18. Decolonising childhood: rethinking children’s everyday life beyond the western/global north normativity

Caterina Satta (Università di Cagliari), Emanuela Spanò (Università di Cagliari)
caterina.satta@unica.it; emanuela.spano@unica.it

In this session, we seek to open an interdisciplinary reflection on how to differently think of childhood, both inside and outside institutional contexts, giving voice to epistemologies, horizons of thought, practices, methodologies, and actions that are usually marginal in the sociological debate or confined in the subfield of the sociology of childhood (James, Jenks, Prout 1998; Qvortrup, Corsaro, Honig M. 2009). In a global, fast, quantitative, and standardised logic, discourses on childhood often seem to be rooted and calibrated in Global North contexts that are usually perceived as universal and more representative of ongoing transformations (Santos, 2018). In contrast, the southern ones are often confined to a localistic dimension with scant relevance in the international scientific debate (Connell, 2007). Too often, childhood is used as a normative concept rather than a generational category mutually constructed in relation to other generations and its temporal and geographical context. Other ways of being or living childhood, usually related to and located in Southern contexts, are deemed as lost or deprived just because they are out of the Western and eurocentric norm, promoted as a global model, of the protected child (made of school attendance, family membership, minimum conditions of comfort, access and right to the health system, play activities, and so on) (Sarmento, Marchi, Trevisan 2018). Out of the norm also because they are out of the places conventionally considered “for” childhood (household, school, playcentre, leisure or sports centre). Since they do not fit the hegemonic model, their life becomes invisible or, on the reverse, hypervisible, requiring social and educational intervention, if not surveillance and control. Still, from the child, the southern and the marginal standpoint, it is possible to interrogate adult, northern and normative postures and investigate the processes involved in constructing children’s subjectivity (Punch 2016; Hanson et al. 2018). 

For example, how can we recognise the experiences of street children, working children or children living in marginal contexts beyond the normative frame, which labels them just as “unruly”, “in need”, “at risk”, or “offender” kids? What possibilities do we have of including and recognising them and their agency in negotiating or even resisting and subverting those stigmas?

To stimulate a debate around those crucial questions, we propose an epistemology of the South – not merely as a geographical category but as an epistemological stance (Santos, 2014) – as a perspective to critically explore the ethical and emic levels of the production of knowledge and its implications both in the field of social studies (of childhood, education, social work, gender, family, social policy) and in children’s everyday contexts. 

Analysing childhood from the margins constitutes an epistemological challenge, since it implies looking beyond normative conceptions in order to produce new perspectives and understandings, and a methodological one, grounded on research methodologies oriented towards transformative and emancipatory social participation.

Open Questions:
What and when is a child at risk? What do we mean by “social exclusion” or children in need? When are children deemed as out of norms? How do we conceptualise the idea of childhood out of space? How is the “right” balance between protection and control constructed within a generational perspective? How is this “protected child” category articulated in marginal contexts? How, as researchers, do we deal methodologically with the category of the vulnerable child or young offender? How can children’s voices be heard and understood beyond a tokenistic approach? How is it possible to explore these last categories adopting intersectional lenses?

We seek contributions from both the Global North and the Global South addressing, among others, the following topics:

  • Street children
  • Youth gangs
  • Poor children
  • Children in rural areas
  • Children in marginal contexts
  • Working children
  • Children involved in alternative education
  • Children involved in political activism

Childhood, Global South, Margins, Social Exclusion, Subalternity, Emancipatory Research, Space

Fields of Study:
Sociology, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Postcolonial Studies, Critical Sociology

Connell R. (2007), Southern Theory: The global dynamics of knowledge in social science, London, Routledge.

Hanson K., Abebe T., Aitken S.C:, Balagopalan S., Punch S. (2018), Global/local’ research on children and childhood in a ‘global society’, in «Childhood» , 25 (3),  272-296. 

James, A., Jenks, C., Prout, A. (1998), Theorizing Childhood, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Punch S. (2016), Exploring children’s agency across majority and minority world contexts. In: Esser F, Baader MS, Betz T, et al. (eds) Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood: New Perspectives in Childhood Studies. London, Routledge, 183–196.

Qvortrup J., Corsaro W. A., Honig M. (eds.) (2009), The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Santos de Sousa B. (2014), Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide, Boulder, Paradigm Publishers.

Santos de Sousa B. (2018), The End of the Cognitive Empire, Durham and London, Duke University Press.

Sarmento M. J., Marchi R. de Cássia, Trevisan G.P. (2018), Beyond the Modern ‘Norm’ of Childhood: Children at the Margins as a Challenge for the Sociology of Childhood. in C.Baraldi & T. Cocburn (org.), Theorising Childhood: citizens, rights and participation. London, Palgrave/Macmillan, 135-157.

Short Bio
Caterina Satta
Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Sociology (SPS/07) at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Cagliari (Italy) and Adjunct Professor of Sociology of generations and gender differences. She works in the field of the sociology of childhood and family and the sociology of everyday life. Her research interests are children’s cultures, adults’ cultures, child-adult relations in everyday life with a particular focus on: Family relations; Children’s Spatialities and socio-spatial processes of exclusion/inclusion; Play and sport in Urban space. She is currently a member of the Research Team PRIN 2017 Mapping youth futures on youth futurity. 

Emanuela Spanò
Researcher in Sociology of Cultural Processes at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Cagliari (Italy), Adjunct Professor of Sociology of Education and Cultural Analysis of Social Innovation. She has carried out research at the Center for Narrative Research (UEL), London, and the Institute of Education (UCL), London. Currently, she mainly works on the relationship between physical spaces, social spaces and educational spaces in peripheral contexts, on the analysis of digitization processes in the school environment, and on the school choices of young people in marginal contexts. She is currently a member of the scientific committee of AIS-Edu (Italian Sociological Association – Education Section).

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