Ethical complexities in participatory childhood research: Rethinking the 'least adult role'

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This article draws on data from a comparative ethnography of two UK primary schools to explore the complexities inherent in Mandell’s ‘least adult role’. In the interest of gaining insight into children’s informal productions of sexuality and gender, this role was used to gain access to peer group cultures and diffuse the imbalance of power between researcher and researched. However, while found to be productive in a number of ways, ‘least adulthood’ was revealed as a positionality suffused with practical, ethical and emotional complexities, and characterised by a fundamental misconstruction of the workings of ‘power’. In line with recent critiques that have recognised both ‘power’ and ‘agency’ as largely under-theorised in childhood research, I conclude this article by offering a tentative alternative to least adulthood, which attempts to respond to some of the key methodological and ethical challenges in contemporary childhood ethnography.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-201
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Early online date13 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Agency
  • Ethnography
  • Honorary child
  • Least adult role
  • Power


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