Guest post by Flavia Cangià, postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Psychology and Education of the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Review of Children and Borders edited by Spyros Spyrou and Miranda Christou (Plagrave Macmillan, 2014).


In the last few decades, both childhood studies and border studies have attracted considerable research interest across the social sciences, yet the relationship between childhood and borders has remained mostly under-researched. By drawing on ethnographic studies with children and young people in various socio-cultural contexts, Children and Borders reflects on the intersection between borders and childhood, through a look both at the role of borders in children’s everyday experiences, and at the role of children in the social lives of borders and borderlands. In particular, the book seeks to challenge the common understanding of borders as only physical boundaries that separate political entities geographically, and rather examines them as ‘active zones of negotiation, exchange and creation’ (p. 9), where notions of identity, citizenship, and belonging are formulated in different ways. At the same time, in line with the theoretical insights of new social studies of childhood that understand children not as mere passive actors but as active agents in the social and political world around them, the fifteen chapters composing this book explore how children can be actively involved in processes of construction, reconstruction, and at times, transgression of borders.

The book is divided into five parts on children and borderlands, borders and war, children in contested borders, border-crossing processes, and borders and belonging. Some of these chapters specifically investigate the flexibility, ambiguity, and the dynamic nature of borders in these children’s lives. Christou and Spyrou (chapter 7), for example, illustrate the contested meanings attached to the ‘border’ between Northern and Southern Cyprus by both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot children, and show how the concept of ‘border’ becomes constitutive in these children’s sense of belonging and identity making. Children’s crossing experiences and related feelings reflect the ambivalent nature of the Green Line between Northern and Southern Cyprus, as both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ border: while the existence of this border provides a sense of security for both sides, the act of crossing it can also offer interesting opportunities at the socioeconomic, temporal, and affective level, like emotion-laden journeys into different ways of life, or a gateway into families’ pasts. McKnight and Leonard (chapter 9), in turn, investigate how teenagers in Belfast negotiate and challenge borders in a city in transition towards peace. By exploring these youths’ narratives and practices, the authors investigate how youths ‘do transitional bordering’ in multiple and contradictory ways. Similarly, Buil and Siegel (chapter 5) analyse the shifting nature of soft and hard borders for Afghan unaccompanied minors en route to the Netherlands: these minors, while encountering strong difficulties in entering the EU border due to physical hardships, experience softer borders once they are within Europe, where they’re mostly exposed to legal issues. As a result, the Dutch border is viewed differently either as the marker between those who belong―and have documents―from those who don’t, or only as a physical border to pass through, depending whether the Netherlands is the final destination of these children or not.

The experience of borders is mixed with a variety of emotions, including fear, anxiety, and hope, among others. Akesson (chapter 4) uses the family as a unit of study, as well as map-making as a method for data collection, in order to investigate physical and psychological processes of domination for Palestinian families. In particular, the chapter explores how these families experience restrictions in the Israeli occupation, in the encounter with both visible borders (e.g., checkpoints) and invisible ‘emotional borders’ (e.g., fear or lack of hope). By the same token, Kutsar, Darmody, and Lahesoo (chapter 14) explore the impact of parental migration to Estonian children’s understanding of family and their emotional reactions to separation. In the final chapter (chapter 15), Kim and Dorner examine how new media allow young Koreans in the US to move across cultural and linguistic borders while they negotiate the boundary between similarity and difference, try to position themselves in a flexible way, and create new ‘hybrid’ identities on the basis of common and more global interests.

‘Bordering processes’ refers not only to the way borders are understood, but also in the way children live in transition zones, those ‘in-between spaces’ located between different countries. Borderlands hence become zones of liminality and passages where different meanings of identity, community, and the state can emerge. Lan and Huijsmans (chapter 1) trace the different experiences and perceptions of the state and of the future of local ethnic traditions by youths living in four ethnic minority villages in the remote state of Zomia, a Lao-Vietnamese borderland area. Likewise, da Silva (chapter 3) illustrates how the concept of border is inscribed in young people’s memories of childhood and everyday life in a Portuguese remote borderland. By analysing these narratives, she demonstrates how youths don’t see the border as an obstacle but emphasize cross-border interactions as concrete opportunities for networking both at the local and global level. Meichsner (chapter 2) describes the work of volunteers in residential care homes for children and youths in the Mexican-American border town of Tijuana, in order to show the ambiguous and complex relationship between borders and care homes. While care homes exist due to the border’s permeability, the communication across borders results in solidifying and perpetuating images of Tijuana and Mexico as dangerous and sinful.

All together, the contributors of this book provide a significant and innovative theoretical and methodological reflection on how childhood, youth, and borders interact with each other. Children’s everyday engagement with borders represents an important topic of study for understanding how borders are socially and subjectively negotiated in alternative ways. At the same time, understanding how borders matter in children’s lives can shed light on how childhood itself can be differently experienced, constructed and reinterpreted. Children and Borders would be of interest to scholars from different disciplines across the social sciences and the humanities, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, cultural studies, and human geography. More generally, the book will appeal to anyone interested in the study of youth, childhood, borders, and the relationship with diversity.

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__________ How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Cangià, F. (2015) Book Review: Children and Borders. Available at: (Accessed [date]).