Agency and belonging

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Pinni A building, Paavo Koli auditorium, address: Kanslerinrinne 1.

Elina Stenvall

Doctoral defence of M.Soc.Sc. Elina Stenvall

Yhteiskunnallinen osallisuus ja toimijuus : Lasten osallistuminen, kansalaisuus ja poliittisuus arjen käytäntöinä (Agency and belonging : Children’s experiences about participation, citizenship and political agency)

The field of science of the dissertation is Regional Studies.

The opponent is docent Johanna Kiili (University of Jyväskylä). Professor Jouni Häkli acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Experiences of participation and belonging among Finnish schoolchildren

Master of Political Sciences Elina Stenvall studied participation and belonging as everyday life phenomenon in her thesis Agency and belonging. Children’s experiences about participation, citizenship and political agency. There she presents how children give meaning to their everyday life experiences, in what matters they want to participate and how they understand participation, agency and citizenship as parts of their everyday life.

Quite often, adults promote children’s participation in situations defined as “children issues” such as planning new schoolyard or a skate park. Looking from children’s own perspective, they felt important to participate in matters of their everyday life as well as greater scale societal matters such as protecting environment or helping refugees.  

In her study, Stenvall reflects in what ways citizenship and agency can be part of children’s everyday life. In that scenery their everyday life participation, different communities and involvements are understood important also in societal level.   

She interviewed 120 children and young people in 2012 at two big cities in Finland, Tampere and Helsinki. Children were eleven and fifteen years old. In Finland, that means they were in fifth and ninth grade. In the interviews, children talked widely about matters important in their everyday life for example friendships, hobbies, school, teachers, parents, relatives, games, hobbies, shopping or pets.  

“We talked a lot (with parents) because my big sister was happy because she didn’t quit (a hobby) in my age although she asked. I said that I really don’t like it (my hobby). There’s only one nice day in it and that is the performance and other days we do the same thing all the time. I don’t want it” (girl 11 years)

At the same time, they talked about politics, voting, travelling, different cultures or views of the world:

“Well, and then from Romania those, what is it, those groups who sent those beggars, basically they raise the money to those others so they can live in some huge houses in some other countries or something” (boy 15 years)

”Adult’s should recognize the importance of communities, everyday life experiences and acts with which children create understanding about their belonging as members of society”, says Stenvall.

Children can negotiate and make compromises on issues important to them such as quitting a hobby or having a pet. In these situations, children create experiences about how they are parts of society. How adult’s respond on their wishes, rationale or point-of-views. Are they involved as equals or are their opinions less important because of their age.

Children also talked about time. If you go to school, do your homework, have hobbies, meet friends and spend time with your family, you don’t necessary have time to take part in participatory projects. Especially, if those projects seem something additionally.  

Elina Stenvall suggests that from children’s lives we should recognize many different processes with which children learn how to live together with others, how to take part and how to be an citizen.

“Possibilities to participate in everyday matters in childhood has indirect connection to adulthood citizenship”.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2407, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2018. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1917, Tampere University Press 2018.

The dissertation can be ordered at: Juvenes e-bookstore or by e-mail:

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