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Young people’s geographies

Young People’s Geographies (YPG)

Young People’s Geographies is an ever-expanding field of research in academic geography and in geography education (for a good overview of the field see ‘Childhood Studies-Authoritative Research Guide  – Oxford Bibliographies’). 

Terminology describing this subfield of geography varies between Children’s Geographies, Young People’s Geographies and Youth Geographies, but for the purpose of this website we will use the term ‘Young People’s Geographies’ (YPG) to refer to research about the lived experience of children and young people in the 3-25 age group.

It can be a taken for granted truism that children and young people lead diverse lives and have their own distinct geographical lives – distinct from each other, and distinct from adults. In the light of this, YPG is not one distinct field of research. 

Increasingly research into YPG is distributed across different aspects of geography research including cultural geography, social geography and economic geography, as well as geography education, and research on YPG can also be found in other related fields such as citizenship, politics, anthropology, sociology, economics and others. 

YPG research also takes place at a range of scales from the micro scale (e.g. young people’s identity or their personal spaces such as their bedrooms) through to the local or community scale, the regional scale, and national and global scales.

Increasingly research in YPG is seeking to shift the research agenda away from ‘researching about’ children and young people’, and to better ensure young people are an integrated part of research processes – research ‘with’ children and young people is an increasing element in YPG research. In the light of this there is growing consideration of the ethical implications of engaging young people in research agendas and processes.

Gaps in YPG research

Currently under-represented field of research includes ‘youth geographies’ and in particular:

  • the complexities of youth culture,
  • the nature of international student migration and globalisation,
  • the role and experience of young people as stakeholders (for example in school)
  • children and youth as political actors, in particular young people’s environmental/climate activism.

(Smith & Mills, 2018)

In 2011 Catling identified the following gaps in children’s geographies research  for primary aged children:

  • Whether and what children think about studying geography.
  • The nature and variety of children’s environmental and spatial thinking and understanding which they bring into primary school contexts.
  • Children’s experiences of place in the primary school environment.
  • What children see as the relationship between their personal geographies and their informal and formal learning of geography.
  • The sense of geography children take from their primary school experiences.
  • The relevance of children’s geographies to their school learning of geography.

There seems to be limited published research on young people and life in the global south in comparison to work published based on research in the global north.

In the light of the pandemic, we might start to see research that starts to unravel:

  • the spatial experiences of young people during the pandemic (for more see: a report by Natural England: ‘The People and Nature Survey for England: Children’s Survey)
  • children and young people’s experiences of schooling/education,
  • impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and access to support services),
  • the impact of any post-pandemic recovery. 

In relation to education, Hammond (2020) suggests specific fields of potential research as being the application of theory from children’s geographies in educational settings, and the how children’s geographies has been conceptualised by stakeholders such as teachers, policy makers and organisations such as Ofsted.

Catling, S. (2013) The need to develop research into primary children’s and schools’ geography, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 22(3), pp.177-182

Hammond, L. E. (2020) An investigation into children’s geographies and their value to geography education in schools. Thesis (PhD), University College London.

Smith, Daren. P. and Mills, Sarah (2018) The ‘youth-fullness’ of youth geographies: ‘coming of age’?, in  Children’s Geographies, 17(1) pp. 1-8.

Key sources of Geographical Education Research for YPG

Key research articles

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