Beyond children’s literature: Agency and creativity in young cartonera publishers in Latin America

This interdisciplinary PhD project offers the opportunity to explore the role of children and children’s literature in Latin American community publishing collectives known as cartoneras. 

Start date

1 July 2021


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

The University of Surrey, Project-led Studentship Award.

Funding information

The funding package for this studentship award is as follows:  

  • Full UK/EU tuition fee covered  
  • Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2020/21)  
  • RTSG of £1,000 p.a.  
  • Personal Computer (provided by the department)  


Youth-led climate change activism inspired by Greta Thunberg has foregrounded the power of young people’s creative imagination to set in motion social transformation on a global scale. Tapping into the growing interest in children as agents of change, the project will examine the role of children in a less-known, but equally transnational phenomenon: cartonera publishing. Cartoneras are grassroots publishers who make books out of discarded materials (‘cartón’/cardboard) in contexts of resource-scarcity to give a voice to marginalized communities in Latin America. Though children’s literature and workshops are a staple of most cartonera publishers, the role of children in their practices has largely been overlooked in scholarship. This project will advance the field of literary studies by accompanying the latest innovations in cartonera publishing through action-based ethnographic research, starting with the first cartonera publisher run by and for children, established in April 2019 in Guadalajara (Mexico): Cartonera Smiles. The successful candidate will spend approximately 12 months conducting fieldwork in Latin America (subject to Covid-19 restrictions). 

Building on Dr Lucy Bell’s Cartonera Publishing project, which foregrounds cartonera practices and texts as alternative, underground forms of ‘doing politics’ (Bell & O’Hare, 2019), this project will develop the following lines of enquiry:  

  1.  What role do children play in the literary catalogues and socio-artistic actions of cartonera publishers? 
  2. How does their creative work inform or complicate our understanding not only of children’s literature, but also of the broader categories of ‘children’, ‘childhood’ and ‘literature’? 
  3. To what extent does children’s active participation in cartonera practices contribute to their broader politics of democratisation and decolonisation?  

We have sought to outline a field of work that will give clear academic direction to the student without overly restricting their intellectual agency. It will be the student’s task to develop their own project within the area delineated.  

Related links

Cartonera publishing

Eligibility criteria

Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree and Master’s level qualification in relevant disciplines (e.g. Modern Languages, Anthropology, English Literature, Cultural Studies). They will also need a near-native fluency in Spanish. 

Applications are open to UK and EU students.

IELTS requirements: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category and at least 7.0 in the writing component. 

How to apply

Candidates are required to apply via the Literary and Cultural Studies PhD programme page. 

Please state the project title and supervisor clearly in all applications-preferably as part of the project title. 

Application deadline

Contact details


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