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Dr Karen Wells

Professor of Human Geography

BA (Hons) African History and Religious Studies (SOAS, London)
MSc Comparative Government (LSE)
PhD International Relations (LSE)


  • Karen Wells is Programme Director for Children, Youth and International Development, and Reader in International Development and Childhood Studies.
  • She holds a BA (Hons) African History and Religious Studies from SOAS, University of London, an Msc Comparative Government and a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
  • She is the author of Childhood Studies: Making Young Subjects (Polity 2018) and Childhood in a Global Perspective (Polity 2015, 2nd edition) and has published widely on children, inequalities, and visual culture. She is currently working on a book on visual culture and childhood, provisionally called Looking at Children. She is collaborating with Plan International on the analysis of their longitudinal data set on girls growing up in poverty in 9 countries.

Research strengths

  • The focus of my research is on how global processes and structures interact with practices of childhood in local contexts and how this dialectic between the global and the local impacts on children's lives and on practices of childhood.
  • I am particularly interested in how these processes are represented in visual culture and I have published widely on visual representations and global/local dynamics of childhood. A specific focus of my research is on representations of violence and suffering; related to this I am interested in how war and other forms of structural and corporeal violence impact on children's lives, e.g. in mobilising youth migration and youth military recruitment. I have a cross- cutting interest in non-talk based methods (visual and material) as mechanisms for exploring and understanding these dynamics.

Research Interests

  • My research interests include:
    • How international political economy (e.g. war, international law, global capitalism) impacts on children/childhood
    • visual research methods
    • visual cultures of childhood


  • I teach the following postgraduate modules:
    • International Political Economy of Childhood
    • Social Studies of Childhood: key issues and concepts
    • Researching Children and Childhood
    • Research Methods for Dissertation
    • Material and Visual Cultures of Development

MPhil/PhD supervision

  • I am currently supervising the following students
    • Nelly Ali, Street Children in Cairo
    • Ain Bailey, The Sonic Biographies of Queer Women and Non-Binary People of Color
    • Michael Boampong, The Impact of Austerity on Ghanaian Transnational Families
    • Haroon Forde, Quranic Schools in Sudan
    • Pauline O'Dwyer, Juvenile Justice in Sierra Leone
  • I am interested in supervising in the areas of globalisation and childhood, child and youth migration, and visual cultures of childhood.


  • Books
    • 2018. Childhood Studies: Making Young Subjects. Polity Press, Cambridge
    • 2015. Childhood in a Global Perspective. 2nd Edition (revised and with two new chapters) Cambridge: Polity Press.
    • 2014. Wells, K., Burman, E., Montgomery, H. and A. Watson (Eds) Childhood, Youth and Violence in Global Contexts: Research and Practice in Dialogue. Palgrave Macmillan.
    • 2009. Childhood in a Global Perspective. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Book Chapters
    • Wells, K. 2017 Globalising child circulation: care of children who are privately fostered across borders. In Horton, John and Michelle Pyer (Eds) Children, Young People and Care. London & New York: Routledge.
    • 2016. Making Young Subjects: Liminality and Violence. Worth, N., Dwyer, C., and T. Skelton, Clare Dwyer (Eds.) Geographies of Children and Young People. Geographies of Identities and Subjectivities. Berlin: Springer.
    • 2016. Governing the Global Child. Nicola Ansell and Natasha Klocker (Eds) Geographies of Children and Young People. Geographies of Global Issues: Change and Threat. Berlin: Springer.
    • 2016. Children's experiences of sexual violence, psychological trauma, death and injury in war. Kathrin Horschelman and Chris Harker (Eds.) Geographies of Children and Young People. Conflict, Violence, and Peace Berlin: Springer. In press.
    • 2015. Violent lives and peaceful schools: NGO constructions of modern childhood and the role of the state. Jenny Parkes (ed) Gender Violence in Poverty Contexts: the Educational Challenge. Routledge series: Education, Poverty and International Development (series editors: Madeleine Arnot and Christopher Coclough) pp 168 – 182.
    • 2014. Wells, K and H. Montgomery. Everyday Violence and Social Recognition In Wells, K., Burman, E., Montgomery, H. and A. Watson (Eds) Childhood, Youth and Violence in Global Contexts. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (20 pages).
    • 2013. Mobility and Social reproduction: key issues for early childhood research in developing countries. O'Riordan, Jacqui (Ed) Early Childhoods in the Global South: Local and International Contexts. Peter Lang
    • 2012. Making Gender and Generation: Between the local and the global in Africa. In Twum-Danso, A and R. Ame Childhoods at the Intersection of the Local and the Global. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.
    • 2012. Memorialising Violent Death: the Ethical Demands of Grievable Lives. In G.Rose and D. P. Tolia-Kelly (Eds). Visuality/Materiality: Images, Objects and Practices. Farnham: Ashgate Press.
    • 2012. The Gaze of Development after the Cultural Turn. In S. Roseneil and S. Frosh (eds) Social Research after the Cultural Turn. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan
    • 2009. Children and international politics. In Montgomery, H and M. Kellet (eds) Children and young people's worlds: Developing frameworks for integrated practice. The Policy Press: Bristol.
    • 2009. Embodying Englishness: whiteness, gender and class in the children’s film ‘The Secret Garden’. In R Carroll and R Helyer (eds), Adaptation in Contemporary Culture, Continuum Press: London.
    • 2009. Mimesis and Alterity: representations of ‘race’ in children’s film. In Horschelman, K and Pain, R (eds) Contested Bodies of childhood and youth. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.
  • Journal Articles
    • 2014. Children, Youth and Subjectivity (Editorial) Journal of Children’s Geographies Volume 12, Issue 3, 2014 pp 263 – 267 Special Issue on Childhood, Youth and Violence in conflict and post-conflict settings.
    • 2014. Marching to be somebody: a governmentality analysis of online cadet recruitment Karen Wells Journal of Children's Geographies Volume 12, Issue 3, July 2014, pages 339-353
    • 2013. The melodrama of being a child. Journal of Visual Communication 12 (3) 2012. Children and Violence. In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Childhood Studies. New York: Oxford University Press.
    • 2011. The strength of weak ties: the social networks of young separated asylum seekers and refugees in London. Children’s Geographies. Volume 9, Issue 3-4, 2011. The politics of life: governing childhood. Global Studies of Childhood 1(1).
    • 2010. (with Shaziah Wassiuzzaman) ‘Assembling webs of support: child domestic workers in India’. Children and Society 24 (4) 282 – 292.
    • 2010. Child-saving and child-rights: depicting the suffering child in international NGO fundraising leaflets. Journal of Children and Media 2 (3).
    • 2007. Diversity without difference: modeling ‘the real’ in the social aesthetic of a London multicultural school. Visual Studies 22 (3).
    • 2007. The Material and Visual Cultures of Cities. Guest Editorial. Space and Culture. Special Issue. 10 (2).
    • 2007. Symbolic capital and material inequality: memorialising class and ‘race’ in the multicultural city. Space and Culture. Special Issue. Volume 10 (2).
    • 2006. Narratives of Liberation and Narratives of Innocent Suffering: the rhetorical uses of images of Iraqi Children in the British Press. Journal of Visual Communication.
    • 2006. Strange Practices: children’s discourses on transgressive unknowns in urban public space. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research. 12 (4) pp: 495–506.
    • 2005. (with Sophie Watson) Spaces of Nostalgia, Social and Cultural Geography 6 (1) pp.17-30.
    • 2005. (with Sophie Watson) A Politics of Resentment: shopkeepers in a London neighbourhood, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28 (2) pp 261 – 277.
    • 2002. Reconfiguring the Radical Other: urban children's consumption practices and the nature/culture divide. Journal of Consumer Culture. 2 (3), 291-315.
    • 2002. Strangers in the city: the structure and significance of children's fears of urban spaces'. Everyday Cultures Working Paper No.4, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
  • Lectures

Contact details

+ 44 (0)20 3073 8387