Becoming corner

Youth, Childhood and Generation

About Us

The ‘Becoming’ research cluster within the Department of Sociology is long established. It’s a theme reflected, for example, in the work of Olive Banks (1923-2006), the first woman professor of sociology at the University and known for her important research into education. In this research cluster, we investigate a range of aspects of ‘becoming’ in relation to education and learning, education, training and employment transitions, and childhood and youth. Research areas include: student decision-making in compulsory schooling; children’s social and linguistic competencies; young people’s educational, training and employment transitions; children’s health and sex education; and children as consumers. We have been successful in securing external funding from bodies including the ESRC, the British Academy and the Wellcome Trust.

Research Themes

Our research in this area covers topics such as:

  • student decision-making in compulsory schooling
  • children’s social and linguistic competencies
  • young people’s educational, training and employment transitions
  • workplace learning and knowledge
  • children’s health and sex education
  • children as consumers
  • parenting and motherhood
  • gendered and social generational transitions
  • communities of practice and learning

Areas of PhD supervision

We welcome applications from prospective PhD students interested in topics that connect to any of the themes active in this cluster. Previous and current PhD projects in this field include:

  • The social organization of teaching: a study of teaching as a practical activity in two London comprehensive schools.
  • The effects of youth unemployment on the transition from school.
  • Education, the economy and occupational change.
  • A comparative study of class relationships and institutional orders in Birmingham and Sheffield between 1830 and 1895 with particular reference to the spheres of education, industry and politics.
  • Does age matter in higher education? A longitudinal comparative study of mature and ‘standard age’ students’ experiences of university.


Our academics involved in this area of research include:

Professor John Goodwin

I have a well-established international reputation in the field youth in particular the areas of school to work transitions, youth and employment, youth and community. I have written widely on school to work transitions with particular emphasis on reusing data from classic/legacy project to re-examine understandings of school to work, and youth more broadly, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Along with Henrietta O’Connor I have led two innovate projects in this area: i) the highly rated From Young Workers to Older Workers project uniquely combined secondary analysis with the tracing of respondents for restudy; and ii) The making of the ‘precariat’: unemployment, insecurity and work-poor young adults in harsh economic conditions. Both projects were funded by the ESRC. I am the Associate Editor of the Journal of Youth Studies and a Board Member of the European Sociological Association Research Network (RN30) Youth and Generation. I am also a member of the Elias Network on Childhood Research.

Professor Jason Hughes

I have a long standing interest in processes of learning, development and ‘becoming’. In a previous life, I worked in a centre for labour market studies and subsequently a business school. Here I became particularly interested in how people learn and share knowledge within the workplace. I have a series of publications on managerial attempts to harness such processes – including papers on knowledge management and the learning organisation – plus a co-edited manuscript on communities of practice which is at once an academic model of ‘becoming’ and, in some circles, a practitioner tool for the development of learning and knowledge sharing. More recently, I’ve become interested in young people’s use of technology and how this links to their development. I am currently co-investigator on a project exploring the relationship between social media use for the promotion of mental health and well being among young people. I also have a longer standing interest in adolescent drug use, particularly smoking, and have written more recently on the question of whether e-cigarettes constitute a gateway to smoking for youth. I have plans to, in the not too distant future, explore in greater depth the role of e-cigarettes in the formation of dependency behaviours among younger users, in particular to consider whether e-cigarettes might be a gateway to safer sources of nicotine for youth who might otherwise have smoked combustible tobacco. Here the more general relationship between social processes, physiological processes and psychological development is key: indeed this captures the core of why I am interested in processes of becoming.

Professor Ian Hutchby

My research in this area concerns the social and linguistic competencies of children, especially in the context of their interaction with adults in institutional settings. I have conducted a range of research projects on the relationship between childhood, the family, and the various therapeutic organisations that are involved in identifying and resolving problems in modern family life. This includes a number of publications on 'therapeutic vision' in child counselling, and the evaluation of emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) in children within family therapy. A number of articles and a book (The Discourse of Child Counselling, 2007) came from an ESRC-funded project on children's talk about family breakdown, in one-to-one interaction with counsellors in a therapeutic clinic. A more recent project investigates child psychiatric assessments at a specialist child psychology clinic. Analysis here focusses on the speech practices through which the mental life of 'troubled' children is discussed and made therapeutically relevant in the course of interaction; as well as how decisions are made with regard to future treatments.

Professor Henrietta O'Connor

My main research interests focus on the sociology of work, in particular debates around transitions to and from the labour market. For example, together with John Goodwin, I have published widely in aspects of transition such as young people's transition from school to work and, more recently, older worker's transitions out of the labour market and in to retirement. I also has an active research interest in graduate labour markets and has recently completed a project with the Careers Service exploring the labour market aspirations of graduates with a particular emphasis on perceptions of internships. I am also interested in gender, work and employment with a focus on motherhood, employment and childcare.

Dr Jane Pilcher

My research on the theme of becoming has several aspects. In the field of the sociology of childhood, I have published research on historical constructions of childhood within school health and sex education, including in relation to gendered constructions. I have also published research on children (especially girls) as consumers of clothing fashions, including in relation to debates about the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. I have an ongoing interest in social generational transitions and identities, especially in relation to feminism and gender. My engagement with the theme of becoming is also encapsulated by my focus on the sociology of personal names. I am interested in the ways forenames and surnames are used in the creation and recreation of individual and social identities across the life course, including in relation to family, gender and ethnicity.

Dr Patrick White

My research primarily focuses on the educational, training and labour market experiences of adults and young people. I have conducted research on student decision-making, the determinants of success in higher education, graduate career trajectories, and teacher education.I am particularly interested in policies encouraging participation in education and training in response to ‘crisis’ narratives of skills shortages. I am currently involved in the evaluation of two Education Endowment Fund projects that aim to improve citizenship and community engagement among schoolchildren.


Selected publications for this research cluster:

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor H. (2012) 'The Impacts of Demographic Change: Young Workers, Older Workers and the Consequences for Education, Skills and Employment', Education and Training, Vol. 54, No. 7.

Goodwin, J. and O'Connor, H. (2013) Ordinary Lives: 'Typical Stories' of Girls' Transitions in the 1960s and the 1980s, Sociological Research Online, Sociological Research Online, 18 (1) 4:

Goodwin, J. and O'Connor, H. (2014) Norbert Elias’s Lost Research: Revisiting the Young Worker Project. Farnham: Ashgate

Hutchby, I and O’ Reilly, M. (2010) 'Children's Participation and the Familial Moral Order in Family Therapy', Discourse Studies, 12(1), pp. 49-64.

Pilcher, J (2011) 'No Logo? Children's Consumption of Fashion', Childhood, 18(1), February, pp. 128-141.

Pilcher, J (2013) ''Small But Very Determined': A Novel Theorisation of Children's Consumption of Clothing', Cultural Sociology, 7(1), March, pp. 86-100.

Smith, E and White, P (2011) 'Who is Studying Science? The Impact of Widening Participation Policies on the Social Composition of UK Undergraduate Science Programmes', Journal of Education Policy, 26(5), pp. 677-699, <DOI:10.1080/02680939.2010.540676>.

Smith, E and White, P (2014) 'What Makes a Successful Undergraduate? The relationship between student characteristics, degree subject and academic success at university', British Educational Research Journal.

White, P and Selwyn, N (2012) 'Learning Online? Educational Internet Use and Participation in Adult Learning, 2002 to 2010', Educational Review, 64(4), November, pp. 451-469

White, P (2012) 'Modelling the 'Learning Divide': Predicting Participation in Adult Learning and Future Learning Intentions, 2002 to 2010', British Educational Research Journal, 38(1), February, pp. 153-175, <DOI:10.1080/01411926.2010.529871>.

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