Thursday, 4 February 2016

Precarious citizenship: Young people who are undocumented, separated and settled in the UK  

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Nando Sigona

Deadline for papers March 17, 5 p.m. to

A free one-day conference at Birkbeck, University of London to be held on June 1st 2016 for academics, practitioners and activists interested in how precarious citizenship impacts on separated youth as they live and transition to adulthood in the UK.

Organised by the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies and Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, and Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU) with financial support from Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH) and MiCLU.

  •  Please submit a title and abstract (150 words) and a brief bio (150 words) to by 5 pm on March 17th 2016. 

 We welcome papers that:

  • Focus on young people who were not aware of their precarious citizenship until State intervention in their lives (going into LA Care; family proceedings; removal/detention of family; police involvement/checks) or when they attempt to access post-school opportunities and services (housing, employment, benefits, higher education etc.) and who were/are Looked After Children by the Local Authority or whose families do not have high levels of economic and/or social capital with which to secure their immigration status and/or who are estranged from their family 

  • Focus on the political mobilisation of young people around citizenship and immigration rights (we are particularly interested in papers from activists and/or those young people) .

  • We welcome papers from academics, campaigners, activists and practitioners. 


 Significant numbers of young people who are settled in the UK (some 120,000) do not have British citizenship. Many have no ‘lawful’ status to remain in the UK whilst cuts to legal aid and fast-paced changes to immigration laws fuelled by a hostile anti-immigrant climate mean that this trend may indeed get worse with numbers rising. Many of these young people may have lived in the UK for many years and consider themselves to be British. Indeed, they may not be aware of their precarious citizenship until they leave school and try to apply for bank accounts, jobs, benefits or university or when they are leaving care or following a family breakdown. Their precarious status arises from the combination of their transition out of childhood, which gave them a degree of protection or insulation from immigration laws, and the discriminatory character of immigration law that means for many of these young people, despite being settled in the UK for many years, once they reach adulthood they cannot secure their British citizenship. The purpose of this conference is to increase awareness of the precarious citizenship of this group of young people in the UK; to share empirical and theoretical knowledge about contemporary and historical forms of precarious citizenship at the intersection of youth and immigration; to develop a network of academics and practitioners who can take forward the study of precarious citizenship.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Charles Taylor found guilty by the Special Court for Sierra Leone

On Friday Charles Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and of crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierre Leone. Outside of Africa, the media is generally heralding this as a victory for international law and suggesting that the days when heads of state could shelter from international justice are over. In Africa and in other more realist quarters, not so much (see the Atlantic's coverage at and Spiked's coverage at The sentencing of Taylor, who will serve his sentence in the UK, maybe some kind of minor justice for the terror that the RUF waged in Sierra Leone during the civil war but it is unlikely that other heads of state (current or former) involved in formenting terror or ignoring the rule of law will now be in fear for their liberty. Outside of West Africa many people's knowledge of the Sierra Leone civil war comes from the hollywood film, Blood Diamonds. For a more complex picture of what brought Sierra Leone to civil war and of the tactics of terror deployed by the RUF, including rape and amputation by teenage soldiers, two books are essential: William Reno's Corruption and state politics in Sierra Leone (CUP, 1995) and Mariane Ferme's The underneath of things : violence, history, and the everyday in Sierra Leone (University of California Press, 2001). Reno's book is necessary for understanding how structural adjustment undermined patronage politics with the result that the state seized to be the primary goal of rebel forces. Ferme is an anthropologist and her account of how esoteric practices were transformed in the context of civil war I found useful for trying to understand the cultural politics of violence in the civil war. The invovlement of young soldiers in the civil war and their demobilisation has attracted a lot of commentary See e.g. Susan Shepler's "Globalizing Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone," in Youthscapes: The Popular, The National, The Global, December 2004, Denov, M. (2010), Child Soldiers: Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and Daniel Hoffman, The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Cultures and Practice of Violence)(Duke UP, 2011).

Friday, 23 March 2012

Childhood Studies Birkbeck College

The Msc International Childhood Studies is open for student applications for 2012/13. To apply and find out more about the programme visit If you would like to make an appointment to discuss your application contact Dr Karen Wells on

This programme will be interesting to you if you want to know how globalisation has impacted on children's lives and practices of childhood or you want to know how to do social research with children and young people, or you want to understand how 'race' , class and gender shapes children's lives. You may be working, or intending to work, with children in service provision, social policy or international development, particularly in culturally diverse settings and have an academic interest in understanding childhood.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Melancholy, politics and London riots

What were the London riots about? The consensus seems to be: not much. Yes, the initial spark might have been the shooting of Mark Duggan and the police's subsequent refusal or failure to talk to his family, but the looting of shops in London and Manchester didn't seem to be much more than a free for all. What hasn't yet been given much space is the possibility that the riots could be both a free for all AND the momentary opening up of a space for political commentary on inequalities that mark young lives in the city. I don't want to underplay the tragedy of these events - not only the shooting of Mark Duggan; to which I'll return in a moment but also the murder of three men in Birmingham defending their property, the murder of a man in Ealing who was killed for trying to put out a fire, the fear and losses of people whose homes in Tottenham and Croydon were set alight. These events are tragic. A neighbourhood that is already one of the poorest in the borough (as it happens the neighbourhood I was brought up in) was trashed by some of its own residents, much to the despair of many others. During the riots it may have seemed exhiliarating to those who literally walked into shops and took what they wanted that the polices' authority seemed to simply melt away. Some months later; not so much. The sentences handed out to young offenders have been excessive (see

This is obviously a very bleak picture and I don't want to suggest that the protagonists had some deeper political purpose in mind as they looted Foot Locker. Although there have been one or two commentators, community leaders, claiming that this is a response to disenfranchisement and material inequality I find this unconvincing. If it was, it wasn't for the most part, or perhaps at all, consciously so. Nonetheless the initial rage and the subsequent randomness of violence, of setting fire to your own neighbourhood, of stealing stuff you can't use because it doesn't fit, or you can't carry it, or someone steals it off you, is this just completely inexplicable?

I would say not. I would say that this can be seen as a moment of what I have written about elsewhere as "melancholic memorialisation". Melancholy here borrows from Freud's claim that unresolved mourning produces melancholia - a refusal to move on from loss. This moment, so unproductive for individuals, can be politically productive in as much as the refusal to let go of this kind of loss can push an otherwise personal event into a political reckoning; death then becomes more than a personal tragedy and raises questions about social justice and the unequal distribution of risk and violence. Compare, e.g. the amount of press coverage that came in the wake of Duggan's death because it was followed by riots to the response to the death of another black man at the hands of the police: Jacob Michael, 25 who was restrained by 11 officers and died in custody (see

For this moment between death and settlement to be a productive political space rather than the destructive chaotic and in a sense, wordless, events of the so-called riots, there have to be narratives available to people that do something other than simply describe the facts of their lives, which is what a good deal of sociology and politics does do; we need narratives that describe other ways of being, that suggest remedies for the unequal distribution of violence and risk and material inequality. Until this is in place the political space opened up by melanchoic mourning will repeatedly be closed again by hegemonic forces. The failure to develop such narratives is an indication of the absence of any wider political dialogue about alternatives to the current global or national order.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Violence and childhood: war affected children London, June 30 2011

The 5th seminar in the series was held on June 30th. Podcasts and powerpoints are available at This was a very lively day of debate about theory, programing and policy on war-affected children, particulary child soldiers. Susan Shepler set out a very useful typography of how to tie theoretical frameworks to practice and policy and made a very relevant case for the importance of context (and anthrpological approaches) in understanding how the experience of war impacts on children and childhood (and youth).

Lewis Hine Project

I have just come across this lovely site. USA artist, Joe Manning, has been tracking down the descendants of some of the children photographed by Lewis Hine. See for interviews and stories.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Msc International Childhood Studies 2012/13

Applications are now open for the Msc International Childhood Studies 2012/13 at Birkbeck College. To find out more about the programme visit