Child Indicators Research

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 899–927 | Cite as

Children’s Discursive Constructions of the ‘Self’

  • Elizabeth BenningerEmail author
  • Shazly Savahl


The ways in which children construct and assign meaning to the ‘self’ could have an impact on their social and emotional well-being, including their coping skills, relationship formation, and behaviour. Furthermore, a child’s understanding of the ‘self’ could influence the way in which they make meaning out of their experiences and internalize these experiences as a means of understanding one’s abilities and self-worth. Conditions of poverty and oppression could negatively impact the development of the self-concept and a child’s overall well-being. Such conditions exist in South Africa, where the aftermath of apartheid’s system of structural racism continues in the form of social inequity, poverty, and violence. This study utilized a child participation framework to explore children’s discursive constructions of and meanings assigned to the ‘self’ within two urban communities of the Western Cape, South Africa. Eight focus group discussions were conducted amongst fifty-four children between the ages of nine to twelve. Thematic and discourse analysis were used to analyse the findings. The themes of childhood, social connectedness, and children’s spaces were identified as key influences on a child’s self-concept. Four underlying discourses emerged within the themes as central to the participant’s self-constructions. These included; (1) ‘forfeited childhood,’ (2) ‘vulnerability and helplessness,’ (3) ‘preserving the integrity of the self,’ and (4) ‘opportunities for escape.’


Children Self Self-concept Well-being Child participation Discourse analysis 



This study was made possible through the financial support of the Rotary International Foundation, Global Grant 1415783 and through the collaboration of the child co-researchers and community youth care workers from the organizations Waves for Change and Philisa Abafazi Bethu in Cape Town, South Africa.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Informed consent was received from all study participants and their guardians. Author Elizabeth Benninger received financial compensation for her consultancy work with the organization Waves for Change.

Conflict of interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of the Western CapeBellvilleSouth Africa

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