Children and Childhoods Conference Keynote Speakers

Spyros Spyrou

Spyros Spyrou is Professor of Anthropology and Acting Deputy Dean of the School of Humanities, Social and Education Sciences at European University Cyprus. His work has explored, among others, the political lives of children and young people (especially in relation to nationalism, migration, borders and climate activism), intergenerational relations and questions of knowledge production in childhood studies. Spyros is the author of Disclosing Childhoods (2018) and co-editor of Reimagining Childhood Studies (2019) and Children and Borders (2014) as well as co- editor of the journal Childhood and of the book series Studies in Childhood and Youth. He is also a co-convenor of the project Reimagining Childhood Studies (

Title: Children as future-makers in a pluriversal world: From defuturing to other possible worlds and ways of being.

Abstract: How might we think of children and future-making? The over-simplistic equation of children with the future is just that: an over-simplistic assertion devoid of critical depth. It is an assertion which short-circuits our ability to think about how children relate to the future as a multi-dimensional temporal condition which is neither singular nor linear but an ongoing manifestation in the present of children’s fears, visions, expectations, anticipations, aspirations, speculations, and hopes. The multiple crises of humanity—from the crisis of war and violence, to the ongoing financial crisis which leaves millions of children destitute, to the voluntary and forced migration of unprecedented numbers of children and young people, and to the existential crisis of climate change—challenge children to act in ways that counter what design theorist Tony Fry calls ‘defuturing’ or the negation of world futures. However, to understand children as future-makers, we need to make sense of how they relate to the future through their local, situated realities and the possibilities that these realities engender; how, in other words, they imagine and work towards enacting their preferred futures in a pluriversal world filled with tension and contradiction. In this presentation, I reflect on how we may begin to think more critically about the notion of ‘children as future-makers’—the difficulties, constraints and challenges as well as the possibilities and promises of children’s work towards the making of alternative futures in a time informed by decolonial thinking and praxis and the emergence of new social imaginaries. 

Karen Wells

Karen Wells is Professor of International Development and Childhood Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She has over twenty years of experience in research on the intersection between international political economy and socio-cultural fields in the formation of childhood. She has published widely on this research including in her monographs Childhood in a Global Perspective (Policy, 3rd edition, 2021), Childhood Studies: making young subjects (Polity, 2017) and Visual Cultures of Childhood (Rowman and Little 2020). She is book reviews editor of the journal Children’s Geographies, and a board member of the journal Global Studies of Childhood.  She is the co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Childhood Studies and Global Development (2024) and Bloomsbury’s Handbook of Theory in Childhood Studies (2023). She is currently writing a book on Makers, Children's Agency and Material Culture (under contract with Routledge) drawing on the British Academy funded research project for which she was PI: Development and Education in the Vernacular of Infants and children in West Africa

Title: Optimism of the will: children and future-making

Abstract: In late 2023 over 6,000 children were killed in less than six weeks by an almost constant bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli armed forces/government. Despite multiple international agencies demanding an immediate ceasefire and framing these attacks on children’s lives and on hospitals, schools and homes as war crimes the bombing continued. My news feed on twitter (X) was full of images of young children screaming, crying, grieving, wounded, dead and dying. By the time I speak at this conference in July 2024 it is impossible to know if the ongoing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories will have returned to its ‘low-intensity’ state or not. In such a time, when the entire regime of international children’s rights and of international law more generally is starkly shown to be worthless in its claims to be able to protect citizens in general and children in particular, how can imagining ‘transformative futures’ be anything other than a hollow gesture? In this keynote I grapple with the question of how we can exercise pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will and the importance of doing research with children that investigates how they imagine the future from the ground they currently stand on, and what distinctive spatial, temporal and social perspectives children bring to future-making.