Thomas Bouril

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Martin Shanguhyia


Children's History;Colonialism;Empire;Kenya;Kenyan children;Kenyan History

Subject Categories

African History | Arts and Humanities | History


“Whose Children? Competing Conceptions of Childhood in Colonial Kenya” examines the complicated and contested nature of childhood in Kenya from 1900 to 1963. It focuses on how Kenya’s diverse, multiracial society and numerous global actors in Kenya debated, questioned, and reckoned with different frameworks of childhood as a stage of life. These debates pervaded colonial society, changing the policies and structures of the colonial state as a result. As discourses over the nature of childhood in the colony proliferated, Kenya became not just a space where attitudes on childhood clashed but a “living laboratory” for sociocultural questions centered on children, including those relating to parental responsibilities, the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the role of race in childhood development, among many others. This questioning further drove sociocultural conflict and policy relating to children throughout the colonial period. Through these processes, childhood was continually deconstructed and reconstructed in Kenyan society. This impacted children and how those in society viewed and engaged with them. It also made Kenya a significant arena for the transformations in global childhoods that occurred throughout the twentieth century. This study analyzes these processes throughout the colonial era. It does this by using both a chronological and thematic structure. It moves from the turn of the twentieth century to the end of British colonialism, while also being organized into chapters that focus on specific areas critical to how frameworks of childhood were disputed in Kenya, including: law, coming-of-age, education, labor, and the internationalization and study of young bodies. Through this, “Whose Children? Competing Conceptions of Childhood in Colonial Kenya” shows the significance of these debates on Kenyan history, and the role that Kenya served within the global reconceptualization of childhood in the twentieth century.


Open Access

Available for download on Saturday, August 02, 2025