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Florian Esser, Meike S. Baader et al. (Eds.): Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood

Reviewed by Prof. Dr. Manfred Liebel, 2017-02-22

Cover Florian Esser, Meike S. Baader u.a. (Hrsg.): Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood ISBN 978-1-138-85419-2

Florian Esser, Meike S. Baader, Tanja Betz, Beatrice Hungerland (Eds.): Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood. Routledge (New York) 2016. 310 pages. ISBN 978-1-138-85419-2. 123,95 EUR.

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Discussion and Summary

The volume provides a comprehensive and reliable overview of the international discussion on the concept of agency that has taken place over the past thirty years, focusing on childhood studies in the Global North. Basic theoretical aspects as well as possible empirical applications in childhood research are examined. Thus it is a merit of the volume that it relates the high level of theoretical reflection to examples of empirical research and makes visible the resulting methodological questions and difficulties. In this way, it becomes clear why the concept of agency, whatever it may be, is indispensable for childhood research and that it is open to many different applications. Perhaps it is the relative indeterminacy of the concept that makes it so attractive which extends from the subjective abilities, via the facilitating conditions, to the manifested action. The volume sharpens the view for the necessity to extend the concept of agency beyond its widespread idealization and essentialization. The volume also shows promising ways how the agency concept might gain profile and depth by linking it with social theories (such as Actor Network Theory or other relational action theories) or philosophical concepts (such as Critical Realism), which have so far received little attention in childhood research.

However, we should not ignore the critical impulse intended by the insertion of the agency concept in the New Childhood Studies. Some contributions in the volume make this impression, for example, when the Actor Network Theory is not critically discussed in this respect, or when the agency concept is taken easily yielded for simply stating the reproduction of social inequality resulting from children´s action. As gratifying the inclusion of transnational aspects and experiences from the Global South are, it would also have been desirable and certainly possible to find and reflect individual and collective forms of children´s agency, which remain hidden from a modernity theorist perspective. Here, postcolonial theories or Subaltern Studies might provide some stimulus for the foundation and differentiation of the agency concept in childhood research.

The anthology conveys a wealth of suggestions on how the agency concept can be used in childhood research and in what way it requires being conceptually specified and differentiated.

Review by
Prof. Dr. Manfred Liebel
Master of Arts Childhood Studies and Children’s Rights (MACR) an der Fachhochschule Potsdam, Fachbereich Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaften

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Cite this publication
Manfred Liebel, 2017. Review of: Florian Esser, Meike S. Baader, Tanja Betz, Beatrice Hungerland (Ed.): Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood. Routledge 2016. ISBN 978-1-138-85419-2. In: socialnet Reviews, 2017-02-22. ISSN 2190-9245. Retrieved 2023-05-28 from

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