Agency as vulnerability: accounting for children's movement to the streets of Accra

Philip Mizen, Yaw Ofosu-Kusi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper considers the agency of children moving to the streets of Accra, Ghana's capital city. A much used but largely unexamined concept, agency is nevertheless commonly deployed in childhood studies as a means to stress the capacity of children to choose to do things. In the literature on street and working children, and a cognate area of study concerned with children's independent migration, this has involved accounts of children's agency made meaningful by reference to theories of rational choice or to the normative force of childhood. It is our argument that both approaches leave unanswered important questions and to counter these omissions we draw upon the arguments of social realists and, in particular, the stress they place on vulnerability as the basis for human agency. We develop this argument further by reference to our research with street children. By drawing upon the children's accounts of leaving their households and heading for Accra's streets, it is our contention that these children do frame their departures as matters of individual choice and self-determination, and that in doing so they speak of a considerable capacity for action. Nevertheless, a deeper reading of their testimonies also points to the children's understandings of their own vulnerability. By examining what we see as their inability to be dependent upon family and kin, we stress the importance of the children's perceptions of their vulnerability, frailty and need as the basis for a fuller understanding of their agency in leaving their households. © 2013 The Author. The Sociological Review © 2013 The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-382
Number of pages20
JournalSociological Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2013


  • street children
  • migrant children
  • agency
  • vulnerability
  • childhood


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