Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Journalism, Media and socio-cultural communication, Social sciences

Publication Details

Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of a PhD to the Technological University Dublin, 2012.


This study investigates children’s perspectives on how they experience their everyday walks through a city neighbourhood in Dublin, Ireland. Of particular interest in this research are the children’s views on the urban public realm which they traverse daily on their walks to school and various other destinations. Having once been considered the domain of children (Karsten 2005) public space is now socially constructed as adult space (Aitken 2001) and there is a concern that children are disappearing from the city (Ward 1990; Valentine 2004). The focus of this research is the children who still access the public realm regularly, and how they encounter that space. Through an exploration of children’s sense of place in the public realm it becomes possible to reconsider the efficacy of policy decisions and to reconsider how we position children in public space. A secondary aim of this study is an examination of the meaning and significance of independence for children. There is concern that a loss of independent spatial mobility (Hillman et al. 1990) has had a detrimental impact on children’s outdoor experience. (Mackett et al. 2007; Romero 2010). However there is an argument that these concerns have emerged from an adult understanding of independence (Mikkelsen and Christensen 2009). This study sets out to explore children’s perspectives on independence in the context of urban spatial mobility. A complex interplay of factors shapes the children’s everyday spatial mobility experience. Drawing on the work of Bronfenbrenner (1979), an ecological framework was ‘mapped’ onto the urban spatial mobility experience to facilitate an unfolding of the various factors. The sociological understanding of children as active agents shaping their own lives underpins this thesis. Children are positioned as experts in their everyday lives and have participated in a collaborative research process to reveal their experience of the public domain. A group of children aged between nine and eleven who live in the city and regularly walk to school and other places, either with or without an adult, participated. Using photography they documented the routes they walk, capturing the experience of that walk through the meanings they invest in encounters along the way. The visual narratives through which the children describe their journey indicate that while their performance of public space is constrained by assumptions of appropriate behaviour, they experience a diverse engagement with the urban realm and feel a strong sense of belonging in their city worlds. Furthermore, the presence of an adult affects the extent to which the engagement with their urban worlds is pragmatic or imaginative. This study contributes to the discourse on independent urban spatial mobility by identifying a need to reconsider the role children play in shaping urban public space and to rethink the meaning and significance of independence for them.