Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth


CIRCY research is conceptualised in relation to five over-arching thematic areas: Childhood publics, Emotional lives, Good childhoods and (extra)ordinary children, Digital childhoods, and Methodological innovation.

These themes are not containers, setting boundaries between studies. Rather they provide ‘a space to hang ideas’ (in the words of one of our members), informing and inspiring the work of CIRCY, so any given project may draw on these themes in varying combination. 

Childhood Publics

Researchers in CIRCY use the notion of publics as a springboard to think about childhood, youth and social change with reference to technological innovations, socio-economic developments and practices of activism broadly defined. A publics lens enables an analysis of childhood and social change in the real world; it allows a focus on children and young people’s lived experiences and the social issues that might mobilise children, young people and families. In this way, the theme of ‘childhood publics’ provides a space for us to think about how best to research and theorize agency, citizenship, rights, politics and participation across the generations and for our times.

Bringing together the concepts of childhood, publics and social change provides a fertile ground for theoretical renewal and re-connects childhood and youth studies to key contemporary debates about democracy, social justice and socio-technical innovation.

Check out Sevasti-Melissa Nolas's podcast recorded in 2016 on our Communicate page in which she talks about the idea of childhood publics’ and the lived experience of doing comparative ethnography with children.

Digital Childhoods

This theme explores the implications of the digital revolution for childhood and youth, examining many dimensions of digital childhoods including the ways that technology impacts on parenting and play as well as the role of the digital in personal and professional boundaries in work with children and young people, confounding age and generation based hierarchies.

Through CIRCY’s collaboration with the new Sussex Humanities Lab, we seek to promote young people as entrepreneurs of digital landscapes, contributing to debates on data sharing, ownership and access as well as curators of archives and memories. Our research also engages with how children and young people may potentially be understood as having economic value within a digital economy and how participation may be associated with exploitation as well as the consequences of quantification as their educational performance and consumption practices are mapped, measured and monitored.

CIRCY projects linked to the Digital Childhoods theme include Nicola Yuill’s work on enabling technology in autism, and the Curating Childhoods study, funded by AHRC and led by Liam Berriman and Rachel Thomson. See also the Digital Childhoods blog.

Check out Rachel Thomson's podcast recorded in 2016 on our Communicate page in which she discusses methodological innovations for understanding children's mediated lives in contemporary society. You can also read more on the Everyday Childhoods blog.

Emotional Lives

Research under this theme seeks to understand established and taken for granted issues through the lens of emotion and affective practice, considering, for example, how emotional lives underpin our behaviour and practices. Our understanding of emotion takes account of historical and cultural contingencies as well as an awareness of the ways in which emotion expresses and confirms the materiality, relationality and sensuality of social lives.

We are interested in the positive emotions of kindness and pleasure as well as the more obvious territory of anxiety, anger and the ways in which affective dynamics structure collective and institutional lives and characterise intergenerational transmissions. Our interest includes practice and policy approaches that are emotionally engaged and which seek to build insight into emotional dynamics and development among young people and those working with and for them. We also pioneer psychosocial methods that work with and through emotion and sensuality as a route to understanding.

CIRCY projects linked to the emotional lives theme include Robin Banerjee’s work for the Welsh Government on building the emotional resilience and health of children in primary schools.

Good Childhoods and (Extra)ordinary Children

This theme creates a conceptual space which lies at the heart of CIRCY’s interdisciplinary approach.

We are exploring the contribution of historical and cross cultural approaches to understanding the diverse and contingent meanings of childhood as well as the ways in which global processes may cut across these in the expression of powerful ideas of what a ‘good childhood’ or an ‘ordinary childhood’ should or could be. Research in this area also considers categories of children whose circumstances are ‘extraordinary’ placing them outside of these normative ideals – for example young migrants, child labourers and care leavers – and considers the ways in which those categorisations can neglect the ‘ordinary’ aspects of ‘extraordinary’ children’s lives, practices and relationships that are the foundation of meaning and resources.

Our research in this area is characterised by attention to the everyday lives of children, young people and families, including the ways in which they understand themselves and their lives. We are also concerned with using these insights to challenge some of the perceived wisdoms of policy discourses which may focus on vulnerability, stigma and risk.  

CIRCY research linked to this theme includes Hester Barron’s analysis of changing conceptions of the ‘poor child’ with regard to The Children’s Country Holiday Fund (1918-1939) as well as Anne-Meike Fechter’s work on the intersection of the personal and professional for aid workers and their families.

Methodological Innovation

CIRCY has already established an international reputation for methodological excellence and innovation. This includes world leading expertise in temporal research methods, as well as internationally recognised strengths in participatory research with children and young people, in research ethics, and creative, digital, sensual and psychosocial approaches.

CIRCY has hosted a series of ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) awards for methodological innovation and advanced training and contributes a highly praised module on researching childhood and youth to the Sussex Doctoral Training Centre. CIRCY is also leading creative approaches to research ethics with children in a digital age, pioneering participatory approaches to studying ethics in research with children and young people and shaping new debates on data sharing and reuse.

Across the disciplinary mix that is CIRCY, we promote intelligent research design using a broad mix of quantitative and qualitative methods best to address forward looking research questions.

In 2016, we recorded a series of podcasts with CIRCY researchers, highlighting examples of our methodological innovation.