Centre for Innovation & Research in Childhood and Youth

Interdisciplinary, international & in the real world

(Original picture from http://www.daddyfiles.com/gender-matters-girl-toys/)

Leave a comment

A jouney to a PhD Studentship

By Sarah Goldsmith

I started the MACYS course in September, after many years working as a playworker in after school clubs and holiday clubs as well as delivering playwork training. The MACYS course enabled me to think differently about various aspects of childhood across a range of disciplines, which has in turn allowed me look at children’s play from different perspectives and expanding my knowledge. It has also encouraged me to be more interested in the research side rather than just the practitioner view and I would like to see how the two can work together.

In November an email went around advertising for PhD post at Glasgow Caledonian University entitled ‘Boys’ toys and ‘Girls’ toys: learning through play. It was an area that I was interested in and on the off chance I thought I would apply.

Glasgow uni

However I realised that the post was due to start in May and I wouldn’t finish my MA until September, so I emailed them explaining that I wouldn’t be able to apply, they replied saying that the start date was negotiable, so I went back to the application form, but having never applied for a PhD I headed to the library and the careers advice service and they helped me to write an academic CV (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!) and gave me some advice about what to write on the application form. The application form was submitted before Christmas, and I didn’t think anything more about it as I didn’t expect to hear anything further.

I was really surprised in January when I received an email saying that I had an interview and could I prepare a 5 minute presentation about how I would implement the PhD. I thought about this for a while and put the basics together but having never prepared an interview for a PhD I turned to Rachel Thomson and Rachel Burr, they were very supportive and because Rachel Thomson supports PhD students here at Sussex she had some great advice and helped me a lot with the presentation, for which I am really grateful. So if you ever apply for a PhD she is the person to talk to.

I have always wanted any research I complete to be useful to the playwork field and my proposal was inspired partly by the book ‘We don’t play with guns here’ by Penny Holland. She worked in a nursery and following the trend at the time had band gun play and super hero play. By observing the children the staff realised that this wasn’t necessarily what the children wanted as they still found ways to incorporate gun and super hero play within their play narratives. Eventually the staff not only relaxed their rule but actively encouraged this type of play.

Although views and opinions about weapon and super hero play have shifted and become more acceptable, it seems that more gender specific play has become more pronounced and stereotypical especially in the eyes of many adults.

As a result I am interested in the children’s responses to adults’ views and opinions and how they use play and toys to either rebel, conform or simply digest those views, especially if there are different opinions between the adults in their lives. My focus would be on how adult’s anxieties are mediated in children’s play. This could then be used to inform practice.

In order to do this there are 3 main areas of political and theoretical debate that underpin and converge in the project and they are;

  1. Policy concern on the commercialisation of childhood
  2. Theories of gender
  3. Theories of play

This was the basis of my proposal that I was going to present.

I was really nervous leading up to the interview, as it was out of my comfort zone and I was completing the interview by Skype! So many things could go wrong! But I needn’t have worried too much, the skype connection worked and we could hear each other and they could even see my Powerpoint! After that it was a bit problematic as we couldn’t see each other, but luckily the sound was mostly ok. They asked me some questions about my proposal and my opinions about various subjects and then it was over. I thought it went well and it wasn’t as nerve racking as I thought it was going to be!

I was happy that I had been offered an interview, it was a completely new experience and I had learnt a lot about applying for an academic post, which is quite different to applying for a ‘regular’ job. I was happy that I had done it and was pleased with how it went (apart from the slight hiccup with skype), but I was expecting the ‘sorry you haven’t been successful’ letter, especially as over a week later I still hadn’t heard anything. I emailed them to find how and when I would find out if I had been successful or not and they replied said “Sorry our admin for post grad support has been off so the letters are taking longer than usual. However I am delighted to tell you that you were successful and we will be offering you the PhD” I was in shock, I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I was reading it correctly, Once it sank in I was so excited I couldn’t stay still! I phoned my parents, but they had gone out, so I phoned some friends.    Everything is going to change come October and I’m really looking forward to it! Moving to the other end of the country, taking on a new challenge of the PhD, learning so much more about play and gender and I will also be doing some teaching, it’s just what I needed. I’m really excited and a little bit nervous, but it’s great! So look out for the PhD offers that come around, who knows what path you could end up on, and if you do apply for a PhD defiantly speak to Rachel Thomson.

If you’re in Glasgow after October come and say hi!

horse cone

Leave a comment

Connecting through texts


Great post by Melissa Nolas. A very thought provoking discussion on agency, sound and the politics of everyday life. It was great to see (and hear) a number of CIRCY members present . Looking forward to hearing what the Connectors colleagues in Athens and Hyderabad discussed in relation to the paper!

Originally posted on Connectors Study:


As part of the Connectors Study we have launched a regular reading group, the first of which happened last week at Sussex when a group of us got together to read a paper by David Oswell who is based in the Sociology department at Goldsmiths.

The aim of our reading group is to bring together together researchers interested in the themes of childhood, youth and family activism, citizenship, participation, politics, and public life, for us to meet and, through key readings, create a forum for discussion and sharing of ideas in the first instance. While theory development on the topic of children’s participation in public life and the emergence of an orientation towards social action in childhood are is key work for the Connectors Study, these activities also feed into the Childhood Publics theme that is a growing area of interest and research within CIRCY.

One of the exciting and…

View original 1,424 more words

Leave a comment

Winter Graduation

Wgrad 1onderful to be at Winter Graduation today and to congratulate 2 MACYS students (Jessica and Arlie) receiving their Masters degrees, two MSc Social Research Methods students (Elsie and Louise) and 3 PhD students (Rebecca, Claire and Denise) all linked to CIRCY. Many others couldn’t be there in person because of work or because they are ‘back home’ overseas. So ‘virtual’ but congratulations go out to Nouf, Cindy, Niharika, Kate and Tawana (MACYS) and Leethen (Social Research Methods). Childhood and Youth Studies thriving at Sussex!

Rebecca n Elsfacultygrad 3
Post Graduate Open Day on Weds 28th Jan, afternoon Fulton Building. Come along and find out more. We have exciting plans for MACYS in 2015-16 including a new module on practice skills and year-long wrap-around support in academic and research skills.


MACYS 2 grad 2 MACYS

Leave a comment

Full and empty handed

Originally posted on The 'Good sex' project:

by Rachel Thomson

I finally made it to one of the evening sessions for the Sexology & Songs project. A combination of my ridiculous schedule and caution from the practitioners has meant that the research agenda has kept in the background of this project, with an emphasis on the formation of a confident group able to work together on music. I really wanted to get involved but was told not to come ‘empty handed’. So I had to think what could I bring that might be interesting to the young women and relevant to the research aims of the project which are to engage with ideas of social change in relation to young people’s sexuality.

I’ve just moved house and one of the consequences is that I have been sorting through my ‘personal archive’ – things that have survived successive edits of my life over the years. These kind of…

View original 1,737 more words


Leave a comment

To see, to know, to do. A reflection on moral questions.

My name is Kerrie Rouy, and am a MACYS student the University of Sussex. I have a research interest in Child Sexual Exploitation/ Trafficking. My main reason for this blog is for a space to reflect on what I took away from the day at the UK Gathering of Stop The Traffik (STT), and questions I have been exploring. I enjoy academia; I had a break and have come back into it, self-motivated and hungry for knowledge. I do however understand the importance of ground-level research and this is something I am interested in pursuing in further education, exploring ethnographic and longitudinal work.

As I travelled to London unsure of what to expect of the day, I began my usual thought process ‘how can I stop these vulnerable children from being sexually exploited?’ – Talk about broad. On reflection, why or how would I know what to do? I’ve read up a lot on CSE, and preventative practice but regardless of how much you read, it is our own experiences that inform our perspectives and knowledge and my practical and lived experience here is minimal.

I went up to the fourth floor of the Oasis College in London feeling dedicated for spending my limited funds and a Saturday going to London, but I also felt apprehensive. I am just a Masters student, are all the people there going to know so much more than me that I will be out of my depth and unable to learn anything? However, determined to increase my knowledge and understanding – I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone and wore my best smile.

We had to sign up for a workshop, and I had no idea which to go in. I am not a professional; I am just a student with a need to know more. So I decided I would get a feel for the organisation first in their introductory session before choosing my workshops. We all took a seat and the CEO came in full of life and enthusiasm and put me straight at ease.

Ruth discussed the current complexity, and the need to reach simplicity – which she believes comes down to three cogs for a wheel to turn – community turns the cogs. Each cog: Awareness, Knowledge, Campaigning is to see, to know, to do. We don’t know how prevention is working because it is hard to measure something that has not happened and potentially won’t happen.

To see, to know, to do.

Through whose perspective are we becoming aware? Through whose perspective are we gaining this knowledge? And through whose perspective are we making decisions on the campaigns? This is not even directed at STT, but moral questions I have found myself thinking. Activists, campaigners and researchers – through whose perspective are you seeing this [sexual] exploitation? We are reactive to the reports that come out and we all want justice for these children but are we asking these children and young people what exactly their perspective is?


Are we asking these children and young people what knowledge and understanding they have? Are we asking them about their view on campaigns? Awareness and campaigning have their place certainly. This is not about awareness; this is about knowledge and understanding. More than that, this knowledge and understanding should be explored from an authentic source – the [sexually] exploited children and young people. So I need not have worried about being just a Masters student, because really we are all just activists with knowledge and understanding who do not hold the same perspective of those children and young people. Only they can tell us how THEY see, how THEY know and how THEY do – from THEIR perspective, with THEIR world-views.


If research can find any commonalities in their responses – Then that should inform  the work of researchers and practitioners to build prevention and intervention programmes. Ethically and emotionally I feel this would be a difficult conversation to have, but one with great value. I feel we cannot rely on Government reports and statistics to indubitably guide the direction of research. We need ethnographi and longitudinal research on the authentic perspectives of children and young people that have been sexually exploited in the UK. Until we have this dialogue, I fear we will continue to react to media biases and moral panic.

To see, to know, to do.

1 Comment

Sexology and Songwriting

By Lucy Robinson

I’ve been involved in the Brighton Hub of ‘Sexology and Songwriting’, a collaborative project that brings together academic researchers with songwriters and young people. The workshops are part of the Wellcome Collection’s current sexology exhibition and are inspired by the findings from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL III).   The aim of the project is for the young people involved to become active researchers and song-writers, disseminating their research in the form of their own songs to be performed at Brighton’s Dome and potentially included in a recorded form at the Sexology exhibition in February 2015.

BYCThe different people involved in the Brighton Hub represent all the different elements of the project, academic researchers (myself, Prof Rachel Thomson and Ester Mcgeeney), musicians (Marina and Zoe who are associated with Rhythmix) and youth worker Joe from Safety Net. To some degree we also represented different agendas, filtered through our own skill sets and our own institutional comfort zones. Significantly Ester’s experience, for example in the Good Sex Project, meant that she could bridge all the different elements as she is equally comfortable in practice and in academic research. The other practitioners involvement in the young women’s music project Miss Represented meant that they were familiar with longer term music projects and with some of the young women involved with Inside Out. This really helped close down the artificiality of the divisions between training, supporting young people, and research supervision. For the young women involved in this project the reality is that that their motivation was to be involved in a music project, either as performers or as song writers. One of the tensions in the project was about the complexity of a project that was about songwriting, and the history of sex, and learning to be a researchers. The danger, I had felt, was that the research methodology and sexology in particular was to some extent the hoop that the young people would have to jump through in order to get to do the bit they really wanted; the music. Over the first two days of the project it has become clear that the lines between music, sexology and research practices are imposed externally, and not necessarily by the young women involved in the project.

At our initial planning meeting on the first day it was decided that myself and Rachel would withdraw in order to keep the project practice led and to help make our function in the project clear to the young people. The academic researchers are there to help the young researchers, not the other way round. The decision was made that we would come and share some ideas with the group once it was established following which our precise role in the project would respond to the needs identified by the young people as their own projects develop. We did have a list of suggested roles we could play, organising archival visits, sharing and analysing digital archives, talking through our own development as researchers. We had already produced a set of resources that trace the history of sexology, thinking particularly about the relationship between prescription, practice and cultural representation. So, for example, I included the Hayes Code what sexual content could be shown on screen alongside the Little Kinsey survey on sexual behaviour form 1949, and mass observation writing about sex in the 1980s alongside activist pamphlets around AIDS.

When I met the group on the second day of the workshop they were already well established, which was aided by the pre-existing close connection between the young women and Jo from Safety Net. On the second day there was a group of 13 women established and working together at Brighton Youth Centre. Myself, and the three practitioners and Ester working as both researcher and practitioners, as well as the 9 young women involved in the project who are aged 14 – 18. Ester has written a more detailed discussion of the activities and processes of the first two days in her own blog. (credits to Ester for the pictures)





Leave a comment

Prizes and reflections – MACYS Dissertations

As well as supporting research and bringing together academics from many disciplines CIRCY also nurtures synergies between research activity and the teaching curriculum.  This is done through an undergraduate course – the BA in Childhood and Youth: Theory and Practice, and a Masters course in Childhood and Youth Studies – both of which are now in their third year.  This is a very exciting post as it links to and celebrates the substantive work of two students on the MA in Childhood and Youth Studies (MACYS) 2013/14.

The MACYS course offers two annual prizes; The Barrie Thorne prize for best overall academic achievement and; the The Cathy Urwin prize for work with greatest impact on practice.  Each year these two dissertations, with permission from the students, are published online in our journal.  The MACYS students consistently produce original, insightful dissertations of high academic standard – this year was no exception.  For 2014 the Barrie Thorne prize was awarded to Kate Jenkinson for her dissertation entitled ‘An exploration of the motivation for change to cultural and community practices that conflict with safeguarding children law in the UK’.  The Cathy Urwin prize to Niharika Chopra for her dissertation ‘Vulnerability of the Girl Child to Rape in India: A Socio-Cultural Study’.  Abstracts and full dissertations from this year and last year can be found on the Journal page, and later in this blog Niharika will offer a thoughtful reflection on the process of writing her dissertation.


 To give some context to the prizes and the outstanding achievement of Kate and Niharika it may be helpful to explain who Cathy Urwin and Barrie Thorne were and are: 

Dr Cathy Urwin was a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and Research Fellow at the Tavistock Centre. She was an key figure within child development and pioneer in the use of psychoanalytic infant observation as a research method. Her contribution to research and practice was significant and wide ranging, including developmental psychology, the group dynamics of infants, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and clinician friendly ways of evaluating psychotherapeutic effectiveness. At the time of her death in 2012 she was involved in a project with the University of Sussex Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth exploring New Frontiers in Qualitative Longitudinal Research.

Barrie Thorne is Emerita Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley who played a key role in bringing the study of children and childhoods into the field of sociology, both through her own research and teaching, as an editor of Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research. She is the author of the highly influential book Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School (Rutgers, 1993) and a member of the international advisory board for the University of Sussex Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth.

Both Kate and Niharika put a lot of effort, and a lot of themselves into their work – they have both spoken passionately about their subjects and are currently looking for work where they can put the knowledge and insight they have gained from engaging in the MACYS course and research into practice.  Niharika has kindly written us a short reflective summary of her dissertation –  I hope that it sparks your interest enough to read both of these excellent dissertations.

Niharika Chopra- 


“Being a girl child in India is integral to my identity. And yet, the life I have led is so drastically different from those lived by millions of girls for whom a personal identity, autonomy and dignity are unknown luxuries. The very idea that young girls with whom I may have interacted with on a daily basis are silent survivors of the most heinous violation of rape is a terrifying one. The decision to write my thesis on the vulnerability of the girl child in India, thus rose from a place of anger and the strong will to direct this anger towards producing something which would take me closer to bringing about a change in the lives of millions of young girls in India who are survivors of sexual violence.

The process of writing this dissertation began from a very personal response to the issue. My wonderful supervisor Dr. Rachel Burr and my amazing group of peers helped me polish and streamline my thoughts and ideas. While conducting my research what struck me the most was how subtly the cultural and structural factors of society interact to place the girl child in a position of vulnerability. Furthermore, this interaction can be observed not only in instances of extreme violence but also in the manner in which the young girl lives her routine day, battling through daily struggles against control, prejudice and personal violations. It was particularly exciting to analyze the issue against the concept of structural violence. All that I read and understood to came together to demonstrate how structural and cultural factors interact to produce direct forms of violence, particularly rape. This brought me to my conclusive idea of how the issue of rape of the girl child cannot be addressed in a vacuum, but must be placed within her personal context from which she can derive exposure, awareness and empowerment towards the achievement of a better, safer world for herself.

Through the MACYS course and the inspiring sessions with my educators, I gained a sound academic knowledge about a range of childhood related issues, the invaluable ability to constantly question and critically analyze this knowledge, and the courage to constantly challenge myself. These are skills which I employed at every step through the writing of this dissertation and will continue to value as I take forward my endeavor to bring about a sustainable change in the lives of children in India.”




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers