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Scholarship details

2022 Strategic - A socio-cultural inquiry into the child influencer industry

Status: Open

Applications open: 19/07/2021
Applications close: 13/08/2021

View printable version [.pdf]

About this scholarship

Some of the most watched and well-known babies, toddler and pre-schoolers today are young children whose lives are shared across an array of social media platforms, often by their parents (Abidin, 2017; Leaver, 2015). Many of the most popular children are subsumed into the influencer industry, and quickly become central stars in a network of commerce, visibility, celebrity, and fandom (Abidin 2018). At times, such child influencers are caught in a messy web of potential exploitation from overt commodification (Abidin 2015) and even abuse (Leaver & Abidin 2017), despite or because their parents and legal guardians are often the (only) gatekeepers and mediators designated to care after their welfare. At the same time, child influencers are often role models, acting as exemplars and online celebrities for both young children and parents.
There are many dimensions to understanding the popularity and position of child influencers. One of the most important, and least studied, is understanding the economic dynamics of the labour undertaken by the children. This is underpinned by the work done in the home, with specific agencies, on specific online platforms and so forth. However, most current contracts and arrangements are hidden from public view under confidentiality agreements, possibly obscured to preempt cultural backlash and scrutiny (Abidin 2020). However, as every industry matures, the rules and norms for operating in that industry must mature. In the golden era of Hollywood, for example, eventually laws were established about how much children could work, and where the money they were paid had to go. For child influencers, these rules have yet to emerge, and thus the industry needs to be better mapped so commerce and visibility can be balanced with the rights of the child.
This project will seek to map the dynamics of the child influencer industry at both economic and social levels. On one level the policies, practices and norms of the industry need to be captured, distilled and examined. On another level, the pleasures of participation (for both children and parents), and the pleasures of viewing and engaging with child influencers, also need to be mapped to distil the appeal and essence of child influencers as a form of online celebrity. 
This project’s focus on the child influencer industry can be refined in a number of directions, including (but not limited to): Parent and agency mediations; Platform and national governance; Agency and personhood; Social media pop cultures and internet vernacular; and a variety of socio-cultural examinations and issues. 
Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “Micro-microcelebrity: Branding babies on the Internet.” M/C Journal 18(5).
Abidin, Crystal. 2017. “#familygoals: Family Influencers, Calibrated Amateurism, and Justifying Young Digital Labour.” Social Media + Society 3(2): 1-15.
Abidin, Crystal. 2018. Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.
Abidin, Crystal. 2020. “Preschool stars on YouTube: Child microcelebrities, Commercially viable biographies, and Interactions with technology.” Pp. 226-234 in The Routledge Companion of Children and Digital Media, edited by Lelia Green, Donell Holloway, Leslie Haddon, Kylie Stevenson, and Tama Leaver. London and New York: Routledge.
Leaver, T. (2015). Born Digital? Presence, Privacy, and Intimate Surveillance. In Hartley, John & W. Qu (Eds.), Re-Orientation: Translingual Transcultural Transmedia. Studies in narrative, language, identity, and knowledge (pp. 149–160). Fudan University Press.
Leaver, Tama, and Crystal Abidin. 2017. “When exploiting kids for cash goes wrong on YouTube: the lessons of DaddyOFive.” The Conversation, 2 May 2017. 

  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • International Student
  • Merit Based

Total value of the annual scholarships (stipend and fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a. Curtin PhD Stipends are valued at $28,597 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3.5 years.

Successful applicants will receive a 100% Fee offset.

Scholarship Details


All applicable HDR courses

Essential: English language IELTS level of 6.5 and above.
Essential: Successful completion of an Honours or Masters programme with a research component (or equivalent). 
Essential: Demonstration of competence in qualitative and ethnographic research methods/skills. 
Essential: Interest in the influencer industry and digital childhood, Knowledge of social media platforms from both Silicon Valley and global markets, Interest in internet cultures in the Asia Pacific context broadly. 
Preferred but not Essential: Competence in an East Asian language. 

Application process

If this project excites you, and your research skills and experience are a good fit for this specific project, you should complete the Expression of Interest (EOI) form now. 

You will need to ensure you accurately select the Project lead (listed below) as your nominated supervisor and provide details for at least one referee.

Expression of Interest (EOI) form

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2022


To enquire about this project opportunity contact the Project lead (listed below).

Name: Associate Professor Tama Leaver  


Contact Number: 9266 1258

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