively and highlights some of the implications of this disregard for Aotearoa's obligations under international law.

The paper then explores how UNCROC can frame enquiries into the reality of children's lives. Education, health and youth justice are used as examples of spheres in which progress may be made, if policies and practices are informed by the experiences and participation of children and young people.

The paper concludes by considering how all those seeking social justice for children in Aotearoa can contribute to the presentation of the Coalition (NGO) alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.


Alison Cleland was born in Glasgow, Scotland. She was the first advice worker at the Scottish Child Law Centre and advised the Scottish Parliament during its work on establishing a Commissioner for Children and Young People. In private practice, she represented children and young people under age 16 in youth justice and child care proceedings in Scotland. Alison and her husband emigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2007. Their daughter is five years old.

Alison is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland. She is author of Child Abuse, Child Protection and the Law (2008, W Green) and Youth Advocates in Aotearoa/New Zealand's Youth Justice System (2012, NZ Law Foundation/ University of Auckland Faculty of Law). She is co-author (with Quince) of Youth Justice in Aotearoa New Zealand (2014, LexisNexis). Her research areas are youth justice, child protection and children's rights. Alison was appointed Chair of Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA) in September 2013. ACYA prepares and presents the shadow report for Aotearoa New Zealand to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.


St Margaret's College, located in the heart of the University of Otago campus in Dunedin (333 Leith Street).

Contact us

Any inquiries should be directed to the Children's Issues Centre (64 3 479 5038) or


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