The Illusion of Autonomy: From Agency to Interdependency
This chapter explores the influence on research that the contemporary emphasis on children’s agency and autonomy has had and evaluates the usefulness of such terms in research-based contexts. We begin by outlining how agency and autonomy have become part of the social construction of childhood. We then consider the development of participant-led approaches to research with children, before evaluating the attribution of agency and autonomy to children, characteristics traditionally assumed to be the properties of adulthood (Lee 1999:458) yet currently promoted and pursued extensively in research with children. In this chapter, we question the appropriateness of the emphasis on these concepts and ask if alternative values might be more appropriate to reflect the roles of children in research as negotiated, relational and interdependent. If, as Parry (1991:180) contends, ‘it is not possible to abstract from ourselves all our natural and social bonds, allegiances and commitments and still understand ourselves’ then are concepts such as autonomy and agency require an independent selfhood relevant in research endeavours which seek to understand more about the social worlds of children? We identify and discuss ways in which children negotiate power relations within these social contexts which rely less on the skills of autonomy and more on establishing and negotiating social relations.
KeywordsSocial Context Relational Agency Vulnerable Child Data Collection Activity Cultural Script
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