Recognition and Capability: A New Way to Understand How Children Can Achieve Their Rights?

  • Nigel Thomas
  • Daniel Stoecklin
Part of the Studies in Childhood and Youth book series (SCY)


This chapter explores how we can better understand children’s place in society using two theoretical models: recognition theory and the capability approach. It looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each theoretical approach, and how they can be used in combination. While recognition theory focuses on personal identity, the capability approach is primarily concerned with acts that people have the freedom to perform. The link between activities and identities is a central issue, mediated as it is by specific values. The chapter also considers the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as an example of how children’s place in intergenerational relations is constructed. It concludes with a review of current attempts to use the two theories to inform and guide empirical research with children.


  1. Alanen, L. (2014). Theorizing childhood. Childhood, 21(1), 3–6. Scholar
  2. Ballet, J., Biggeri, M., & Comim, F. (2011). Children’s agency and the capability approach: A conceptual framework. In M. Biggeri, J. Ballet, & F. Comim (Eds.), Children and the capability approach (pp. 22–45). Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  3. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. New York: Anchor Books. Scholar
  4. Bonvin, J., & Stoecklin, D. (2016). Children’s rights as evolving capabilities: Towards a contextualized and processual conception of social justice. Ethical Perspectives, 23(1), 19–39. Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P. (1992). The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  6. Corsaro, W. (1997). The sociology of childhood. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.Google Scholar
  7. Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co. Scholar
  8. Dixon, R., Nussbaum, M. (2012). Children’s rights and a capabilities approach: The question of special priority. University of Chicago Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper, No 384.Google Scholar
  9. Fanon, F. (1961). The wretched of the earth. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  10. Fraser, N. (1995). From redistribution to recognition: Dilemmas of justice in a ‘postsocialist’ age. New Left Review, 212, 68–93.Google Scholar
  11. Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory. Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.Google Scholar
  12. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. Golay, D., & Malatesta, D. (2014). Children’s councils implementation: A path toward recognition? In D. Stoecklin & J.-M. Bonvin (Eds.), Children’s rights and the capability approach: Challenges and prospects (pp. 109–130). Dordrecht: Springer. Scholar
  14. Graham, A., Fitzgerald, R., Powell, M., Thomas, N., Anderson, D., White, N., & Simmons, C. (2014). Improving approaches to wellbeing in schools: What role does recognition play? (Final Report). Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University, Lismore.Google Scholar
  15. Hanson, K. (2012). Schools of thought in children’s rights. In M. Liebel (Ed.), Children’s rights from below. Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 63–79). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Scholar
  16. Hanson, K., & Nieuwenhuys, O. (Eds.). (2013). Reconceptualizing children’s rights in international development: Living rights, social justice and translations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Scholar
  17. Hanson, K., & Poretti, M. (2012). ‘Living rights’ ou l’enfant sujet de droits: la traduction de la compréhension de leurs droits par les enfants eux-mêmes à l’attention de la communauté internationale. In P. Meyer-Bisch (dir.), L’enfant témoin et sujet: les droits culturels de l’enfant (pp. 81–101). Genève: Schulthess.Google Scholar
  18. Honneth, A. (1995). The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts. Cambridge: Polity Press. Scholar
  19. Honneth, A. (2014). Freedom’s right: The social foundations of democratic life. Cambridge: Polity Press. Scholar
  20. James, A., & Prout, A. (1990). Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood. Basingstoke: Falmer Press. Scholar
  21. Lansdown, G. (2010). The realisation of children’s participation rights. Critical reflections. In B. Percy-Smith & N. Thomas (Eds.), A handbook of children and young people’s participation: Perspectives from theory and practice (pp. 11–23). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Liebel, M. (2008). Citizenship from below: Children’s rights and social movements. In A. Invernizzi & J. Williams (Eds.), Children and citizenship. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Liebel, M. (2014). From evolving capacities to evolving capabilities: Contextualizing children’s rights. In D. Stoecklin & J.-M. Bonvin (Eds.), Children’s rights and the capability approach: Challenges and prospects (pp. 67–84). Dordrecht: Springer. Scholar
  24. Marshall, T. (1963). Citizenship and social class. In T. Marshall (Ed.), Sociology at the crossroads and other essays. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  25. McNay, L. (2008). Against recognition. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  26. Mead, G. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Scholar
  27. Nussbaum, M. (2000). Women and human development: The capabilities approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Scholar
  28. Oswell, D. (2013). The agency of children. From family to global human rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  29. Qvortrup, J. (2009). Childhood as a structural form. In J. Qvortrup, W. Corsaro, & M. Honig (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of childhood studies (pp. 21–33). Basingstoke: Palgrave. Scholar
  30. Robin, P. (2014). The participation of children in care in the assessment process. In D. Stoecklin & J.-M. Bonvin (Eds.), Children’s rights and the capability approach: Challenges and prospects. Dordrecht: Springer. Scholar
  31. Schütz, A. (1987). Le chercheur et le quotidien. Paris: Meridiens Klincksieck.Google Scholar
  32. Sen, A. (1977). Rational fools: A critique of the behavioral foundations of economic theory. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 6(4), 317–344.Google Scholar
  33. Sen, A. (1992). Inequality re-examined. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  34. Sen, A. (1993). Capability and well-being. In M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (Eds.), The quality of life (pp. 30–54). Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Sen, A. (2002). Rationality and freedom. London/Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Sen, A. (2009). The idea of justice. London/Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Sen, A. (2010). The idea of justice. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  39. Shapiro, I. (2005). The state of democratic theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Snodgrass-Godoy, A. (1999). ‘Our right is the right to be killed’: Making rights real on the streets of Guatemala. Childhood, 6(4), 423–442. Scholar
  41. Stoecklin, D. (2013). Theories of action in the field of child participation. In search of explicit frameworks. Childhood, 20(4), 443–457. Scholar
  42. Stoecklin, D., & Bonvin, J.-M. (2014). Cross-fertilizing children’s rights and the capability approach. The example of the right to be heard in organized leisure. In D. Stoecklin & J.-M. Bonvin (Eds.), Children’s rights and the capability approach: Challenges and prospects (pp. 21–33). Dordrecht: Springer. Scholar
  43. Thomas, N. (2012). Love, rights and solidarity: Studying children’s participation using Honneth’s theory of recognition. Childhood, 19(4), 453–466. Scholar
  44. Weber, M. (2013). La Domination. Paris: La découverte.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nigel Thomas
    • 1
  • Daniel Stoecklin
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Central LancashirePrestonUK
  2. 2.University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations