In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographies of Children and Childhood

  • Introduction
  • General Overview and Introductory Texts
  • Journals
  • Edited Collections
  • Conceptual Debates
  • Ethics Issues and Methodological Techniques of Researching Children
  • Lifecourse, Childhood Transitions, and Age
  • Play and Culture
  • Mobility
  • Migration
  • Environment and Sustainability
  • Institutions
  • Urban
  • Rural
  • Politics and Citizenship
  • Work and Economy
  • Identity
  • Emotions

Geography Geographies of Children and Childhood
Tom Disney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0193


The social sciences traditionally have tended to be adult-centric, with perspectives from and about children largely marginalized and underrepresented. Sociologists began to challenge this in the 1990s, with the development of theorizations of the social construction of childhood. Proponents of this argued that children were not simply developing adults but social agents in their own right who should be acknowledged and given voice to in academic and policy debates. Concurrently, geographers were developing an interest in childhood and children’s lives, but they emphasized that the social construction of childhood was also inherently spatial, initially emerging from studies of children’s spatial cognition, but ultimately developing into a diverse understanding of the importance of space and place in children’s lives. In many respects, the development of a geographical interest in childhood and children’s lives has mirrored the growth of understanding around gender in the discipline; both of these address populations that appeared to have been overlooked or marginalized by the mainstream discipline. For geographers, the environment of childhood is intertwined intimately with its meanings. Particular contexts, such as the “home” or the “street,” influence the social constructions of childhood, with the former being a space where a child might belong and the latter possibly generating a sense of unease around a child’s “place.” The study of childhood within geography is often denoted in the plural of geographies, indicating multiple meanings and experiences in children’s lives at different stages of age and in different contexts. Geographies of childhood often, but not always, focus on the ways in which adult society shapes childhood, whereas children’s geographies often are centered on the everyday lives of children and thus are slightly distinct yet interconnected fields of study. Since the early 2000s, the sub discipline of children’s geographies has coalesced into a vibrant, interdisciplinary field. Geographers have striven to provide nuance and clarity about the everyday nature of children’s lives and often mirror sociological studies of childhood and children through an often-specific attention to the agency and mobility of children. Geographical explorations of childhood have often been focused at the micro-scale, exploring power dynamics between adults and young people in such settings as the school and the home, or tracing the mobilities and explorations of children in urban and rural neighborhoods. More recent work has begun to “scale up” geographical engagements with children and childhood and to consider children’s involvement in such phenomena as global development processes, climate change, and war. Alongside the foregrounding of the everyday in children’s geographies, considerable interest has developed in the ways in which adults conceptualize childhood and the resulting spatial implications of these discourses on children, particularly in terms of urban planning or policy directed at children. In international policy, children are often defined as ranging in age from birth to eighteen; however, such boundaries of age are often socially and culturally constructed and are thus contested and negotiated by adults and children themselves. Problematizing the transition of childhood to youth to adulthood as a linear process has also been the focus of geographical literature. Although this article is focused on children and childhood, it does include certain relevant references to young people.

General Overview and Introductory Texts

The literature on the geographies of childhood and children is diverse and spans a number of different topics, as indicated within this article. Several overviews, such as Aitken 1994 and Holloway and Valentine 2000, are early attempts to shed light on the shape of the subdiscipline and introduce spatiality into the debates around the social construction of childhood. Others, such as Matthews and Limb 1999 and Holt 2011, provide overviews of the accomplishments thus far and tentatively indicate the future direction of the subdiscipline. More recent contributions from Jeffrey 2010, Jeffrey 2012, and Jeffrey 2013 are useful for indicating where the future of geographical work on childhood and children lies. Engagements with the global constructions of childhood, such as Wells 2015, provide a useful overview of macro-scale processes that involve children.

  • Aitken, Stuart. Putting Children in Their Place. Resource Publications in Geography. Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers, 1994.

    An early foundational text on children and place, which is a key entry point into an understanding of children and childhood in geography. It focuses specifically on spatial readings of environmental learning, welfare, and diversity and explores different spaces of childhood, such as the home, street, and school.

  • Holloway, Sarah, and Gill Valentine, eds. Children’s Geographies: Playing, Living, Learning. London: Routledge, 2000.

    An early but still important edited collection that draws together key thinkers in geography with interests in childhood and children’s worlds. The introductory chapter (Children’s geographies and the new social studies of childhood), in particular, is useful for understanding how geographers seek to contribute to social studies of childhood.

  • Holt, Louise, ed. Geographies of Children, Youth and Families: An International Perspective. London: Routledge, 2011.

    A slightly more recent review of geographies of children and youth. Chapter 2 (Geographies of children, youth and families: defining achievements, debating the agenda), in particular, is an excellent review of the strengths and gaps of the current subdiscipline.

  • 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 first of three major reviews of geographies of children and youth. These reviews are particularly useful for indicating the future directions of work in this area, given the remit of articles in this publication. This article considers conceptual frameworks for analyzing young people and considers such areas as school curricula, children’s work, and youth unemployment.

  • Jeffrey, Craig. “Geographies of Children and Youth II: Global Youth Agency.” Progress in Human Geography 36.2 (2012): 245–253.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132510393316

    The second of these review articles examines youth agency in different contexts across the globe. Agency is a key concept within the subdiscipline of children’s geographies, and this article provides a useful overview of the concept of agency within human geography.

  • Jeffrey, Craig. “Geographies of Children and Youth III: Alchemists of the Revolution?” Progress in Human Geography 37.1 (2013): 145–152.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132511434902

    The third and final of Craig’s review articles on geographies of children and youth focuses on youth politics and protest. The author challenges discourses that young people engage in ineffective politics and problematizes notions around how “civil society” occurs. An important reference for political geographers interested in youth and childhood.

  • 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

    This article brings together and reviews the extant literature in the late 1990s around geographies of childhood and youth, seeking to define an agenda for the subdiscipline. Matthews and Limb call for further work with children and young people to consider their built environment beyond the school, home, and playground, which continue to be significant sites of research for geographers of childhood and youth.

  • Skelton, Tracey. “Children’s Geographies/Geographies of Children: Play, Work, Mobilities and Migration.” Geography Compass 3.4 (2009): 1430–1448.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2009.00240.x

    Articles in this publication offer concise reviews of given areas within geography that are considered important and topical. Skelton’s review is a useful starting point for those beginning work in this area. In particular, the author takes great effort to consider children’s geographies beyond Anglocentric interpretations of children’s lives, a view which has often been a criticism of geographers’ work in this area. Skelton also traces the emerging interest in movement and children’s mobilities and thus represents a useful starting point for geographers working in this area.

  • Wells, Karen. Childhood in a Global Perspective. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2015.

    Wells employs a historical and comparative approach to argue that as a consequence of globalization it is now possible to consider childhood on a global scale. Subjects covered include children’s involvement in war, the role of the school in governing childhood, and the ways in which children are constituted as raced, classed, and gendered subjects.

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