Reviews 2016

Critical Childhood Studies and the Practice of Interdisciplinarity: Disciplining the Child

Critical Childhood Studies and the Practice of Interdisciplinarity: Disciplining the Child. Ed. Joanne Faulkner and Magdalena Zolkos. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016. 190 pages. $80.00 (hardback).

This collection of eight articles, edited by Joanne Faulkner and Magdalena Zolkos, examines concepts of childhood in relation to a range of research disciplines. Their subtitle – Disciplining the Child – is a wordplay which highlights both how (in the Foucauldian sense) the child is disciplined into adapting a decidedly limited range of ways of being and how "[c]ritical childhood studies as a field of research has emerged at the periphery of a number of disciplines" (ix). One of the agendas of the collection is to celebrate the emancipatory potential of a field of study that is situated in the seams between disciplines; another is to carve more space for the acceptance of childhood studies within traditional discipline confines. Unfortunately, the latter colours the Introduction to the extent that, for a scholar of children’s literature, it reads like a throwback to the 1980s, when scholars needed to work hard to make the study of children’s literature a legitimate, accepted part of literary academia. Reading Faulkner and Zolkos in 2016, I was reminded of how belittled children’s literature as a field of study – as well as those who worked with this material – have been, and felt no small sense of gratefulness for those early pioneers – Aidan Chambers, Zohar Shavit and Sheila Egoff to name but three – and pride in noting how far the field of children’s literature studies has come since then. Faulkner and Zolkos’s Introduction is a reminder that we cannot become complacent.

The more interesting goal of the collection is to turn "the apparatus of discipline in the other direction," that is, to explore "how the study of childhood and children problematizes notions of disciplinary identity, and forces innovation in thinking about disciplinarity itself" (xi). The Introduction sets up the collection as being "methodology first," proffering models of how a researcher might investigate children and childhood, topics which they describe as being "hidden in plain sight" (xii). Faulkner and Zolkos then suggest that there is a common core to childhood studies, a claim which relates to the goal of taking up more space within the disciplines, and they list a number of key critics including Philippe Ariès, Carolyn Steedman and Anne Higonnet: "writers whose appeal exceeds their own disciplinary limits" (xi).

The chapters are divided into three sections. The first – "The Child in Memory" – begins with a contribution from Shurlee Swain, which reads like a natural extension to the Introduction as she provides an overview of the key texts in the field, with a focus on two established, international journals devoted to the history of childhood: Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth and Paedagogica Historica. The latter is, of course, a history of education, not of childhood, and part of Swain’s point is to note how late the journal was in recognizing the centrality of the child (and thus childhood studies) within educational history. She also observes the dominance of studies of the ideology of childhood over studies of children’s experiences, an imbalance that we can certainly recognize within the study of children’s literature. Isobelle Barrett Meyering places childhood studies alongside Second Wave Feminism by exploring how Germaine Greer’s reflections on her own childhood in The Female Eunuch (1970) impacted on the formation of feminist ideologies. Part One concludes with a contribution from Zolkos examining how the children of highly ranked Nazi Officers work with "ancestral guilt" to create a very specific discourse of redemption and recovery that steers German cultural memory.

The second section – "The Child in Imagination" – also begins with an article that provides an overview of previous work. Gail Hawkes and Danielle Egan’s chapter on child-nature interstices does not cite Roni Natov’s award winning The Poetics of Childhood (2006) although it essentially covers the same ground from the Puritans to Locke and thence to Rousseau, reinventing the wheel as they go. Faulkner’s contribution to this section is an investigation of how the figure of the child at play – more specifically the girl at play – has been sexualised, especially in relation to fears of paedophilia in the context of images on the internet. Rather than regarding girls dressing as women as a sexualised activity which creates a "phony crisis," she reads "girls’ behaviors associated with sexualisation as play" in order to "acknowledge the active part children take in interpreting and reworking social and cultural meaning" (98). The final chapter on the child in imagination is literary, but rather than examining children’s literature: Elizabeth Drumm analyses the portrayal of girl characters in the nineteenth century novel, with an emphasis on the work of Dickens. Her investigations map the movement of interest in the child from the periphery to the centre of adults’ interests.

The final section – "The Institutionalized Child" – contains just two chapters, both on Australian topics. kylie valentine examines the interplay between risk and investment in social policy. Her examination of key documents steering government policy notes the increasing visibility of children in public discourse, which is awkwardly coupled with a "very narrow vision of childhood, which can see the child’s brain but not their broader social environment" (140). The collection ends with a chapter from Emily Soper on the racial politics embedded in the discussion of "Stolen" and "Forgotten" children in Australia. The "Stolen Generations" is the moniker used to refer to Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families and their communities and sent to be re-educated (primarily as domestic servants) in boarding schools custom built for this purpose. The forgotten Australians are, primarily, white Australian children who – for diverse reasons ranging from illegitimacy to orphanhood – were also raised in institutions. Soper’s chapter is a description and reflection upon the racial politics of a primarily white group, drawing analogies to Aboriginal experiences of persecution in order to make their claims heard.

As the above brief summaries attest, this is a very diverse collection. It is not easy to draw the threads together to see how far it contributes to its stated goals of using childhood studies to reimagine the possibilities of both multi-disciplinarity and growth within the disciplines. Moreover, although all the chapters are well argued and interesting in their own right, it is difficult to envisage who the intended reader of the collection as a single volume might be because the array of topics seems too diffuse. By focusing on breadth rather than depth, they certainly shine light on the need to make childhood studies more central to disciplines where it still lies in the periphery. As a reader coming from two disciplines – Literature and Education – I certainly enjoyed the excursion into other disciplines but would not have read it cover to cover were I not reading for the purpose of review.

Lydia Kokkola
Luleå University of Technology, Sweden