Childhood Studies Interdisciplinarity in Childhood Studies
Chandni Basu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0273


Childhood studies per se is an interdisciplinary domain of knowledge generation. It draws from different fields of knowledge (disciplines) within social sciences and humanities like history, anthropology, sociology, geography, literature, and law apart from interdisciplinary domains like gender studies, cultural studies, film studies, and others. Notably, the sociopolitical transformations which influenced shaping of childhood as a modern phenomenon also resulted in the emergence of “the child” as a philosophical concept in modern times. This emergence along with efforts toward pedagogization and psychologization of childhood by the end of the nineteenth century set in motion discursive deliberations on childhood in the academic sphere especially within the western European context (with a difference between the continental and Anglo-Saxon version). Evidently, academic disciplines and specializations of social pedagogy, psychology, and pediatrics were forerunners in setting forth an academic construction of childhood by the beginning of the twentieth century. “The child” became an object of study in such academic deliberation. This stature of “the child” led to its academic portrayal as a passive recipient of disciplinary and socialization mandates over larger span of the twentieth century. In this scheme, childhood was deemed to be a transformative zone, where the child reached finality in adulthood. Such a construction of childhood under academic influences furthered the notion of a universal modern childhood. Childhood studies as it is known today became formalized in the 1990s with the consolidation of the new sociology of childhood. It marked the reconstruction of childhood which characterized a paradigmatic shift within the discourse of childhood. Formalization of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) provided an impetus in this direction. Childhood therefore soon featured as a contested terrain especially among historians, sociologists, and psychologists. The reconstruction entailed a transformation of the figure of the “child” from its earlier psychologized version. The new sociology of childhood challenged such academic construction of childhood. It advocated for children as active agents of their own societies beyond their passive existences. This paved a new pathway toward the theorization of children and childhoods. This bibliography is organized into four sections. General Overview on Childhood Studies contains a brief introduction to the topic of childhood studies. Interdisciplinarity summarizes the significance and debates surrounding the topic within academic discussions. Postcolonial-Postmodern Interdisciplinarity directs the reader toward an understanding of interdisciplinarity in terms of the postcolonial and the postmodern, and finally Interdisciplinarity in Childhood Studies charts the course of childhood studies as an interdisciplinary endeavor in itself.

General Overview on Childhood Studies

Childhood studies involve the study of children and childhoods and its multifaceted dimensions. The postcolonial turn within the sociology of childhood marks an exit to the earlier multiple childhoods perspective. The multiple childhoods perspective put forth a simplistic understanding of difference in terms of the self and other. The postcolonial turn, on the other hand, led to a theorization of difference as it also problematized the spatial dimension of childhood. In this the postcolonial turn in childhood studies complements the reconstruction of childhood away from earlier academic constructions toward a predominant psychologization of “the child.” Alanen 1988 sets the stage for the discussion on childhood studies at its inception. Since the paradigmatic shift from the multiple childhoods perspective to the new sociology of childhood in the 1990s, childhood studies have evolved to become one of the most important interdisciplinary field of knowledge in contemporary times. As understood from its nomenclature, childhood studies engage with the study of children and childhoods in terms of practices, theories, and methodologies. Stephens 1995 writes about the cultural politics of childhood. Burman 1996 provides a critique of the international child rights legislation in terms of its conceptual limitation. James and James 2001 draws our attention toward a key problematic of childhood studies, that of reconciliation between diversities and commonalities of childhoods. Balagopalan 2011 makes us aware of the epistemic relevance of studying childhood in postcolonial contexts like that of South Asia. Nieuwenhuys 2013 further draws our attention toward the relevance of the postcolonial perspective while theorizing childhood. Mae Duane 2013 focuses on the transformation of childhood studies. The authors in this edited volume further reflect on the role of the humanities in its engagement with children and childhoods. Twum-Danso Imoh, et al. 2018 analyzes children’s lives beyond the binaries of the Global South and the Global North. The book shows how children’s lives are increasingly being affected by global processes and local realities simultaneously. Woodhouse 2020 takes us through models and methods to study childhood. The author proposes a new value metrics in terms of a new philosophy of “ecogenerism” that reflects the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Abebe, et al. 2022 argues toward southern theorizations of children and childhoods as an urgent need thereby pushing the boundaries of childhood studies.

  • Abebe, T., A. Dar, and I. M. Lyså. “Southern Theories and Decolonial Childhood Studies.” Childhood 29.3 (2022): 255–275.

    DOI: 10.1177/09075682221111690

    This special issue Southern Theories and Decolonial Childhood Studies editorial foregrounds the significance of using southern methodologies in the study of children and childhoods. It argues for epistemic plurality and bottom-up theorization toward the study of children in the Global South. In this it aligns with the indigenous, decolonial, and postcolonial perspectives. It disregards northern-centric theorizations which remain dominant in childhood research today. The editorial puts forth the primary agenda of the special issue as a rectification of the onto-epistemological imbalance within childhood studies.

  • Alanen, L. “Rethinking Childhood.” Acta Sociologica 31.1 (1988): 53–67.

    DOI: 10.1177/000169938803100105

    This paper examines the absence of sociology of childhood and argues for the need of sociological rethinking to bring children into sociology. The paper demonstrates childhood as a social construct thereby making the way for an emergence of the sociology of childhood. It remains one of the foundational texts that paved the way for the new sociology of childhood in the 1990s.

  • Balagopalan, S. “Introduction: Children’s Lives and the Indian Context.” Childhood 18.3 (2011): 291–297.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568211413369

    This paper engages with children’s lived experiences in the context of Indian society. It raises the contention that engaging with the Indian context is significant not just as yet another example of childhood but in terms of Indian society as an epistemic ground to study childhood. The paper advocates for a postcolonial lens. Studying childhood with such a lens would significantly minimize epistemic errors which could occur otherwise.

  • Burman, E. “Local, Global or Globalized? Child Development and International Child Rights Legislation.” Childhood 3.1 (1996): 45–66.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568296003001004

    This paper examines the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in terms of its conceptual limitations. It provides a conceptual framework to analyze international child rights legislations and the concept of childhood that underlies it. In this, the paper questions the normalized psychological definitions of childhood that informs the practice of rights legislations. The paper demonstrates how the practices of rights legislation are not sufficient to guarantee children’s well-being.

  • James, A., and A. L. James. “Childhood: Toward a Theory of Continuity and Change.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 575 (2001): 25–37.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716201575001002

    This paper proposes childhood as a structural space. It further accounts for the diversity and commonalities in children’s everyday lives. The paper proposes to examine the role of law and social policy from an interdisciplinary perspective toward an understanding on continuity and change within the domain of childhood. It puts forth the basic premises on which childhood studies is grounded. The paper addresses a key problematic of childhood studies, that of reconciliation between diversities and commonalities of childhoods.

  • Mae Duane, A., ed. The Children’s Table: Childhood Studies and the Humanities. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013.

    The book charts the transformation of childhood studies. It raises questions about understandings of science and story, biology and culture, data and narrative. The book argues that the task of childhood studies is not only to dismantle and problematize the scientific notion of the child, but rather to engage rigorously with science’s biological parameters. In this, the book also reflects on the role of humanities in its engagement with the concept of “the child.”

  • Nieuwenhuys, O. Theorizing Childhood(s): Why We Need Postcolonial Perspectives. Childhood 20.1 (2013): 3–8.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568212465534

    This paper argues for the need of a postcolonial perspective while studying childhood. It puts forth the significance of the postcolonial lens while engaging with children and childhoods. For example, it invokes children’s understanding of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds in terms of postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha’s notion of “third space.” In this, the paper puts forth the importance of the understanding of identity negotiations especially in minority communities.

  • Stephens, S., “Children and the Politics of Culture in ‘Late Capitalism’.” In Children and the Politics of Culture. Edited by S. Stephens, 3–48. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

    This chapter introduces the notion of children’s cultural identity especially in the wake of the postmodern/postcolonial turn at the end of the twentieth century. It explores the meaning of children’s cultural identities and children’s culture with respect to transnational flows of people and commodities. The chapter reflects on the cultural construction of childhood. It further deliberates on the ontological child and raises the complexity of the “interest of the child” especially within the context of an international child rights regime.

  • Twum-Danso Imoh, A., M. Bourdillon, and S. Meichsner, eds. Global Childhood beyond the North-South Divide. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

    This book explores children’s lives beyond the binary of the Global North and the Global South. It problematizes the notion of binary and reflects on categories like the Global South. The book explicates why it is important to think beyond binaries of the Global North and the Global South. In this respect, the global and the local are qualified. It shows how children’s lives are increasingly being affected both by global processes and local realities simultaneously.

  • Woodhouse, B. B. “2 Tools for Studying Childhood.” In The Ecology of Childhood: How Our Changing World Threatens Children’s Rights. By B. B. Woodhouse, 14–38. New York: New York University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814794845.003.0002

    This book chapter provides understanding on some methods, models, and value metrics in studying childhood. It elaborates on the ecological model and the comparative method. The chapter proposes a new value metrics in terms of a new philosophy of “ecogenerism” that reflects the most rapidly and universally accepted charter of human rights: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

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