Child agency and institutional policy: experiences of 'street' children in an institution in Medellin, Colombia

Scott, Caitlin Rachel Victoria. 2003. Child agency and institutional policy: experiences of 'street' children in an institution in Medellin, Colombia. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (Child agency and institutional policy : experiences of 'street' children in an institution in Medellin, Colombia)
ANT_thesis_ScottC_2003.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (27MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

The thesis concerns the experiences of boys in the context of an institutional programme for 'street' boys in Colombia, based on 14 months fieldwork carried out in Medellin, Colombia during 1998-1999. It explores issues of child agency within the normative structures of childhood, and considers broader questions of power and violence. The thesis suggests that children's agency, experience and knowledge inform their experiences at the institution. Based on boys' experiences of and reflections on the street and the programme, the thesis also examines issues of consciousness and resistance.

From the perspective of dominant models of childhood, 'street' children are 'out of place', outside the control of institutions such as family, school or church. Challenges to such negative constructions of 'street' children can portray them in terms of resistance or rebelliousness. However, the children in this thesis, emphasise that a lack of choice constrains their agency. Indeed, they explain their presence on the street as the result of violence related to civil war, family fragmentation, abuse, and other threats against them. This forces us to consider broader issues of violence and power as structural constraints impinging on these actors.

The institution that constitutes the focus of this study espouses another approach to 'street' children. The centres run by the Catholic order of Salesians simultaneously define the children as abandoned and morally deviant. The institution aims to bring about change in the boys through a six-month process of transformation that works on their bodies, minds and identities. Boys recognise advantages to life in the institution, but also react to what they perceive as stigmatising discourses and arbitrary practices. Disciplinary practices and the monotony of life within the institution contrast with the relative freedom outside its boundaries.

The contrasting views of agency held by the children and the institution provide a key to understanding the question of children living on the street and the relative successes of institutional interventions in this field.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


'street' boys, childhood, power and violence, institution

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



June 2003

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

12 Jul 2023 13:24

Last Modified:

08 Aug 2023 14:33


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)