Reviews 2016

Participation, Citizenship and Intergenerational Relations in Children and Young People's Lives: Children and Adult in Conversation

Participation, Citizenship and Intergenerational Relations in Children and Young People's Lives: Children and Adult in Conversation. Ed. Joanne Westwood, Cath Larkins, Dan Moxon, Yasmin Perry, and Nigel Thomas. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 188 pages. £45.00 (hardback).

In recent years there has been a profound shift in Western perception of the social status of children and young people, which has been substantially influenced by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the development of a new sociology of childhood in the 1990s. This rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of study has been arguing for the recognition of children and young people as social actors and rights holders here and now as opposed to seeing them as innocent, powerless and incompetent adults-in-waiting. This new understanding has led, among others, to a greater acknowledgement of the right of children to conduct their own research into matters that affect them and to generate knowledge which should be taken into account in adult policies shaping their lives. The validity of child-led research (CLR), an approach within the larger field of childhood studies, has not yet been recognised in children's literature studies, which remains "a process devised by adults, applied to children with results interpreted by adults and presented as a theory of childhood" (Birbeck and Drummond 22).

The theme of the IRSCL biennial congress in 2017—"Possible & Impossible Children: Intersections of Children's Literature & Childhood Studies"—invites metacritical reflection on the possibility of moving away from adult-centred approaches to children's literature towards child-centred methodologies already developed within childhood studies and aimed at empowering children as rightful members of their communities and societies. One of such fascinating, as I believe, theoretical and practical possibilities, yet untried in our field, is the coexistence of children- and adult-led research, where children would be viewed as capable of generating critical reflection on texts addressed them and of impacting the field of children's literature studies. As this potentially very promising idea needs careful consideration and substantiation, it might be useful to look up publications providing an understanding of the nature, rationale, models and challenges of children's research. An especially compelling example of such studies is Participation, Citizenship and Intergenerational Relations in Children and Young People’s Lives: Children and Adult in Conversation, a unique Palgrave Pivot collection co-authored by adults, young people, and children to document the second conference of the INCRYNet (the International Childhood and Youth Research Network), whose "mission is to promote, internationally, the inter-disciplinary study of children and young people in order to further awareness and understanding of issues that affect their well being." The conference was organized in 2012, at the University of Central Lancashire, UK, to provide a forum for intergenerational discussions between academics, practitioners, children, and young people about child-led research. It also resulted in the development of a participation toolkit and a website offering access to supplementary visual and audio materials ( The major attraction of the book for the reader not yet familiar with this approach is the balance between the thorough exploration of the key theoretical underpinnings of CLR—participation, citizenship, intergenerational relations and children in research—and the lively discussions of real-life applications of the theory in work with children and young people participating in community projects conducted by the co-authors in the UK, India, Australia, Brazil, Nepal, and Sierra Leone.

The volume begins with a foreword by Kavita Ratna (Director-Advocacy, The Concerned for Working Children) and the editors' introduction. They are followed by Roshni Nuggehalli's chapter on the concept of children and young people's protagonism, that is, "the understanding of children and young people as the centre of their communities and societies" (14) and its possible academic applications aimed at children's shaping their own lives in their communities in very concrete ways. To clarify this idea, Nuggehalli compares CLR to feminist research: just as feminist scholars use their work to challenge patriarchies, children as researchers design, develop and apply tools and analyse findings to "challenge accepted norms of adultism and paternalism" (15), thereby becoming "drivers of knowledge and theory building" (19). Nuggehalli concludes with a plea that is certainly addressed also to children's literature researchers: "Adults have a strategic and critical role to play in facilitating processes of research by children and young people" (17). The remaining part of the collection is divided into three sections, whose first chapters were co-written by young researchers in response to the subsequent chapters by adult researchers. As the editors explain, "[d]uring the preparation of the book, members of the editorial team met regularly with young people from three different groups and devised creative ways of exploring the chapters with them....Author feedback was co-created by the young people, practitioners, students and academics. In this way we have produced a book for all of us, co-creating a space which is challenging, dynamic and takes debates about participation and citizenship forward in an inclusive manner" (3). Hence in Part I, on participation and citizenship, young people cooperated with Yasmin Perry and Cath Larkins to develop a commentary on projects and approaches discussed by Anne Crowley (on the problem of tokenism and evaluation of the impact of participatory projects), Amanda Hatton (the communicate, listen, respond model as a basis for research) and Victoria Jupp-Kina (individual and institutional tensions and barriers in participatory work).

Part II, centered on spaces for intergenerational dialogue, participation, and contribution, opens with an exchange between Dan Moxon, an adult participation worker, and young members (age 11-19) of Youthforia, a regional youth forum in the North West of England. In chapter 8 Pauline Billett discusses young people's exclusion from public spaces and its impact on their social capital. In Chapter 9 Siân Lucas focuses on multifaceted experiences of children and young people as language and culture brokers mediating between families, communities and social systems that fail to provide adequate language services. In view of the recent migrant crises in Europe, child language brokering (CLB) is certainly worth reflecting on in relation to the educational potential of children's literature as a source of positive representations of language brokering. Vicky Johnson's contribution centres on the "Change-scape" model of children's and young people's active participation in research as a framework accounting both for how young researchers are affected by the contexts of their lives and for how they can change their environments. Johnson convincingly argues that although recent socio-ecological theories "connect children to processes, context and time in a more fluid and organic way," more attention should be given to rights-based approaches that look into the possibilities and results of children's centrality "in decision-making processes that affect their lives" (96). Johnson also stresses the significance of "[w]orking with, rather than for, children, that is, treating children as active participants rather than recipients of interventions and action," which necessitates "shifts in attitudes from those in positions of power" (98). Both arguments are relevant to children's literature studies: would literature scholars be able to relinquish their claim of superior interpretative authority and enable young readers to inform and shape the knowledge about children's texts and their audience?

The focus of Part III is the inter-generational nature of the practice of co-research with children and young people. The opening chapter, co-written chapter by Cath Larkins and a group of disabled young researchers, is especially interesting as it contains a list of key ingredients in child- and young-person-led research. Discussing the work of Lucinda Kerawalla, Samia Michail and Martin Hughes, the authors of the final three chapters of the collection, the young researchers made suggestions for productive child/young person led research, which are worth quoting in full as they should be taken into account also when devising a child-led research into children's literature: "Think about research as made up of lots of different stages"; "Think about different young people having different influence in different stages of research, according to their own choices and interests"; "Give individual children and young people the support they need so that they can engage in and lead research in the ways they want to"; "Adopt methods and provide different activities for different young people within a group"; "Build trust"; "Value differences in opinion but work towards agreements"; "Adults should back off (should give guidance but not be bossy)"; "Make it fun" (112-116). In chapter 12, Kerawalla discusses a community research project containing these ingredients: a group of Girl Guides moved "from focusing on their individual opinions and views about the local community shopping facilities to achieving a group-wide consensus about what was needed in their community" (8). Redefining the personal inquiry framework into the inclusive inquiry framework by renaming each inquiry phase "in terms which describe the relationship between the researcher and their community" (125), Kerawalla describes in detail how an individual school-based project can become a community research venture potentially transforming young people's status in their local environment as "empowered advocate[s] of community opinion" (126). Kerawalla rightly stresses the dialogic nature of such projects as being co-constructed and "represent[ing] a cacophony of voices" (127). In chapter 13 Samia Michail argues for paying attention to "the relationships between young people and researchers as a key element of working together" (129), as well as "for reflexive practice that can increase researchers' self-awareness of the way they shape research" (133). Martin Hughes expands on this metacritical reflection by discussing his use of Q Methodology to understand the viewpoints of young researchers on their involvement in research process. A important conclusion he draws is that ownership [of the research] by young researchers tends to be limited to phases or aspects of the process (153), an observation applicable to traditional top-down reader response approaches treating respondents as only sources of information to be interpreted by the professional literary scholar.

The editors conclude this welcome volume with a reiteration of their intention to show how "the process of facilitating children's and young people's participation in the writing and editing" (155) enables them to become involved in more than "in a singular piece of research" (156). They also see collection as an example of "true collaborative conversations between research community and children and young people" (156). Indeed, all the contributions make a powerful case both for empowering children and young people as researchers capable of generating knowledge about themselves and for the potential of intergenerational relations in academia. Children's literature scholars willing to contemplate possible synergies between their work and childhood studies, and in particular the possibility of child-led research projects on children's literature, will certainly find it an invaluable source of guidelines on how to pursue an academic practice that is capable of creating a real impact on the lives of both children and adults.

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak
University of Wrocław, Poland

Works Cited

Birbeck, David J. and Murray J.N. Drummond. "Research with Young Children: Contemplating Methods and Ethics." Journal of Educational Inquiry 7.2 (2007): 21-31.

The International Childhood and Youth Research Network.