Eliza Ngutuku

Winner Dissertation Prize 2022

Rhizomatic Cartographies of Children’s Lived Experience of Poverty and Vulnerability in Siaya, Kenya.

Supervisor: Prof. mr. dr. C.J.M. Arts
Co-supervisor: Dr. L.A. Okwany
Nomination: Erasmus University Rotterdam, International Institute of Social Studies


Report by the selection committee

This book describes a one-year ethnographic study on how children experience their everyday lives in Siaya, a county in Kenya characterized by high poverty and low indicators of child wellbeing. Even on the surface, it is easy to see how such a study is both scientifically and societally relevant, but this thesis goes much deeper than what the surface suggest on all counts.

Instead of taking key concepts such as poverty, vulnerability, rights, and even childhood as self-explanatory and linear, this thesis takes a more open and questioning stance to dominant interpretations. With this approach, the study convincingly shows how these concepts are socially constructed and – if taken for granted – inevitably constrain the ways in which they are studied and understood. Without such constraints, there is room for contradictions, for innovative and more critical avenues of understanding children’s lived experiences.

A study on vulnerable children can easily turn into a series of sad stories that tug at the heartstrings, but this thesis does a great job at analyzing these stories, and turning them into more than the sum of individual experiences, providing real insight into ‘uncomfortable’ truths. This integrative approach, using multiple theoretical frameworks as lenses and analytical tools, makes this thesis relevant to all academic fields that study childhood, poverty, development, and human rights.

Although the themes and literature central to this study are challenging, the thesis is written in a way that inspires, taking the reader on a journey from one beautifully formulated and profound insight to the next.

In sum, this thesis is profound in its breadth and depth, impressive in its innovative approach, and inspiring in its insights about the language and workings of inequality locally and globally. A true winner according to the jury.