Conceptualising Childhood
: Perceptions and Practices of Childhood Education and Migration Among the Argobba Community in North-Eastern Ethiopia

  • Anannia Admassu Sahle

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores how childhood among the Argobba communities in
north-east Ethiopia is shaped by local social and cultural attitudes and some
aspects of political changes and globalisation. By investigating children’s
perspectives with regard to their roles in households and communities, it
examines what influences children and adults’ perceptions and practices
concerning children’s education and migration. Given the importance of
generational relations among various ethnic groups in Ethiopia, the research
asked how children and young people react to cultural contexts and societal
values and examined whether existing generational relationships and cultural
context have shown changes over time.

Drawing from the social study of childhood and through adopting a social
constructivist approach, the research explored how their childhoods are
constructed and reconstructed in the course of their interactions with their peers,
families and community members. The research used Anderson’s (1983)
framework of ‘Imagined communities’ to explore the differing ways of how
sociocultural values and the legacy of past traditions shape children and adults’
imaginings regarding their identity and future livelihoods. The research found
differences between the perspectives of children and adults on how childhood
and education are conceptualised and practised. Aspirations related to
migration were largely economic, and despite the many risks, migration was
believed to be beneficial by children and adults alike. An examination of
generational relationships reflected both tensions and collaboration between
generations, which facilitated and, at times, constrained the agency of both
children and adults. Changes are also emerging in kinship and familial relations due to emergence of transnational families and better finincial standing of
successful migrants. Improvements in the expansion of media technology and
better transport enabled children and young people to migrate.

The originality of my thesis, therefore, lies in the under-researched nature
of the Argobba people. This is mainly true for the children as no other studies
have presented the perspectives of children as ‘active participants’ and explored
their agency in light of the emerging impacts of globalisation on their
perceptions and practices of education and migration. By showing how
sociocultural values shape childhoods and presenting the relational nature and
interdependencies between children and adults, this research contributes to the
social study of childhood and further theorisation of generational differences
among marginalised ethnic minorities such as the Argobbas. Furthermore, the
research builds on Anderson’s framework of ‘imagined communities’ through
demonstrating how changes in the social and economic contexts as well as
globalisation influenced children and young people’s imaginings. Hence, the
research argued that while adults tend to maintain the legacy of their ancestral
traditions and ethnic identity, which were often related to the past, children and
young persons form their imaginings into the future using education and
migration as a vehicle towards achieving their aspirations and their transitions
into adulthood.
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorMark Erickson (Supervisor) & Vicky Johnson (Supervisor)

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