Dr. Cheney’s research deals with children’s survival strategies amidst difficult circumstances and the politics of humanitarian intervention for such children, mainly in Eastern and Southern Africa. Her first book, Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development (2007), looks broadly at the social intersections of childhood and nationhood in international development, while her new book, Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV/AIDS (2017, University of Chicago Press) draws on youth participatory ethnographic research with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) to examine issues of social exclusion, policy, and protection for children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Her most recent research examines the impact of the global 'orphan industrial complex' -- including orphan tourism, childcare institutions, and intercountry adoption practices-- on child protection in developing countries. She has also led several studies using youth participatory research to explore issues of youth sexual and reproductive health.
From 2007-13, Dr. Cheney served as co-founder and advisory board chair for the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology of Children & Youth Interest Group. She is currently on the editorial board of the journal Childhood, a member of the CABA Working Group Netherlands, and ISS representative to the European Network of Masters in Children’s Rights (ENMCR) and Share-Net NL (Netherlands Network on Sexual and Reproductive Health and AIDS).
Dr. Cheney has participated in research, consultancy, and capacity-building projects in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East on issues from children’s rights to youth sexual and reproductive health. Her work takes an explicitly child-centered approach that considers how children experience and respond to the various hegemonic institutional and structural elements of global and local development practices.