Workshop 1: Theorising Age and the Life course: Toward More Useful Conceptualisations

Dr. Nicola Ansell - Brunel University, UK - Historically, the lifecourse has been conceptualised in multiple and complex ways in different societies and in different domains of life. While childhood and adulthood are sometimes defined in binary terms, and sometimes in relation to chronological age, there are also many other ways of envisaging temporalities and transitions. In recent decades, however, universal conceptualisations rooted in chronological age have gained prominence in international discourse and national policies worldwide. In a globalising world, these may offer young people and their representatives recourse to a universal standard that is potentially empowering. The idea that children everywhere merit protection against economic or sexual exploitation on the basis of a simple, universally definable characteristic has an obvious appeal. However, as much research has demonstrated, such an approach is also problematic. In particular, where the (universal) age thresholds that adhere to certain activities are poorly aligned with local practices, and in particular with the practices of those who are most marginalised, this can lead to the surveillance, scapegoating and stigmatisation of those groups. Moreover, it can marginalise them further by restricting young people’s access to activities through which they might enhance their own wellbeing.   This workshop will consider:  
  1. The value of universal concepts of lifecourses based on chronological age.
  2. The value of situated conceptualisations of lifecourse.
  3. Ways of theorising lifecourse that have political salience in a globalising world.
  It will incorporate small group activities that examine the application of universal age thresholds to particular areas of young people’s lives including working, sexual consent, marriage and criminal responsibility. Through discussion of these issues, we will address two of the central questions of the workshop:
  1. How, if at all, do theoretical concepts relating to childhood research in the North transfer to various social, cultural and political contexts in the Global South?
  2. What challenges exist which may prevent the incorporation of theories developed by academics focusing on Southern childhoods into more dominant discourses surrounding childhood studies?

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