In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children's Social Movements

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies and Handbooks
  • Journals
  • History
  • Children’s Rights Movements
  • Children in Social Movements

Childhood Studies Children's Social Movements
Manfred Liebel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0038


Social movements can be understood as more or less organized associations of persons who consider themselves connected by common interests and who want to achieve social change by means of protest. They agree on common objectives and try to exert influence on other individuals, social groups, and politics at large. Up until the beginning of the 21st century, socioscientific research has rarely focused on questions of whether children—understood in the sense of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as persons not yet eighteen years old—can be agents of social movements and questions concerning how they act and how they are to be perceived. Childhood studies gradually open their perspective to children as (potential) stakeholders of social movements by applying approaches that perceive children as co-constructors of social reality. The treatment of children as subjects in their own right has also fostered approaches. Due to the scant attention paid to children as stakeholders of social movements, there are only few literature sources relating to such movements. The following overview therefore takes a widened understanding of social movements as a basis ranging from supra-regionally and even internationally organized movements to informal and locally restricted initiatives. Moreover, it includes publications studying temporarily limited interventions of children in politics and human rights—for example, as participants in conferences on children’s rights or as researchers or authors of statements on their own behalf. When children’s movements are contemplated in literature, an articulate distinction is not always made between movements that act in support of children and movements produced by children themselves. Regarding the first, literature on what is known as “children’s rights movements” is taken into account; concerning the second, literature on children’s participation in social movements that incorporate persons of all ages and also literature on movements resting in the hands of children are considered. Among the latter, a difference is often made between informal, rather spontaneous groupings and organized movements in which children are the determining stakeholders. Social movements of children are often outcomes of child rights–oriented pedagogical and social projects or retroact on these. Therefore, particular paragraphs deal with such project approaches and with the explicit promotion of children’s social movements by adults. To reach a better understanding of children’s social movements, potential referential theories and research approaches are presented.

Anthologies and Handbooks

Due to the scant attention paid to children’s social movements in scientific writing over the years, until recently there have not been any specific overviews or textbooks dealing with the subject directly. Some anthologies and handbooks certainly allude to the topics of children’s social movements and activities and theories referring to them. Some studies of children’s rights practice are presented in Johnson, et al. 1998. The Percy-Smith and Thomas 2010 handbook, as well as the Invernizzi and Williams 2008 and Liebel and Martínez Muñoz 2009 anthologies, combine studies of children’s rights practice with theoretical reflections, especially on questions of children’s participation and citizenship. Practical examples and theoretical contributions to the question of children’s “protagonism” are to be found particularly in Liebel, et al. 2001. Some contributions in Ungar 2005 look at theories and research approaches that add to the understanding of the emergence of proactive initiatives, coping strategies, and protest movements at least indirectly.

  • Invernizzi, Antonella, and Jane Williams, eds. Children and Citizenship. London: SAGE, 2008.

    This anthology offers critical approaches to common notions of children’s citizenship including commentary on the perspectives and experiences of children themselves. It helps to understand the political meanings of children’s movements.

  • Johnson, Victoria, 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, 1998.

    This anthology includes some examples of child-led informal networks and organizations, as well as critical reflections on children’s councils and clubs, children’s participation at conferences, and forums on children’s rights from all over the world.

  • Liebel, Manfred, and Marta Martínez Muñoz, eds. Infancia y Derechos Humanos: Hacia una ciudadanía participante y protagónica. Lima, Peru: Ifejant, 2009.

    This anthology includes contributions on the relevance of children’s rights and agency-orientated theories for the promotion of children’s social movements and the active role of children as citizens and agents of social change.

  • Liebel, Manfred, Bernd Overwien, and Albert Recknagel, eds. Working Children’s Protagonism: Social Movements and Empowerment in Latin America, Africa and India. Frankfurt and London: IKO, 2001.

    This anthology offers an overview of theoretical debates about children’s protagonism, contextualizing them in light of experiences and analysis of working children’s movements in different parts of the global South or majority world.

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

    Brings together key thinkers and practitioners from diverse contexts around the globe to provide an authoritative overview on contemporary theory and practice centered around children’s participation and self-organization.

  • Ungar, Michael, ed. Handbook for Working with Children and Youth: Pathways to Resilience across Cultures and Contexts. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2005.

    Examines lives lived well despite adversity. It presents a collection of original writing on the theories, methods of study, and interventions to promote children and young people’s resilience across diverse cultures. It helps to understand the social and psychological forces behind the emergence of children’s movements.

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