Childhood: The Paradoxes of Autonomy

Keywords: childhood, independence, agency, volitional functioning, event


The article problematizes the possibility of developing agency in childhood. It is shown that the usually non-differentiable constructs "agency" and "autonomy" psychologically represent fundamentally different actions. The basis for their distinction is the nature of the individual's interaction with the social structure. Autonomy is an integration into an existing structure, the acquisition of skills for independent functioning in it. Agency, on the other hand, involves the transformation of the structure and "crossing the border of semantic fields," according to Yu.M. Lotman.

There have been several important "turns" in childhood research over the past decades. Initially, childhood was considered as a preparation for adulthood, which was implemented in fundamentally hierarchical forms of education. Since about the 1970s, children have been talked about as potential actors in the social world. And since the beginning of the XXI century, the discussion of independence (autonomy) has been gaining momentum, as part of which they distinguish the ability to act independently of others and act in accordance with their goals and beliefs. 

The authors distinguish agency as overcoming the boundaries characterizing the structure, and autonomy as actions within the initially defined boundaries. They consider productive action (event) to be the mechanism of agency as a situation—changing action, and as a way of "learning" agency - a trial, including a game. 

Examples of statements by teenagers and young people that can be qualified as specific to agency, independence and volitional action are given.


Download data is not yet available.


Asmolov A.G. (1982) Osnovnye printsipy psikhologicheskogo analiza v teorii deyatelʼnosti [The Basic Principles of Psychological Analysis in the Theory of Activity]. Voprosy Psychologii, no 2, pp. 15–28.

Brandow-Faller M. (ed.) (2021) Dizain detstva. Igrushki i materialʼnaya kulʼtura detstva s 1700 goda do nashikh dney [Childhood by Design. Toys and the Material Culture of Childhood, 1700 — Present]. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie.

Brown Rosier K. (2009) Children as Problems, Problems of Children. The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies (eds J. Qvortrup, W. Corsaro, M. Honig), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 256–272.

Burman E. (2016) Deconstructing Developmental Psychology. London: Routledge.

Elkonin B.D. (2019) Produktivnoe dejstvie [Productive Action]. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya / Cultural-Historical Psychology, vol. 15, no 1, pp. 116–122.

Elkoninova L.I., Elkonin B.D. (1993) Znakovoe oposredovanie, volshebnaya skazka i subʼektnostʼ dejstviya [Symbolic Mediation, a Fairy Tale and Subjectivity of Action]. Lomonosov Psychology Journal, no 2, pp. 62–70.

Fanning C. (2021) Lego i tovarizatsiya detstva [Lego and the Commodification of Childfood]. Dizain detstva. Igrushki i materialʼnaya kulʼtura detstva s 1700 goda do nashikh dney [Childhood by Design. Toys and the Material Culture of Childfood, 1700 — Present] (ed. M. Brandow-Faller), Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, pp. 114–139.

Fennetaux A. (2021) Perekhodnye pandory: kukly i "dolgiy" XVIII vek [Transitional Pandoras: Dolls and the Long Eighteenth Century] Dizain detstva. Igrushki i materialʼnaya kulʼtura detstva s 1700 goda do nashikh dney [Childhood by Design. Toys and the Material Culture of Childfood, 1700 — Present] (ed. M. Brandow-Faller), Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, pp. 64–87.

Foucault M. (2013) Nadziratʼ i nakazyvatʼ. Rozhdenie tyurʼmy [To Supervise and Punish. The Birth of the Prison]. Moscow: Ad Marginem.

Giddens A., Sutton P. (2018) Osnovnye ponyatiya v sotsiologii [Essential Concepts in Sociology]. Moscow: HSE.

Goffman E. (2019) Totalʼnye instituty: ocherki o sotsialʼnoy situatsii psikhicheski bolʼnykh patsientov i prochikh postoyalʼtsev zakrytykh uchrezhdeniy [Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates]. Moscow: Elementarnye formy.

James A., Jenks C., Prout A. (1998) Theorizing Childhood. New York, NY: Teachers College.

Jenks C. (2005) Childhood. London: Routledge.

Lee N. (2001) Childhood and Society: Growing Up in an Age of Uncertainty. Phildelphia, PA: Open University.

Leontiev A.N. (1975) Deyatelʼnostʼ, soznanie, lichnostʼ [Activity, Conscience, Personality]. Moscow: Politizdat.

Leontiev D.A. (1999) Psikhologiya smysla [Psychology of Meaning]. Moscow: Smysl/

Lotman M.Yu. (1970) Struktura khudozhestvennogo teksta [The Structure of a Literary Text]. Moscow: Iskusstvo.

Ostroverkh O.S. (2022) Obrazovatelʼnoe prostranstvo uchebnoy deyatelʼnosti kak uslovie subʼektnosti eyo uchastnikov [Learning Space as a Prerequisite of Agency in Learning Activity]. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie / Psychological Science and Education, vol. 27, no 3, pp. 16–27.

Polivanova K.N. (2020) Novy obrazovatelʼny diskurs: blagopoluchie shkolʼnikov [New Educational Discourse: The Well-Being of Schoolchildren]. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya / Cultural-Historical Psychology, vol. 16, no 4, pp. 26–34.

Polivanova K.N. (2011) Proektnaya deyatelʼnostʼ shkolʼnikov. Posobie dlya uchitelya [Project Activities of Schoolchildren. Teacher's Manual]. Moscow: Prosveshchenie.

Polivanova K.N. (2001) Psikhologiya vozrastnykh krizisov [Psychology of Age-Related Crises]. Moscow: Academia.

Prout A., James A.A. (1990) New Paradigm for the Sociology of Childhood? Provenance, Promise and Problems. Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood (eds A. James, A. Prout), London; New York; Philadelphia: Falmer, pp. 7–34.

Qvortrup J. (1990) Childhood as a Social Phenomenon: An Introduction to a Series of National Reports. Eurosocial Reports no 36. Vienna: European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.

Qvortrup J., Corsaro W., Honig M. (2009) The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rubinstein S.L. (2003) Bytie i soznanie. Chelovek i mir [Being and Consciousness. Man and the World]. Saint Petersburg: Piter.

Soenens B., Vansteenkiste M., Van Petegem S., Beyers W., Ryan R. (2017) How to Solve the Conundrum of Adolescent Autonomy? On the Importance of Distinguishing between Independence and Volitional Functioning. Autonomy in Adolescent Development: Towards Conceptual Clarity (eds B. Soenens, M. Vansteenkiste, S. Van Petegem), Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 1–33.

Sorokin P.S., Froumin I.D. (2022) Obrazovanie kak istochnik deystviya, sovershenstvuyushchego struktury: teoreticheskie podkhody i prakticheskie zadachi [Education as a Source for Transformative Agency: Theoretical and Practical Issues]. Voprosy obrazovaniya / Educational Studies Moscow, no 1, pp. 116-137.

Yerofeyeva V.G., Bochaver A.A., Tsyganova E.M. (2023) Narrativy o nezavisimosti i volevom funktsionirovanii: ot podrostkovogo vozrasta k "stanovyashchejsya vzroslosti" [Narratives of Independence and Volitional Functioning: From Adolescence to Emerging Adulthood]. Monitoring of Public Opinion: Economic and Social Changes, no 4, pp. 239–261.

How to Cite
PolivanovaKaterina N., and BochaverAlexandra A. 2024. “Childhood: The Paradoxes of Autonomy”. Voprosy Obrazovaniya / Educational Studies Moscow, no. 1 (April).
Research Articles

Most read articles by the same author(s)