School of Education


Published in Educational Philosophy and Theory, this paper is part of a series of collective papers that have positioned the child and childhood at the center of academic and philosophical inquiry. 

Yuwei Xu, Assistant Professor in Education and Teacher Development is one of a number international scholars discussing What is a child? What is childhood? His reflection relates to challenging child-adult binary. Yuwei is a member of the Centre for International Education Research.


There has been a long-standing academic debate by scholars, thinkers and educators around the notions of ‘who is a child’ and ‘what is childhood’. For the purpose of this collective paper, this field is referred to as Infantographies. This paper is part of a series of collective papers that have positioned the child and childhood at the center of academic and philosophical inquiry. The series was started by the collective piece ‘Infantologies’ (Peters et al., 2020), which set the tone for the re-thinking and critically examining philosophical, discursive and material aspects of childhoods. This was followed by ‘Infantologies II’ (Gibbons, Peters, Stewart, et al., 2021), and further collective projects have emerged, including ‘Infantilisations’ (Tesar, Peters, White, Charteris, et al., 2021), ‘Infantasies’ (Gibbons, Peters, Delaune, et al., 2021), ‘Infanticides’ (Tesar, Peters, White, Arndt, et al., 2021), and most recently ‘Infantmethodologies’ (Tesar, 2021b), which considered the intersections of the infant and methodologies.

Who is a child and what is childhood? These are not easy questions to address, yet they are questions that every adult could potentially answer. Every adult was once a child and we all have some form of understanding and conceptualization of childhood; albeit these may be rooted in different ontologies and draw on diverse epistemes. As such, these questions are related to our own axiologies and must be seen as a philosophical proposition (Tesar, 2021a). Part of this proposition is that we all should feel that we have expertise in answering this question. Philosophers, thinkers, and educators have also been pondering over these questions and the concerns they raise. How can we think about the rationalities of development and the discursive understanding of these concepts? Ever since the emergence of the sociology of childhood in the late 20th century, we have come to understand the potential of childhood as, on the one hand, being invented, non-universal, and non-prescriptive, and on the other hand, something that can be discussed, portrayed, and articulated. This tension is clearly demonstrated in the current global childhoods scholarship (Yelland et al., 2021).

In order to address the question, ‘Who is a child and what is childhood?’, recent scholarship has attempted to decentre the ‘adult’ from the formation of the question and to no longer exclude very young children from the debates. Furthermore, scholarship has sought to decentre the colonial practices of privileging particular notions of children and childhoods. No longer do we want to hear only about middle class, white, Western children and their experiences.

The ideas of interconnectedness between the child and the world, the entanglement of subjectivities, and the possibilities of sharing powers, meanings and worlds for both humans and non-humans are very much present. This has also challenged ideas around what childhoods exist in the post-covid new normality (Tesar, 2020), and further debated the histories of, and the complexities in the future of childhoods studies; something, that indeed, should be considered as tightly connected with the future of the philosophy of education itself (Tesar, Hytten et al., 2021).

The responses to the questions of who a child is and what is childhood, as reflected by critical scholars in this collective writing, have been outstanding. Margarita Ruiz Guerrero, Eeva Anttila, Jan Newberry, Anette Hellman, John Wall, Charla Rochella Santiago-Saamong, Linnea Bodén, Hui Yu, Atsushi Nanakida, Claudia Diaz-Diaz, Yuwei Xu, Susanna Trnka, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Fikile Nxumalo and Zsuzsa Millei have all made important contributions to the pandemic ‘new normality’ re-thinking of these concepts. Their work is grounded in deep scholarship, care, understanding and material and discursive debates. They present exciting philosophical and indigenous frameworks, and their work outlines some of the most cutting-edge manifestations on this topic. It is clear that the topic itself may perhaps never be fully resolved or answered to complete satisfaction. However, reading these responses is perhaps the most critical and scholarly fulfilling exercise that the reconceptualist scholarship and the field of the philosophy of children and childhood has witnessed in recent years.

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Posted on Thursday 16th December 2021

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