|Title||Neoliberal agency, relational agency, and the representation of the agentic child in the Sociology of Childhood|
This critical commentary fulfils the regulations laid out by the University of Westminster as part of the submission for the award of PhD by Published Works. It accompanies nine published works that form the body of this submission and outlines their coherence, originality and contribution to knowledge. This body of work were published over a period of 6 years (2013-2019) and collectively is situated within, and at the intersection of the fields of sociology and childhood studies. In these works I interrogate the canonical concept of agency and I argue that the inherent contradictions of how agency is conceptualised, has more to do with the neoliberal model of agency being applied than whether children can and do exercise agency. The spaces of popular culture and of research with children are both contexts within which, dominant images of the child are reified and indeed produced. They offer both serious and playful spaces to critique and to reimagine the concept of agency and the potential that it offers. By considering explicitly how agency intersects with related concepts of vulnerability, care, participation, relationships and voice this body of work demonstrates there is significant analytical value in the concept of agency as applied to children and childhood. However, neoliberal models, which prize self-interested, individualistic, independent autonomy fail to acknowledge the lived realities of children’s lives or their situated and embedded nature in families, peer networks and assemblages of people and things. Like adults, children are not wholly agentic, nor are they utterly powerless. Rather, as I argue in this commentary, the agency of children is situated, contextual, contingent, and most importantly, relational; emerging in interesting and unexpected ways.
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