Children’s Agency and Vulnerability. Theoretical and Empirical Considerations Concerning Child Well-Being Research

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Veronika MAGYAR-HAAS, University of Zürich, Switzerland
Morad SALAH, University of Zürich, Switzerland
Catrin HEITE, University of Zürich, Switzerland
With respect to the new children and childhood studies (CCS), this contribution deals with the relationship between the concepts of agency and vulnerability in child well-being research. In the sense of CCS, children are social actors of their own living environment and so subjects and not objects of research. Thereby, the key position of agency was intended ‹‹as a contribution to the social emancipation of children›› (Esser et al. 2016, p. 3). In the contemporary works on and about the concept of agency, the anthropologization and ontologization of the children’s status as actor is criticised – and the paper joins this criticism: It is problematic to take children genuinely as autonomous and independent subjects, equipped per se with the ability to act. In this view, social conditions of childhood and of the possibility of ‹agency› would receive less attention (Wihstutz in Esser et al. 2016, p. 62). Accordingly, ‹‹the physical, material and emotional dependencies of children›› and thus ‹‹a relational and dynamic connection between social actors and specific contexts›› (Prout cit. in Wihstutz 2016, 62f) should be systematically taken into account. An exclusive orientation along subjective perspectives of children, who are considered as strong, cannot serve as sole criterion for research on child wellbeing. Therefore, the paper connects the strong term of actor with the concept of vulnerability and discusses the contribution of this approach to child well-being research. We will focus on the following questions: How do social conditions, emotional relations and the material and economic environment affect children’s agency and bring up potential vulnerability? In which way are children able to act in vulnerable situations?

Esser, F., Baader, M. S., Betz, T. & Hungerland, B. (Ed.) (2016).Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood. New perspectives in Childhood Studies. London: Routledge.