The Agency of Children in Street Situations

  • Daniel Stoecklin
Part of the Children’s Well-Being: Indicators and Research book series (CHIR, volume 21)


The dominant view holds that agency refers to the capacity of actors to influence the ways in which society functions, and structure refers to the social barriers that constrain this capacity to influence. Inspired by the structuration theory (Giddens 1979, 1984), introducing the notion of ‘duality of the structure’, a new framework is proposed whereby social practices are mediated by « thinking horizons » or « objects » – activities, relationships, values, images of self, and motivations – that preside over individual choices and reflexive monitoring. There are consequently five modes of action, or visible forms of the practical arrangement of daily life: entrepreneurial, relational, moral, identitary, and motivational. These modes of action are linked together and it is through this « structure of pertinences » that children give meaning to their situation on the street and develop their agency. Meanwhile, the transformability of situated agency strongly depends on the social representations of childhood in a given context.


Agency Structure Objects Thinking horizons Modes of action Pertinences Transformability Social representations 


  1. Aptekar, L., & Stoecklin, D. (2014). Street children and homeless youth: A cross-cultural perspective. Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York/London: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New-York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ben-Arieh, A. (2008). The child indicators movement: Past, present, and future. Child Indicators Research, 1(1), 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ben-Arieh, A. (2014). Social policy and the changing concept of child well-being: The role of international studies and children as active participants. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 60. Jg., Heft 4. Weinheim/Basel: Beltz Juventa, S. 569–581.Google Scholar
  5. Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. New-York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  6. Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  7. Blumer, H. (1979). Symbolic interaction. In H. Robboy, S. L. Greenblatt, & C. Clark (Eds.), Social interaction. Introductory readings in sociology. New York: St Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  8. Boltanski, L. (2009). De la critique. Précis de sociologie de l’émancipation. Paris: Gallimard, NRF essais.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Questions de sociologie. Paris: Editions de Minuit.Google Scholar
  10. Cheng, F. (2008). Negotiating exclusion: An ethnographic study of the street children in Shanghai, China. Hong-Kong: University of Hong-Kong (Unpublished doctoral dissertation).Google Scholar
  11. Cheng, F. (2009a). The efficiency of Chinese welfare policy for street children: A perspective of the street children. Journal of Social Sciences, 4, 11.Google Scholar
  12. Cheng, F. (2009b). Failure of the traditional childcare model and the causes of street children: An ethnographic study of the street children in the Shanghai Railway Station neighborhood. Society, 5(8).Google Scholar
  13. Cheng, F., & Lam, D. (2010). How is street life? An examination of the subjective wellbeing of street children in China. International Social Work, 53(3), 353–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Costey, P. (2004). Pierre Bourdieu, penseur de la pratique. Tracés. Revue de sciences humaines, 7, 11–25. Online since 21 January 2009, connection on 08 August 2018. doi:
  15. Côté, J.-F. (2015). George Herbert Mead’s concept of society. A critical reconstruction. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cusson, M. (1981). Délinquants, pourquoi? Paris: Colin.Google Scholar
  17. Cyrulnik, B., & Jorlan, G. (2012). Résilience. Connaissances de base. Paris: Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  18. Dewey, J. (1991). Logic: The theory of inquiry. In J. A. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey: The later works, 1925–1953 (Vol. 12). Carbondale: SIU Press. (Originally published in 1938 by N.Y. D.C.: Heath & Co).Google Scholar
  19. Elias, N. (1978). What is sociology? New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Elias, N. (1991). The symbol theory. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Esser, F., Baader, M. S., Betz, T., & Hungerland, B. (2016). Reconceptualizing agency and childhood: New perspectives in childhood studies. New-York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gao, Y., Atkinson-Sheppard, S., Yu, Y., & Xiong, G. (2018). A review of the National Policies on street children in China. Children and Youth Services Review, 93, 79–87. Scholar
  23. Garnier, P. (2015). L’“agency” des enfants. Projet scientifique et politique des “childhood studies”. Education et sociétés, 36(2), 159–173. Scholar
  24. Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory. Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis. London: Macmillan Press.Google Scholar
  25. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lange, F. A. (1950). The history of materialism. New-York: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  27. Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory life: The social construction of scientific facts. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Le Breton, D. (2004). L’interactionnisme symbolique. Paris: Quadrige/PUF.Google Scholar
  29. Lemert, E. (1967). Human deviance. Social problems and social control. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  30. Leonard, M. (2016). The sociology of children, childhood and generation. Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore/Washington DC: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Lucchini, R. (1985). Drogues et société. Essai sur la toxicodépendance. Fribourg: Editions Universitaires Fribourg.Google Scholar
  32. Lucchini, R. (1993). Enfant de la rue. Identité, sociabilité, drogue. Genève/Paris: Droz.Google Scholar
  33. Lucchini, R. (1996). Sociologie de la survie. L’enfant dans la rue. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.Google Scholar
  34. Martindale, D. (1960). The nature and types of sociological theory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  35. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: Charles W. Morris.Google Scholar
  36. Mead, G. H. (1963). L’esprit, le soi et la société. Paris: PUF (Translation from the 1934 original version in English).Google Scholar
  37. Nizet, J. (2007). La sociologie de Anthony Giddens. Paris: La Découverte.Google Scholar
  38. Oswell, D. (2013). The agency of children. From family to global human rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgement of the child. New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  40. Raithelhuber, E. (2016). Extending agency. The merit of relational approaches for childhood studies. In F. Esser, M. S. Baader, T. Betz, & B. Hungerland (Eds.), Reconceptualizing agency and childhood : New perspectives in childhood studies. New-York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Rees, G., Andresen, S., & Bradshaw, J. (2016). Children’s views on their lives and well-being in 16 countries: A report on the Children’s Worlds survey of children aged eight years old, 2013–15. York: Children’s Worlds Project (ISCWeB,
  42. Samusocial International. (2014). La Suradaptation paradoxale. Une notion clé dans l’abord clinique et psychopathologique des enfants et jeunes de la rue. Cahier thématique. Paris: Agence française de développement.Google Scholar
  43. Shils, E. A., & Finch, H. A. (1997). The methodology of the social sciences (1903–17). New-York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  44. Stoecklin, D. (2000). Enfants des rues en Chine. Paris: Karthala.Google Scholar
  45. Stoecklin, D. (2009). L’enfant acteur et l’approche participative. In J. Zermatten & D. Stoecklin (Eds.), Le droit des enfants de participer. Norme juridique et réalité pratique : contribution à un nouveau contrat social (pp. 47–71). Sion: IUKB/IDE.Google Scholar
  46. Stoecklin, D. (2013). Theories of action in the field of child participation. In search of explicit frameworks. Childhood, 20(4), 443–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stoecklin, D. (2015). Vulnérabilité et capabilité de l’enfant. Dans: Promotion et défense des droits de l’enfant: Enjeux théoriques, pratiques et philosophiques. Université de Genève: Global Studies Institute, pp. 33–43.Google Scholar
  48. Stoecklin, D. (2018a). Freely expressed views: Methodological challenges for the right of the child to be heard. Child Indicators Research. Article first published online: February 5, 2018. Scholar
  49. Stoecklin, D. (2018b). Institutionalisation of Children’s rights: Transformability and situated agency. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 26(3), 548–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stoecklin, D., & Fattore, T. (2018). Children’s multidimensional agency: insights into the structuration of choice. Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research. 25(1), 47–62. Article first published online: November 29, 2017; Issue published: February 1, 2018. Scholar
  51. Thomas, N., & Stoecklin, D. (2018) Recognition and capability: A new way to understand how children can achieve their rights? In: C. Baraldi & T. Cockburn (Eds.), Theorising childhood. citizenship, rights, and participation. Palgrave McMillan, Studies in Childhood and Youth, pp. 73–94. isbn: 978–3–319-72672-4. Scholar
  52. UNCRC. (2017). General Comment No. 21 (2017) on Children in Street Situations. CRC/C/GC/21. Accessed 27 Oct 2018
  53. Weber, M. (1978a). The foundations of social theory, 1. The nature of social action. In W. G. Runciman (Ed.), Max Weber: Selections in translation. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weber, M. (1978b). In G. Roth & C. Wittich (Eds.), Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  55. Wyness, M. (2018). Childhood culture and society in a global context. London: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Stoecklin
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Children’s Right StudiesUniversity of GenevaBramois/SionSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations