In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Childhood and Borders

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Theories of Childhoods
  • Philosophies of Childhoods and Borders
  • Autobiographies of Childhoods and Borders

Childhood Studies Childhood and Borders
Marek Tesar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0154


Childhoods and borders are contested categories and spaces. Following the tradition of childhood studies, this article utilizes a wide range of theoretical perspectives on these concerns. The subject of childhood and borders continues to be an underresearched area of study, spanning from notions of global childhoods to localized experiences, and geographical, sociological, anthropological, and philosophical perspectives on childhood and borders. In this article, borders and borderlands and acts of crossing them are argued in both a real and a metaphorical sense. Childhoods are exposed to and experience many types of borders and borderlands, including both real and imaginary experiences. This article addresses these complexities and perspectives. This article contributes to the paradigm shift in research concerning children and childhoods that allows the resurfacing and elevation of traditionally subjugated knowledges and stories. Moreover, forthcoming publications both theorize and tell the narratives of childhood crossing/living/being over/in/with borders and border spaces. This article should therefore be treated as a live commentary that will be regularly updated as new knowledge, ideas, research, and narratives emerge. Children’s voice, participation, experience, and resistance are particularly seminal in this context. This article juxtaposes such influential and seminal sources with texts that may seem more obscure, yet that are important to contextualize issues in local settings with global practices, and to present the breadth and richness of the scope of childhood studies. By exploring borders, boundaries, and borderlands, this article leads also to notions of space, place, and power, and further into constructs of foreigners and strangers, and anthropological, sociological, and philosophical perspectives on childhoods. As borders and borderlands change and evolve in a geographical sense, so do the ideas and notions around them. Borders and borderlands can therefore also be seen as metaphorical, and present a fascinating view of children’s lives and experiences of their childhoods. This article of “Childhood and Borders” thus draws on diverse disciplines to examine notions of borders, boundaries, borderlands, and crossings from actual, real, and metaphorical imagined perspectives. What unites the disciplinary diversity in this article is the focus on the child and childhoods through a childhood studies lens, and the various manifestations of it in relation to children, childhoods, and borders.

General Overview

Developing a general overview of childhoods and borders requires thinking about broad perspectives on these notions, for example to expand borders to borderlands, border spaces, and border crossings. The texts in this general overview section are focused on such topics, and it attempts to contextualize and theorize these two events—childhood and borders. This section demonstrates the breadth required in order to encompass the diversity of childhood and borders. One of tasks of this general overview is to provide an analytical, multiple view of thinking about childhood, boundaries, and borders on a global scale, and contextualized within local experiences. Featured publications utilize scholarship on children/adults and borders/boundaries, rather than specifically “childhood”; as this is one of the gaps that needs to be further theorized. The special issue of European Journal of Social Theory (2006) uses social theory to theorize the notion of borders and boundaries, with the subjects of crossings and issues of identity and boundaries; this special issue of the journal gives an excellent background and overview of border studies. Similarly, Aitken, et al. 2011 provides an excellent overview of relationships between adults, children, and border studies (published earlier as a special edition of Children’s Geographies). Both of these special issues and collections of various authors emphasize the importance of considering multiple perspectives on this subject, and how these perspectives can provide an important overview of such subjects as border studies, that require an interdisciplinary perspective. Adams and Kirova 2007 postulates yet another excellent overview of the subject—this time from the perspective of education and global perspectives on migration, with a clearly focused overview of demonstrating “how to do things better.” Smith 2007 gives an important overview of qualitative methodologies that both negotiate and struggle with borders and boundaries, while Kok-Chor Tan 2004 presents an outstanding overview on debates of cosmopolitanism—a subject that is a key consideration in relation to childhood and borders. Finally, Donnan and Wilson 2000 delivers an overview of identity, nation, and state with respect to borders and frontiers. These are general overviews of subjects that are directly or indirectly implicated in research and thinking about the complexities of childhood and borders.

  • Adams, Leah, and Anna Kirova, eds. Global Migration and Education: School, Children, and Families. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007.

    This book presents global perspectives on immigrant children, families, and education. Primarily focused on educators, it is one of the better “hands on” publications. It uses voices of children and families in an attempt to critique and influence educational policy. Very clear writing that students particularly interested in the education side of the notion of borders will appreciate. Great global scope covering many experiences and perspectives.

  • Aitken, Stuart C., Kate Swanson, Fernando J. Bosco, and Thomas Herman. Young People: Border Spaces and Revolutionary Imaginations. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    This tiny, yet powerful and rigorous publication was published as an outcome of a special issue of Children’s Geographies. It serves as a great overview of the material and metaphorical manifestation of borders. It deals with children’s cultures and ideas in border spaces, by working with narratives of children and young people, including marginality, identity, and exclusion.

  • Donnan, Hastings, and Thomas M. Wilson. Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and State. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    An excellent overview of the concepts of nation and state and the local levels of borders. Drawing on many global perspectives, this book gives a very good comparative view on what is culture and how it is performed at state boundaries. Examining the micro and macro practices, this book’s insightful and broad scope offers multiple perspectives on borders and power relations of everyday border life.

  • Kok-Chor Tan. Justice without Borders: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and Patriotism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    This book provides an excellent overview of the contemporary debates on cosmopolitanism, nationalism, and patriotism. Focused on the notion of justice, this book provides a solid overview of the subject, and of the tensions that these debates have with each other. Serves both as a critique and an overview of cosmopolitanism, particularly from the perspective of philosophy, and political and social theory.

  • Smith, Math, ed. Negotiating Boundaries and Borders: Qualitative Methodology and Development Research. London: Elsevier, 2007.

    This edited book presents an extremely important challenge, using a range of global perspectives and exemplars. It builds upon the important notion of considering research to be political, to be contextualized locally, and to relate to practice. Using diverse disciplines and making links to research and the notion of change complicate the relationship between research and subjects. Recommended as a great overview for students doing qualitative research about borders.

  • Special Issue: European Journal of Social Theory. 9.2 (2006): 155–299.

    An excellent special issue of a sociological journal that utilizes and works with the notion of borders and boundaries. Features eight studies that theorize boundaries and provide a meaningful and rigorous overview of the subjects of borders, boundaries, its constructions, and crossings. Highly recommended for its theoretical grounding and as an excellent starting point to the complexities of border spaces.

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