Bergen Summer Research School

Contested childhood in the context of migration

Law, practice, lived experience

Children walking
Stein J. Bjørge

Main content

Course leaders
Marry-Anne Karlsen, Associate Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen
Jessica Schultz, legal researcher based at the Chr. Michelsen Institute and the University of Bergen.

Course description
Children and youth represent a significant portion of the migrant population. As a ‘child’ and a ‘migrant’ they are at the crossroads of divergent governance regimes and discourses.

This interdisciplinary course examines how different perspectives and conceptualizations of childhood underpin and frame the ways migrant children are viewed and approached in research, law/policy, and practice and shape lived experience.

Connecting the field of childhood research with human rights research and critical migration research, the course will address theoretical perspectives, key concepts and ongoing debates related to child and youth migration. Topics to be discussed include:

  • Children’s rights in the context of migration: How do legal instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Refugee Convention and regional human rights treaties manage the tension between children’s rights and the state’s interest in migration control? How do courts and treaty monitoring bodies interpret state obligations under these instruments?
  • Legal and social constructions of age and childhood: How do cultural and gendered assumptions about childhood and migration shape international and national laws and policies, the governance of migrant children and youth in state asylum and welfare systems, the services offered by humanitarian organizations, and child migrants’ lived experiences?
  • The spatial and temporal implications of the protection and control practices aimed at young migrants: How do notions such as temporary/durable solutions, attachment/belonging, and youth transitions / life course stages frame research and policy? How do they shape the present/future of migrant children and youth?

With a particular emphasis on legal, ethnographic and participatory methods and ethics, the course considers the ways in which migrant children and youth are understood as subjects of research, and ethical and positioning issues of including them in research.

We welcome PhD candidates working in the fields of law, anthropology and related disciplines (geography, sociology, social work etc) with an interest in interdisciplinarity. PhD candidates will reflect on their own methodological approaches, and receive feedback on a short text on this topic. Course participants will also have the opportunity to contribute a blog post or podcast to the UiB website on Interdisciplinarity in Migration Research.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Explain key norms and tensions in international law regulating child migration
  • Analyze and communicate how gender and other categories of difference shape perceptions of migrant children in different contexts
  • Critically examine the contributions of different theoretical and disciplinary perspectives and conceptualizations of childhood and migration, particularly anthropological and human rights approaches
  • Think reflexively on epistemological, methodological, and ethical issues in academic research involving migrant children and youth


Abebe, T., Dar, A., & Lyså, I. M. (2022). Southern theories and decolonial childhood studies. Childhood, 29(3), 255-275.

Adam, B. (1989). Feminist social theory needs time. Reflections on the relation between feminist thought, social theory and time as an important parameter in social analysis. The Sociological Review, 37(3), 458-473.

Bhabha, J. (2019). Governing adolescent mobility: The elusive role of children’s rights principles in contemporary migration practice. Childhood, 26(3), 369 – 385.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568219852661

Chase, E., Otto, L., Belloni, M., Lems, A. & Wernesjö, U.(2020) Methodological innovations, reflections and dilemmas: the hidden sides of research with migrant young people classified as unaccompanied minors, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46:2, 457-473, DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2019.1584705

Ensor, M.O. (2010). Understanding Migrant Children: Conceptualizations, Approaches, and Issues. In: Ensor, M.O., Goździak, E.M. (eds) Children and Migration. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp 15–35 https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230297098_2 

Holzscheiter, A., Josefsson, J., & Sandin, B. (2019). Child rights governance: An introduction. Childhood, 26(3), 271–288. https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568219854518

Lind, J. (2019). Governing vulnerabilised migrant childhoods through children’s rights. Childhood, 26(3), 337–351. https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568219847269

Knight, H. (2019). Centering the problem child: Temporality, colonialism, and theories of the child. Global Studies of Childhood, 9(1), 72–83. https://doi.org/10.1177/2043610618825005

Pobjoy, J. M. (2021). Refugee Children, in C. Costello, M. Foster and J. McAdam (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of International Refugee Law (746-760), Oxford University Press.

Sandberg, K. (2015) The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Vulnerability of Children, Nordic Journal of International Law 84 221-247, DOI:10.1163/15718107-08402004

Seeberg ML and Goździak EM (2016) Contested Childhoods: Growing up in Migrancy, in Seeberg ML and Goździak EM (eds) Contested Childhoods: Growing up in Migrancy. Migration, Governance, Identities. Cham: Springer, pp 1-19


Participation at the BSRS is credited under the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Participants submitting an essay, in a form of a publishable manuscript of 10-20 pages, after the end of the summer school will receive 10 ECTS. Deadline for submission will be decided by your course leader.

It is also possible to participate without producing an essay. This will give you 5 ECTS. In order to receive credits, we expect full participation in the course-specific modules, plenary events and roundtables.

Course leaders

Marry-Anne Karlsen is a researcher at Centre for Women’s and Gender Research (SKOK). She has a background in human geography and social anthropology. Her research interests cover migration, the welfare state, and border politics. Her most recent book Migration Control and Access to Welfare: The Precarious Inclusion of Irregular Migrants in Norway was published as an open access monograph on Routledge (2021). She also co-edited the volume Waiting and the Temporalities of irregular migration (open access Routledge 2021), which provides theoretical and empirical nuance to the concept of waiting in migration research.

Jessica Schultz is a legal researcher based at the Chr. Michelsen Institute and the University of Bergen. Her recent work focuses on the concept of vulnerability, cessation of refugee status, and temporary protection. She is lead researcher for the Norwegian Research Council-funded project: Temporary Protection as a Durable Solution? The ‘return turn’ in asylum policies in Europe (TemPro), which is a collaboration between anthropologists and legal scholars exploring how temporariness is produced in law and how it is experienced by refugees in Denmark, Norway, the UK and Germany. Jessica is also co-host of the podcast Refugee Law and Refugee Lives.