Children’s participation in research: Are good intentions masking lived experiences?

Alison Murphy, Jane Waters

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Historically children were seen as objects of research, they were researched on. Christensen and James (2008:1) argue that children should be positioned as ‘social actors who are subjects rather than objects of enquiry’ and thus contemporary researchers often adopt a stance whereby they research with children. However, actively involving children in the process of research and positioning the child as a participator is complex.
    Despite a plethora of research studies that claim to adopt a participatory research design or framework, there may be a limit to the extent of the child’s participation in the research process. This is particularly evident in school-based research. Spyrou (2011) argued that schools produce a particular kind of children’s voice and that the children’s views need to be explored in other contexts to make sense of how their identities are constructed. The initial instigator of the investigation is generally the adult who is the project manager and then steers, leads or guides the direction of the activity. Therefore the collaboration process, and extent of children’s agency within it, may be framed, and limited, by the adult’s perceptions of childhood and the agency of the child.
    This paper explores the notion of participatory research design with children and questions the lived experience of such activity, asking whether researchers lend countenance to the notion in theoretical debates rather than through practical implementation.
    The paper adopted two research tools; firstly a rapid research review was undertaken in order to produce an evidence summary (Khangura et al 2012) and then a descriptive case study approach was used, focussing on a post-hoc reflective review of one specific research project conducted by one of the authors. The varied approach taken to ‘participatory research design’, as revealed by the rapid review is used as the backdrop to the reflective case study in which the voice of the child was central to the process as evidenced by the chosen methodologies.
    Conclusions support the need for reflexivity throughout the research process, in relation to how adult perceptions of the role of the child shape children’s involvement in the project. In turn, this reflexive approach needs to be made overt by the adults in such studies in order that the limitations imposed upon children’s participation are visible and explicit.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2018
    EventChild's World Conference: New shoes, New direction - Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom
    Duration: 11 Jul 201813 Jul 2018


    ConferenceChild's World Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    Dive into the research topics of 'Children’s participation in research: Are good intentions masking lived experiences?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this