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Assent or Consent? Engaging Children in Ethnographic Study

Ethics and Integrity in Research with Children and Young People

ISBN: 978-1-80043-401-1, eISBN: 978-1-80043-400-4

Publication date: 4 November 2021


Can children give their informed consent to participate in a research study, or can they only provide assent? This chapter explores this tricky question by drawing on three stages of a longitudinal ethnography within a multi-ethnic school in the north of England. Illustrative examples are used to show how the ability to give consent is not based on age alone, but rather on children’s experiences and confidence, the type of research conducted, and the researcher’s own expertise in communicating with children. The chapter provides examples of children’s active and ongoing negotiation of consent and through their choice to withdraw consent, ‘correct’ the researcher’s interpretations, actively produce their own written field notes and reflect on data collected as part of fieldwork. To facilitate consent, children were given time and space to familiarise themselves with the researcher and the study. Actively involving children in all stages of the study highlighted the importance of familiarisation and participation to the processes of informed consent to ensure children’s ongoing and meaningful involvement in the research.



Barley, R. (2021), "Assent or Consent? Engaging Children in Ethnographic Study", Spencer, G. (Ed.) Ethics and Integrity in Research with Children and Young People (Advances in Research Ethics and Integrity, Vol. 7), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 29-41.



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