In this session of the “Children in Theory” series, John Wall (Rutgers University) introduces the main tenets of Childism as a theoretical method. He later discusses with Tanu Biswas (University of Stavanger) the applications of the framework to a critical study of childhood and children’s rights.

In this session, John Wall introduces childism as a theoretical method, and focuses on exploring the value and necessity of developing a critical model based on the agency and experience of childhood, similar to those of decolonialism, critical race theory, or third-wave feminism.

Childism is primarily concerned with achieving the demarginalization of children as a group, and of childhood as a lens to study social issues. Through the work of John himself, those at the Childism Institute, and many others, a childism prism aims to provide childhood and children’s rights studies with a theoretical model of their own, instead of making use of others coming from different intersectional standpoints. It provides a framework not only for deconstructing current discourses and approaches to childhood, but also for reconstructing new narratives more amenable to children’s issues. Key issues addressed:

  • What is Childism?
  • The relationship between Childism and Childhood Studies.
  • The hermeneutics of deconstructing and reconstructing childhood.
  • Ontology and the interdependence of human lives.
  • Politics of the empowered inclusion of children.

Standing on the introduction to childism as a theoretical framework, John Wall and Tanu Biswas discuss its roots to studies on childhood, some conceptual clarifications on the meaning of ‘childism’, and its development and application in various applied and theoretical areas of research. Among the issues addressed are the following questions:

  • The roots of Childism: How did Childism emerge from childhood studies? How to make meaningful use of children’s views and experiences in critical academic research? 
  • Two senses of ‘Childism’: Why use the term? What other ways has it been used? What does it add to our conceptual dialogues?
  • The development of ‘Childism’ as a critical method: The research programme of the Childism Institute, various applications in education, philosophy, and theology.
  • Children’s Rights and Human Rights: What is the value of applying a ‘childism’ lens to studies of the rights of children? How to rethink ‘human rights’ for children?

Further References and Sources

For a good introductory overview of concepts, methodologies, frameworks, and inspirations for Childism:

Various references for theoretical uses, and applications of childism in different spheres of research:

  • Biswas, T., Wall, J., Warming, H., Zehavi, O., Kennedy, D., Murris, K., Kohan, W, Saal, B & Rollo, T. (2023). Childism and philosophy: A conceptual co-exploration. Policy Futures in Education,
  • Biswas, T., & Wall, J. Childist theory in the humanities and social sciences. Special Issue Editorial. Children & Society.
  • Biswas, T., & Mattheis, N. (2022). Strikingly educational: A childist perspective on children’s civil disobedience for climate justice. Educational Philosophy and Theory54(2), 145-157.
  • Biswas, T. (2021). Letting teach: Gen Z as socio-political educators in an overheated world. Frontiers in Political Science, 28.
  • Biswas, T. (2023). Becoming good ancestors: A decolonial, childist approach to global intergenerational sustainability. Children & Society.
  • Mattheis, Nikolas (2022). Making Kin, Not Babies? Towards Childist Kinship in the "Anthropocene. Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research, 29(4):512-528.
  • Parker, Julie Faith (2019). Children in the Hebrew Bible and Childist Interpretation. Currents in Biblical Research 17(2) 130–157.
  • Sundhall, J. (2017). A political space for children? The age order and children’s right to participation. Social Inclusion5(3), 164-171.
  • Wall, J. (2008). Human rights in light of childhood. The International Journal of Children's Rights16(4), 523-543.
  • Wall, J. (2010). Ethics in Light of Childhood. Georgetown University Press.
  • Wall, J. (2016). Children's Rights: Today's Global Challenge. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Wall, J. (2021). Give Children the Vote: On democratizing democracy. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Warming, H. (2022). Childhood prism research: an approach for enabling unique childhood studies contributions within the wider scholarly field. Children's Geographies20(3), 284-296.
  • Warming, H. (2022). Society and social changes through the prism of childhood. Children's Geographies20(3), 253-256.

Additional links:

This project has been developed by members of the European Children’s Rights Unit with the support of the British Academy’s Newton International Fellowship award No. NIFBA19\190492KU. For more information on the series, please contact Nico Brando.

Back to: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences