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The Variable Child: The Vulnerabilities of Children and Youth in the Canadian Refugee Determination System Open Access


Other title
Sociology of Childhood
Socio-legal studies
Legal Decision-Making
Refugee Children
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ballucci, Dale
Supervisor and department
Haggerty, Kevin (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Gotell, Lise (Women's Studies)
Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
Chen, Xiaobei (Sociology, Carleton University)
Hayman, Stephanie (Sociology)
Hogeveen, Bryan (Sociology)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The Variable Child concerns the legal decision-making process in unaccompanied child refugee applications, and the role that conceptions of childhood play in the process. I examine when particular types of knowledge are drawn upon by legal actors, as well as the effects of the claim-making practices that create meaning, or ‘truth effects’, in legal decision-making. I identify how legal actors exercise discretion by investigating how facts are constructed with different ideas about children’s competence, abilities and knowledge. The “Unaccompanied Child Refugee Evidentiary and Procedure Guidelines”, which governs legal decisions, has embedded within it various, sometimes competing, conceptions of the child and childhood. These multiple notions create considerable discretionary space for refugee officers to make decisions about individual cases. My examination of legal decisions reveals a strategic use of vulnerable and/or responsible conceptions of childhood. Another strategy used to establish facts in these cases is to exclude the cultural differences of childhood – both these practices are accomplished through employing several different knowledge moves. Refugee officers invoke vulnerable and/or responsible constructions of childhood to displace the impact of other/alternative constructions of childhood, namely Chinese ideas of parental relations. This avoids the potential for legal decisions to set standards for similar cases in the future. Childhood studies have documented how different axes of scholarly inquiry produce different understandings, typologies, and knowledges of the child and childhood. What remains understudied is how competing knowledges of the child and childhood are applied, negotiated, and formalized in legal decision-making. My study investigates how power relations constitute particular constructions of childhood, and the consequences these relations have for children’s lives. Unlike examining childhood as contextual, I document how variable understandings of the child and childhood are constituted, institutionalized, and normalized through the law. My study examines the complexities of legal decision-making, a process that is often black-boxed. I also trace which conceptions of childhood are drawn upon to substantiate legal claims, and how a social context for the child and childhood emerges. By examining the relations of law in the context of children, my work contributes to the growing area of childhood studies and socio-legal practices.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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