Being in public: the multiple childhoods of Mexican ‘street’ children

This project began as a study of street children. It was concerned with how street children are ascribed an identity by others, often in ways that describe them as deviant from normative ideas of childhood.

We noted that such ascriptions can apply, differently, both to those who are antagonistic to street children and those who aim to ‘help’ or ‘enable’ children to leave the street.

We wanted to know how street children themselves construct and negotiate identities, how these identities change according to group dynamics and the interaction with institutions.

Part of the ESRC Identities programme (, we conducted field research in Mexico, including ethnographic work with young people on the streets, government and CSO workers, and ‘space-keepers’, people who control access to certain ‘street’ spaces.

During the project we adapted the notion of street children to the broader ‘street youth’, a label that is equally problematic but engages with debates nationally and internationally. ‘Youth’ is an especially dynamic means to consider identities built around daily lives that most people would perceive to be threatening and traumatic.

In considering the stability of these identities, indeed how far they are known, we have considered how identities express ‘memberships’ beyond the standard fare to include areas of being urban, to consumption and being ‘Mexican’. We ask how identities are expressed in comparison with the conceptual approaches to identity that inform the social policy objectives of CSOs and government.

The research was gauged as ‘Outstanding’ by the ESRC, and we are presently negotiating an advance contract with Temple University Press for a book tentatively entitled Street Corners in a Global World: everyday life and identities of Mexican street youth.

Staff member: Gareth A. Jones, with Sarah Thomas de Benitez

Project period: 2005-2008

Funding: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Related publications:


  • Jones, G. A., Brickell, K., Chant, S. and Thomas de Benitez, S. (2011) Bringing Youth in to Development, London: Zed

Book chapters:

  • Jones, G. A. (2011) ‘Losing their bottle: the disappearance of child rights in Mexico, just when they mattered the most’, in Hanson, K., and Nieuwenhuys, O. (eds.) Living Rights: theorising children’s rights in international development, CUP
  • Jones, G. A., and Thomas de Benitez, S. (2010) ‘Youth, gender and work on the streets of Mexico’, in Chant, S. (ed.) International Handbook on Gender and Poverty: concepts, research, policy, Edward Elgar, pp. 195-200
  • Jones, G. A. (2010) ‘Meanings of home among street children and youth in Mexico’, in Smith, S. (ed.) An International Encyclopaedia of Housing and Home, Elsevier
  • Jones, G. A. and Thomas de Benitez, S. (2009) ‘Tales of two or many worlds? When ‘street’ kids go global’, in Wetherell, M. (ed.) Theorising Identties and Social Action, Basingstoke: Macmillan-Palgrave, pp. 75-92

Articles and papers:

  • Herrera, E., Jones, G. A., and Thomas de Benitez, S. (2009) ‘Bodies on the line: identity markers among Mexican street youth’, Children’s Geographies, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 67-81
  • Jones, G. Al., Herrera, E. and Thomas de Benitez, S. (2007) ‘Tears, trauma and suicide: everyday violence among street youth in Puebla, Mexico’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 462-479
  • Thomas de Benitez, S., and Jones, G. A. (2008) ‘Youth on the streets’, United Nations Youth Unit Briefing Paper No. 2, New York: UN Secretariat

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