Professor David Buckingham


Institute of Education
University of London

Purity and danger: Rethinking discourses of risk in children’s media culture

This presentation will interrogate the discourses of risk that increasingly characterise discussions of children’s encounters with media. While such discourses have a long history, they have recently taken on a new urgency in relation to aspects such as obesity, ‘sexualisation’ and consumerism. In the current context, these discourses have also been aligned with a much broader view of childhood as somehow threatened or under attack, typified in the UK by the ‘toxic childhood’ argument.

This approach leads to a range of protective or preventative strategies for risk-avoidance, for instance in popular recommendations for parenting, in education and in regulatory policy. It also tends to dominate the agenda for research and public debate, with the result that alternative perspectives and potential alternative courses of action are excluded. In challenging this discourse, I will draw on broader arguments about the nature and function of risk for young people; work on the discursive and historical construction of ‘childhood’ and ‘risk’; and empirical evidence from some of my own research about how children interpret and deal with various forms of apparently ‘risky’ content in media, especially sexual content.

Biographical Note

David Buckingham is Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, London University, where he directs the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media ( He is also a Visiting Professor at the Norwegian Centre for Child Research in Trondheim, and at the Open University.

His research focuses on children’s and young people’s interactions with electronic media, and on media education. He is currently directing a project on learning progression in media education; and has recently completed projects on childhood, ‘sexualisation’ and consumer culture, and on young people, the internet and civic participation.

He recently led an independent assessment for the UK government on ‘the impact of the commercial world on children’s well-being’. He has lectured in more than 30 countries around the world, and his work has been published in over 15 languages. He is the author, co-author or editor of 25 books, including most recently Beyond Technology (2007), Youth, Identity and Digital Media (2008) and Video Cultures: Media Technology and Amateur Creativity (2009). His book The Material Child: Growing Up in Consumer Culture will be published by Polity Press in 2011.