In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Voice, Participation, and Agency

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Manuals and Toolkits
  • Journals
  • Organizations
  • Theoretical Frameworks
  • Typologies of Participation
  • Political Perspectives
  • Children’s Rights
  • Listening to Children
  • Consulting with Children
  • Ethics
  • Children’s Competencies
  • Participation in Action
  • Voice
  • Agency and Citizenship
  • Health and Social Care
  • Disability
  • Education
  • Nongovernmental Organizations
  • Children and Young People’s Own Perspectives
  • Early Childhood
  • Youth

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section

Childhood Studies Voice, Participation, and Agency
Mary Kellett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0013


Children and young people’s participation, voice, and agency constitute an important theme in childhood studies that emerged in the 1990s and intensified in the first decade of the 21st century. Its origins lie in the surge of children’s rights that unfolded in the wake of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Political momentum amassed behind UNCRC with legislative outcomes in many nation-states such as the Every Child Matters agenda in the United Kingdom. Acknowledging the imperative of children’s rights is only the beginning: participation, voice, and agency are the tools that make it happen. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are nuanced in different realities. More effective listening cultures led to an acceptance that children are experts on their own lives and capable of meaningful participation in matters that affect them. Voice is the right to express their views freely, including an entitlement to have these views heard. Children’s agency implies activity, a point at which their views translate into actions such as making decisions, influencing change, and providing evidence.

General Overviews

This subject area is broad and essentially encompasses three distinct elements: participation, voice, and agency; so books that give a complete overview are rare. Participation and voice are still contested concepts in some quarters, and new readers looking for balance need to choose texts that offer diverse outlooks, as well as general overview properties. Of those that are available, the most comprehensive is Percy-Smith and Thomas 2010 because of its global range and its eclectic mix of perspectives; but it does assume some prior knowledge and therefore not recommended as a starter text. A good place to start is Lansdown 2001, which provides an excellent rationale for children’s participation in very accessible language suitable for both practitioners and academics. Or, for a methods base, start with Johnson, et al. 1998. James, et al. 2010 is essential reading for understanding the background leading up to the evolution of participation agendas. Other volumes such as Hallett and Prout 2003 and Tisdall, et al. 2006 also provide comprehensive introductions to the field, although they are written from particular editorial angles; social policy and social inclusion respectively. Hart, et al. 2004 provides a good platform for participation activity at a community level. For those interested in the tokenism of participation, Hill, et al. 2004 is a persuasive read.

  • Hallett, Christine, and Alan Prout, eds. Hearing the Voices of Children: Social Policy for a New Century. London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003.

    This was the first edited volume to devote its chapters to considerations of the place of children’s voices in social policymaking. It centers primarily on applied social policy in areas of children’s service provision in the United Kingdom. The editorial perspective does not posit children’s participation as being unproblematic and explores other standpoints including criticisms that view children’s agency as undermining the role of parents in society.

  • Hart, Jason, Jesse Newman, Lisanne Ackerman, and Thomas Feeney. Children Changing Their World: Understanding and Evaluating Children’s Participation in Development. London: Plan UK, 2004.

    A good overview text of children’s participation at local and community levels across the globe. Draws on a wide academic literature of child participation, it discusses practical frameworks for setting up, monitoring, and evaluating field-based child-participatory research.

  • Hill, Malcolm, John Davis, Alan Prout, and Kay Tisdall. “Moving the Participation Agenda Forward.” Children and Society 18. 2 (2004): 77–96.

    DOI: 10.1002/chi.819

    A good starting point for readers new to the participation and voice field. It explores different models of participation in the literature. Provides a good grounding but also offers a critical perspective in debating tokenism and consequent disillusion for some children.

  • James, Allison, Chris Jenks, and Alan Prout. Theorising Childhood. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010.

    This is essential reading for anyone needing to understand the origins and drivers of children’s participation. It was a landmark text that established the notion of children as social actors and agents in their own lives.

  • Johnson, Vicky, Edda Ivan-Smith, Gill Gordon, Pat Pridmore, and Patta Scott, eds. Stepping Forward: Children and Young People’s Participation in the Development Process. London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1998.

    An older edited collection but useful as an introduction to primary principles of participation. Covers participation themes of ethics, methods, effective communication, cultural contexts, and conflict and crisis settings. A comprehensive introductory text.

  • Lansdown, Gerison. Promoting Children’s Participation in Democratic Decision-Making. Florence: UNICEF, 2001.

    This is a highly recommended starter text, particularly helpful for readers new to the field, as it begins with basics of children’s participation. Using a strong rationale, the text then moves to the realities of participation in practice. Excellent introduction for practitioners and academics alike.

  • Percy-Smith, Barry, and Nigel Thomas, eds. A Handbook of Children and Young People’s Participation: Perspectives from Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 2010.

    This handbook is not concerned with defining children and young people’s participation but with bringing together the many diverse realizations of participation. It draws mainly on political and social theory but without supplanting the authentic child voice. It is a rich and vibrant volume featuring participation perspectives as diverse as child coffee workers in Nicaragua and disabled children in the United Kingdom.

  • Tisdall, Kay, John Davis, Malcolm Hill, and Alan Prout, eds. Children, Young People and Social Inclusion: Participation for What? Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2006.

    Approaches participation from a social inclusion perspective, exploring connections between children’s participation and levels of inclusion in society. There is a strong emphasis on marginalization and disadvantage. Child poverty features prominently. The general trend is toward social policy, but it will be of interest to general readers as this is tied to concepts of democracy and citizenship.

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