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Dr Karen Wells

Reader in International Development and Childhood Studies

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 in a Global Perspective (Polity, 2009) and has published widely on children and visual culture. She is currently researching the life history narratives of children who have been fostered into the UK from overseas (privately fostered children) in collaboration with Children and Families Across Borders.

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
    • Lama Younis, Discipline and Punishment: Children in Saudi Society
    • Martina Lasovska, Edutainment in Kenya and South Africa
    • 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
    • 2014 Wells, K., Burman, E., Montgomery, H. and A. Watson (Eds) Childhood, Youth and Violence in Global Contexts. Palgrave Macmillan.
    • 2009 Childhood in a Global Perspective. London: Polity Press.
  • Book Chapters
    • 'Mobility and Social reproduction: key issues for early childhood research in developing countries', in O'Riordan, Jacqui, D. Horton and S. Martin, eds, Early Childhoods in the Global South: Local and International Contexts. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang 2013, pp 11 – 26 (16 pages).
    • 'Making Gender and Generation: Between the local and the global in Africa, in Twum-Danso, A and R. Ame, eds,  Childhoods at the Intersection of the Local and the Global. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2012, pp 143 – 159 (17 pages).
    • 'Memorialising Violent Death: the Ethical Demands of Grievable Lives', in G. Rose and D. P. Tolia-Kelly, eds, Architectures of the Visual: Embodied Materialities, Politics and Place (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 (Palgrave, 2012)
    • 'Children and international politics', in H. Montgomery and M. Keller, eds, Children and young people's worlds: Developing frameworks for integrated practice (The Policy Press, 2009)
    • 'Embodying Englishness: whiteness, gender and class in the children's film 'The Secret Garden'', in R. Carrol and R. Helyer, eds, Adaptation in Contemporary Culture (Continuum Press, 2009)
    • 'Mimesis and Alterity: representations of 'race' in children's film', in K. Horschelman and R. Pain, eds, Contested Bodies of childhood and youth (Palgrave, 2009)
  • Journal Articles
    • (forthcoming) (with Erica Burman, Heather Montgomery and Alison Watson)  Editorial: childhood and violence in war and conflict. Special issue of the Journal of Children’s Geographies
    • (forthcoming) Masculinity, violence and transitions to adulthood.  Journal of Children’s Geographies
    • 'The melodrama of being a child', Journal of Visual Communication, 12 (3), pp277 – 293, 2013
    • 'The strength of weak ties: the social networks of young separated asylum seekers and refugees in London', Children's Geographies, 2011
    • 'The politics of life: governing childhood', Global Studies of Childhood 1(1), 2011
    • 'Assembling webs of support: child domestic workers in India', with Shaziah Wassiuzzaman, 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), 2010
    • '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', Space and Culture Special Issue, Volume 10, Issue 2, May 2007
    • 'Symbolic capital and material inequality memorialising class and 'race' in the multicultural city', Space and Culture Special Issue, Volume 10, Issue 2, May 2007
    • '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), 495 - 506, 2006
    • 'Spaces of Nostalgia', with Sophie Watson, Social and Cultural Geography 6 (1), 17 - 30, 2005
    • 'A Politics of Resentment: shopkeepers in a London neighbourhood', with Sophie Watson, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28 (2), 261 - 277, 2005
    • '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, (The Open University: 2002)
  • Lectures

Contact details

+ 44 (0)20 3073 8387

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