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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Journals
  • Precursors
  • Conceptual Debates
  • Participation and Rights
  • Children’s Independent Mobilities and Travel
  • Migrations
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Memories and Emotions of Childhood
  • Lifecourse, Transitions, and Intergenerational Relations
  • Identities and Intersectionalities
  • Work
  • Play
  • Research Methods and Ethics
  • Technologies and Popular Culture
  • Risk and Crime
  • Rural
  • Urban
  • Education
  • Activism, Aspirations, and Futures

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section

Childhood Studies Children's Geographies
Peter Kraftl, John Horton, Faith Tucker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0080


Children’s geographies is a large and vibrant subdiscipline in human geography, which focuses on children and young people from birth to age twenty-five. The foundations of the subdiscipline are diverse, encompassing early studies of children’s play, identity and environmental cognition, and feminist studies of the family. The subdiscipline developed a distinct identity from the late 1990s onward, and research in this area has increased dramatically. Children’s geographers routinely draw on the central tenets of childhood studies: that childhood is a social construction, and that children are agents whose voices should be heard in research and societal decision making. The uniqueness of children’s geographies, however, lies in the centrality of space and place. Conceptually, this has meant attention to how social constructions of childhood are also spatial constructions. In other words, depending on context, certain spaces (schools, the home) may be constructed as being “for” children, whereas in others (such as the street), children may be deemed “out of place.” Similarly, children’s geographers argue that it is impossible to understand children’s agency without interrogating their experiences of place. Scholarship has tended to focus on the smaller scale and, particularly, the ways in which children negotiate their local neighborhoods. Thus, there are several recurring themes within the subdiscipline: how children often feel excluded from public spaces by adults yet seek to find niches in which to express themselves; how children negotiate rules and physical boundaries set by parents and other adults; how children hold important knowledge about their local spaces, often overlooked by adults; how children’s experiences of and access to particular places may be crosscut by identity categories (especially gender, ethnicity, dis/ability, and class); how children may participate (or not) in planning or design programs that affect their lives. Building on these central tenets and themes, scholars within the subdiscipline have developed a range of conceptual approaches to children’s emotions, embodiment, intergenerational relations, political agency, scale, and their interactions with environmental and nonhuman) processes and materialities. In turn, such work has informed developments in wider disciplines (particularly human geography and interdisciplinary childhood studies), ensuring that children’s geographies has become increasingly visible beyond the subdiscipline. It is also important to note that children’s geographies has always been an interdisciplinary endeavor, drawing scholars from a range of disciplinary, conceptual, and methodological backgrounds (most evident when examining tables of contents for the journal Children’s Geographies, cited under Journals).

General Overviews

A number of authors have written overviews of children’s geographies. For a flavor of how the subdiscipline has changed and proliferated since the turn of the twenty-first century, compare and contrast McKendrick 2000, an earlier annotated bibliography, with the article you are currently reading. A number of important essays have charted changes within the subdiscipline sover this period. For example, Matthews and Limb 1999 outlines how the diverse Precursors had become consolidated into a relatively coherent subdiscipline, while Holloway and Valentine 2000 explores interconnections between the emergent subdiscipline and broader social-scientific work on childhood and youth. More-recent reviews in Jeffrey 2010 and Holloway 2014 demonstrate the increasing significance of political challenges, identities and forms of agency, as well as considering the broader impacts of work in children’s geographies. In addition to some similar reflections on politics, Aitken 2018 critically examines rapidly developing work that questions categories such as “human” and “nature.” Meanwhile, Khan 2021, and Smith and Mills 2019 chart ways in which age-based categories themselves (such as “childhood,” “youth,” and “generations”) operate in contexts within and, importantly, beyond the Minority Global North. Finally, like a number of the edited collections referenced below, Wells 2021—the third edition of an excellent book—highlights the geographical diversity of childhood experiences and their intersection with global processes.

  • Aitken, Stuart C. “Children’s Geographies: Tracing the Evolution and Involution of a Concept.” Geographical Review 108.1 (2018): 3–23.

    DOI: 10.1111/gere.12289

    This paper traces three distinct phases in the development of children’s geographies through environmental psychology, feminist and Marxist scholarship, and into issues of political identity. It also examines rapidly developing work that questions boundaries and categories— especially between “humans” and “nature”—and the implications for the subdiscipline.

  • Holloway, Sarah. “Changing Children’s Geographies.” Children’s Geographies 12.4 (2014): 377–392.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2014.930414

    A more recent overview that examines the rise of children’s geographies from early studies of spatial cognition and feminist geographies of the family. The paper pays particular attention to how an awareness of the subdiscipline’s history might inform its influence within wider interdisciplinary scholarship and impacts beyond the academy.

  • Holloway, Sarah L., and Gill Valentine. “Spatiality and the New Social Studies of Childhood.” Sociology 34.4 (2000): 763–783.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0038038500000468

    This paper reflects on the relationship between children’s geographies and broader social-scientific research with children and young people. Holloway and Valentine identify three ways in which geographical work should challenge social scientists to extend their work: by developing understandings of links between global and local scales, exploring how young people’s identities are constituted through particular spaces, and understanding how social constructions of childhood shape the meanings of spaces.

  • Jeffrey, Craig. “Geographies of Children and Youth I: Eroding Maps of Life.” Progress in Human Geography 34.4 (2010): 496–505.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132509348533

    The journal Progress in Human Geography contains review essays exploring the “state of the art” in different areas of geographical research. Jeffrey’s paper (the first in a series of three review articles) provides an overview of emergent conceptualizations of, and perspectives on, global childhoods that have invigorated children’s geographies.

  • Khan, Adrian A. “Advancing Children’s Geographies through ‘Grey Areas’ of Age and Childhood.” Geography Compass 15.8 (2021): 12584.

    DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12584

    An important overview of the status of “age” in children’s geographies, and particularly the Eurocentric lineage of this term. The paper deploys this review to join a growing body of articles in calling for the decolonization of the subdiscipline—in this case through more diverse conceptions of generations and the lifecourse.

  • Matthews, Hugh, and Melanie Limb. “Defining an Agenda for the Geography of Children: Review and Prospect.” Progress in Human Geography 23.1 (1999): 61–90.

    DOI: 10.1191/030913299670961492

    As the title suggests, this paper presents an agenda for research in children’s geographies. Matthews and Limb draw together arguments, propositions, and concepts from diverse sources and precursors to provide guidance for geographers undertaking research with children and young people.

  • McKendrick, John H. “The Geography of Children: An Annotated Bibliography.” Childhood 7.3 (2000): 359–387.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568200007003007

    A relatively early attempt to provide an annotated bibliography covering children’s geographies. An interesting snapshot of an emerging subdiscipline, this is an excellent source for information about pre-2000 research and early classics within the subdiscipline.

  • Smith, Darren P., and S. Mills. “The ‘Youth-Fullness’ of Youth Geographies: ‘Coming of Age’?” In Special Issue: Special Viewpoint Collection: Youth-Full Geographies. Children’s Geographies 17.1 (2019): 1–8.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2013.871801

    A key, recent overview of the status of youth in children’s geographies, which argues that youth scholarship has become dispersed across different niches in human geography. The authors make a compelling argument for a more coherent research agenda that focuses on the pressing environmental, social, and economic challenges facing young people in diverse geographical contexts.

  • Wells, Karen. Childhood in a Global Perspective. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2021.

    This book provides an introduction and overview to the ways in which geographers and a range of other scholars have approached the sheer diversity of children’s lives—whether in terms of geographical, social, or other contexts and forces. A particularly noteworthy contribution is the consideration of the multiply constituted identities of children and the institutions that govern childhoods.

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