Centre for Innovation & Research in Childhood and Youth

Interdisciplinary, international & in the real world

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Slow, slow, quick-quick-slow


A wonderful and thoughtful post by Rachel Thomson, reflecting on ending the sex and songs project that she and other members of CIRCY have been involved with.

Originally posted on The 'Good sex' project:

photo2Rachel Thomson

I’ve been reflecting on the funny temporalities involved in changes and continuities. The way we go backwards in order to go forward, and how nothing happens – then it all comes at once. Knowledge captured in truisms about buses and dance steps.

Learning, development, change, love, understanding: all those important things happen in in this jumpy, staggered kind of way. Not the smooth lines that graphs suggest. I’ve been thinking about this because we are at the ‘end’ of the Sexology & Songs project – or at least the project funding is at an end, and like good researchers and youth workers, we need to evaluate the impact of the work, for ourselves and for our funders the Wellcome Trust. During the first session 13 weeks ago, at the start of the winter, participants and workers were asked to rate themselves between 1-10 on the following items:

1)           …

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How many historians does it take to start a cover band?


Wonderful blog from Lucy Robinson reflecting on our Wellcome funded Sexology and Songs project – showing how music might be a research method in its own right.

Originally posted on The 'Good sex' project:

Six weeks ago the young women and practitioners from the Brighton Sexology and songs project performed live at Camden Roundhouse as part of the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology season. Many of the women at the Brighton hub, did not want to write original music (or engage with sex research). Instead they wanted to sing and perform covers or songs they loved. Here’s historian Lucy’s Robinson reflecting on the project and what a historian can learn from a cover band.

How many historians does it take to start a cover band? 

Lucy Robinson

When we began the sexology and song-writing project we imagined that the young women involved would undertake some sort of original research and then write songs about it.When we began, we thought about encouraging the song writers to undertake their own original research, perhaps through conducting interviews. And we imagined that they would take inspiration from the content…

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Second reading group in Brighton and Hyderabad


Brilliant summary of what was an engaging and insightful discussion. It was so interesting to see how people from many disciplines, researching a variety of topics, were all able to draw on and relate this article to their own experiences, academic, personal and professional. I know many of us involved in the discussion wish it could have gone on for longer!

Originally posted on Connectors Study:

IMG_4992 Graffiti art, East London

A few weeks ago we ran our second reading groups at Sussex University in Brighton and at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) in Hyderabad. Both groups read Judith Butler’s piece on Rethinking Vulnerability and Resistance. Below Vinnarasan and I have written up a short summary and impressions from the two discussions.


Personally I’ve always struggled with Butler’s writing so when my colleague Barry Luckock sent me this paper back in November I didn’t know what to expect. I started tentatively skimming it on my phone and very quickly found myself completely absorbed, and quite relieved to be able to ‘understand’. My second reading of the paper in preparation for the reading group was equally rewarding and I now find myself in possession of a colourful PDF document highlighted at every turn.

I’m also left with the somewhat daunting task of trying…

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Reflections on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers

By Janet Boddy

On Wednesday 4th March I took part in a panel discussion for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, in the House of Commons. The group is chaired by Craig Whittaker MP and organised by The Who Cares? Trust [http://www.thewhocarestrust.org.uk/], a brilliant organisation which supports and advocates for young people who are involved with the care system. Their website describes their role as follows:

‘Everything we do is designed to improve the day to day experience of children and young people in care – and their future lives’.

We’re really delighted at CIRCY to be working with The Who Cares? Trust on a new project, funded by the Research Council of Norway (and led by Elisabeth Backe-Hansen of NOVA). The research – Against All Odds  – is concerned with building a better understanding of positive outcomes for young adults who have been in care in Norway, Denmark and England. I was asked to join the APPG panel to share some of my learning and experience from this and other studies I have done on work with looked after children in Europe.

There were five other people on the panel too: Anna Edmundson from the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, Harvey Gallagher from the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, Melissa Goodman from the London Borough of Hounslow, Joanne Lee, a care experienced young woman from Sefton, and Edward Timpson MP, the Under Secretary of State for Children and Families. The topic for our discussions was:

‘Involving children and young people in care planning: what do they need to know to feel empowered to be involved in decision-making?’

We were each asked to speak for two minutes in response to this question. I decided to cheat a bit. Rather than saying what young people need to know, or do, I wanted to talk about what the care system needs to do to enable and empower young people. I focused on three points (two minutes is not long!). First, I talked about extending children’s legislated rights within the system – drawing on the example of Denmark where children’s rights are increasingly emphasised in care planning (for example, children over 12 must agree with plans for their care, and have rights to spend time with family and network). Second, I spoke about choice – and the need to have a sufficiently well-resourced system for young people to exercise choice. I gave the example of a young man in France, who took part in a study I have recently completed with Hélène Join-Lambert , who described spending a half-term holiday with a potential foster family (where he was now living) as part of a managed move that had been initiated by him because he was unhappy in his previous placement. And finally, I argued that we need to allow enough time to enable young people’s full involvement in the plans that are being made for their lives. In countries where court-ordered placements are unusual, time to build agreements – with parents and young people – is seen as crucial to the care planning process.

The meeting lasted two hours, and there was a great discussion. Key themes included a strong emphasis on children’s rights – and on rights at all ages, not just for older children – and on the need for adults to understand the child’s point of view. Joanne Lee argued eloquently that relationships are central to ensure trust and understanding of how young people want to be involved. Harvey Gallagher made the very strong point that young people need to know their rights and entitlements, and that adults have a responsibility to ensure that knowledge, because otherwise ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. Very true! Edward Timpson spoke of new regulations which strengthen requirements for the young person and the carer to be involved in care planning.

who cares

I was particularly impressed that (not surprisingly for an APPG organised by The Who Cares? Trust) so many young people – as young as 12 – had travelled to take part in the meeting, and made a fantastic contribution to discussions, and to asking difficult questions. One question – that no one could easily answer – was whether young people can attend panel meetings where their care plans are discussed, and if not, why not. A young woman made the powerful point that, while she was allowed to present her views in writing, if she wasn’t in the room, how could she know if her words were being presented, and interpreted, as she would wish?

I was also asked challenging questions by another young woman – but hope I managed to answer them! She asked, essentially, what was the point of talking about children’s rights in Denmark when we are in the UK – since it is such a different country. And, further, when we did research, do we just make notes and write reports, or does anything more useful come out of it? Great questions! I said that when we do cross-national research we are never comparing like with like – rather, we are trying to learn, to generate ideas, from the different ways in which countries have approached similar challenges. Their different experiences can prompt us to ask questions about our own policy and practice. For example, could we do what the Danes do, and give young people the power to agree or disagree with plans for their placement? And I hope that we don’t just write reports (although I had to admit we do that a lot!). I gave her the example of research that I have done previously on social pedagogy with colleagues at the Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy at the UCL Institute of Education, and the work that Fostering Network are now doing on their Head, Hands and Heart programme training foster carers in the principles of social pedagogy. Even better, there were some European pedagogues and foster carers at the APPG who are involved in the Head, Hands and Heart programme – and they joined in the discussion to talk about how valuable they found the training.

All in all, it was one of those days when you think ‘I LOVE my job’. Sitting in a grand room in the House of Commons, with the moon rising over the Thames, listening to and learning from brilliant young people … So thank you, The Who Cares? Trust.

Brilliant Club Students a launch event

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Notes on teaching the Brilliant

By Ruth Ponsford

Ruth is a Research Fellow at the School for Public Health Research @ LSHTM and is a guest lecturer on the MACYS course. She completed her PhD at the Open University under the supervision of Rachel Thomson and Mary Jane Kehily

Having fairly recently completed my PhD and looking for opportunities to develop my teaching expertise alongside a research role I had not long taken up, last summer I began doing some work with the Brilliant Club. The Brilliant Club is a non for profit organisation that aims to widen access to top universities for pupils from non-selective state schools serving low participation communities. They do this by placing postgraduate students and early career researchers (ECRs) in schools to deliver programmes of university-style teaching to small groups of children aged 10-18.

I had come across the Brilliant Club’s ad while scouring academic job websites for research posts and given my interest in educational inequality and the promise of enrolment onto the Brilliant Club’s Researcher Development Programme (RDP), I hastily applied. Following a testing, but very warm and friendly, assessment day I promptly found myself developing my own five week course based on an aspect of my PhD research for delivery to four small groups of year nine and year eleven secondary school students at two schools in south east London.

Developing the course was genuinely hard work. PhD tutors are expected to design a challenging, coherent and engaging five tutorial course pitched at the appropriate level for their students that includes a variety of classroom and homework activities, a final assessment question and a tailored assessment criteria. A detailed course handbook to support students’ learning is also to be prepared by the tutor. Training in teaching skills and course design is provided by the very supportive Brilliant Club staff, many of who have been ‘outstanding’ school teachers themselves.

My PhD research focussed on the consumer practices of young first time mothers in the city of Bristol and explored the ways in which a group of mothers aged 13-20 negotiated expansive maternity and baby markets while managing on limited incomes, and the meaning and emotion they attached to ‘baby stuff’. My Brilliant Club course took up some of the themes my thesis touched upon, focusing specifically on the role of consumer and media culture in the lives of modern children, young people and their families. The course took as its starting point recent widespread public and political concern about the ‘commercialisation of childhood’ where the advancement of the commercial world into the lives of children is variously condemned as being necessarily harmful, contributing to a range of social and public health problems, including increased materialism among children, obesity, poor mental health, premature sexualisation (of girls), family conflict and increasingly unhappy childhoods – arguments which tend to presume children and young people to be passive consumers of marketing messages. Drawing on David Buckingham’s (2011) comprehensive critical review of these claims, students were asked to consider the evidence used to support and frame this debate and to reflect some of the possible benefits of the advancement of the commercial world.

branded baby

In later tutorials students were encouraged to explore some of the research on children and young people’s consumption and consider the complex and ambivalent place of material goods in family life and the cultures of childhood and youth. This literature demonstrates how children can be creative and active consumers who question, modify and re-inscribe media messages and highlights the ways in which the consumer world can be an intimate site of meaning making for parents, children and young people, enabling social connection and belonging. At the same time it draws attention to the ways in which some may be excluded from full consumer participation, thus reflecting and underscoring existing inequality. By the end of the course and in their essays students were expected to be able critically appraise the arguments presented in the initial tutorial and arise at a more balanced account of the role and place of the commercial world in the lives of modern children, young people and their families.

Students were asked to tackle some complex literature from academic books and journals and some found the material tough, but all were engaged, worked hard and produced fantastic essays that were graded in university style. It was truly impressive to see what they could pull off after just five tutorials, some students having never written an essay before!

Although overall participation in HE has increased substantially in the last two decades, including for those from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the gap in participation between disadvantaged students and their more affluent counterparts persists. Recent studies suggest that while 96% of privately educated children and 36% of state school children go on to study at university, only 16% of children eligible for free school meals do so. The gap in participation is starker when looking at highly selective universities. Based on 2005-2008 data, in 2010 the Sutton Trust reported that only 2 per cent of the UK undergraduate student intake at the 25 most academically selective universities was made up of FSM pupils. Research conducted by the University of Durham has also found UCAS applicants from lower class backgrounds and from state schools continue to be much less likely to apply to Russell Group universities than their comparably qualified counterparts from higher class backgrounds and private schools (Boliver 2013), these choices inevitably linked to notions of cultural and social as well as economic capital (See Reay and colleagues)

The Brilliant Club is a targeted programme aimed at high achieving, disadvantaged students (at least 30% must be FSM pupils) that provides a fantastic opportunity for students to benefit from the immersive experience of university life, encouraging them to see university (and often a highly selective university) as a place ‘for them’. All students attend a ‘launch event’ at the start of their Brilliant Club experience and a graduation event that parents are invited to attend, both held on a university campus – (the launch events I have attended have been at Sussex University’s Falmer campus). Students have the opportunity to ask their academic tutor questions about university life, learning, finance and subject choice throughout the course and to start developing skills for university that they can describe in their UCAS applications. The Brilliant Club also enables thinking about university to start early, with tutorials beginning from year five. The programme thereby incorporates many of the identified successful aspects of other widening participation interventions (see DfE 2014).

Brilliant Club Students a launch event

Brilliant Club Students a launch event

For PhD students and ECRs, like me, the Brilliant Club enables participation in a really worthwhile programme, the opportunity to develop your course design, teaching and assessment skills and to participate in public engagement activities and disseminate your research in a creative way.   The Brilliant Club takes the opportunity to draw on the pool of talent and subject expertise that exists in the doctoral and postdoctoral research community and plugs a gap where there is a lack of professional development opportunities for researchers at this level.

For me, my research having been with young people, testing some of the ideas in the literature with these groups of students was fascinating and also enabled me to reflect and think about my own work in different ways. My students were the modern children and young people that were a feature of the course and they brought their own knowledge and experience to the table. They had strong views about the impact the commercial world was having on their own and their families’ lives. Although not really surprising given the dominance of the ‘commercialization of childhood’ thesis, I was taken aback by how most of my students were quick to regurgitate dominant narratives about the harmful effects of commercialisation and the vacuous nature of material culture. As we got further into the course students were better able and/or more comfortable to articulate their attachments to material culture and speak about the exclusions inherent to consumer capitalism. My classes perhaps provided some space to talk about students’ intimate relationships with consumer culture, which are often made absent and unspeakable in the school setting (See also Wilson 2014).

Since the summer I have continued to teach with the Brilliant Club and this term I will be embarking on my third term teaching at a different key stage. For the next five weeks I’ll be teaching a course pre-prepared by Brilliant Club staff to year seven and eight students and I can’t wait to get started again!

To find out more about the Brilliant Club visit: http://www.thebrilliantclub.org/


Boliver, V. (2013). How fair is access to more prestigious UK Universities? British Journal of Sociology 64(2): 344-364

Buckingham, D. (2011) Material Child Cambridge Polity Press

DfE (2014) School and College-level Strategies to Raise Aspirations of High-achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to Pursue Higher Education Investigation, London: DfE

Reay, D., M. E. David, et al. (2005). Degrees of Choice: social class, race and gender in higher education. Trentham Books

The Sutton Trust (2010) Responding to the new landscape for university access. Available at: http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/access-proposals-report-final.pdf

Wilson S (2014) ‘Sad to say but my whole life is on that computer': reflecting on emotions, intimacies and consumption in difficult circumstances and how to make sure these issues are reflected in policy discourse, Families, Relationships and Societies, 3 (1), pp. 149-152.

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

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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

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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…

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