The Children's Table

The Children's Table: Childhood Studies and the Humanities

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Children's Table
    Book Description:

    Like the occupants of the children's table at a family dinner, scholars working in childhood studies can seem sidelined from the "adult" labor of humanities scholarship. The Children's Table brings together scholars from architecture, philosophy, law, and literary and cultural criticism to provide an overview of the innovative work being done in childhood studies-a transcript of what is being said at the children's table. Together, these scholars argue for rethinking the academic seating arrangement in a way that acknowledges the centrality of childhood to the work of the humanities. The figure we now recognize as a child was created in tandem with forms of modernity that the Enlightenment generated and that the humanities are now working to rethink. Thus the growth of childhood studies allows for new approaches to some of the most important and provocative issues in humanities scholarship: the viability of the social contract, the definition of agency, the performance of identity, and the construction of gender, sexuality, and race. Because defining childhood is a means of defining and distributing power and obligation, studying childhood requires a radically altered approach to what constitutes knowledge about the human subject. The diverse essays in The Children's Table share a unifying premise: to include the child in any field of study realigns the shape of that field, changing the terms of inquiry and forcing a different set of questions. Taken as a whole, the essays argue that, at this key moment in the state of the humanities, rethinking the child is both necessary and revolutionary. Contributors: Annette Ruth Appell, Sophie Bell, Robin Bernstein, Sarah Chinn, Lesley Ginsberg, Lucia Hodgson, Susan Honeyman, Roy Kozlovsky, James Marten, Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Carol Singley, Lynne Vallone, John Wall.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4559-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION. The Children’s Table: Childhood Studies and the Humanities
    (pp. 1-14)

    As anyone who has attended a Thanksgiving dinner can attest, the children’s table is not usually an A-list destination. Denied the good china, seated at a wobbly folding table, placed out of earshot of the juicy adult gossip, the guests at the children’s table know that they occupy a marginal space. In many ways, the children’s table is an apt metaphor for the role childhood studies has played in the humanities and, more discomfortingly perhaps, for the role the humanities sometimes seem to play within the academy. Yet, as in many marginalized spaces, there can be an intense sense of...

  5. Part 1. Questioning the Autonomous Subject and Individual Rights
    • [Part 1. Introduction]
      (pp. 15-18)

      Childhood studies, a field designed to dismantle inaccurate and often destructive definitions of childhood, has yet to come up with a consensus on what we mean when we say “child” in the first place. If the child is socially constructed, as Philippe Ariès has argued, and as many of our contributors take as a given, how can we possibly hope to work through those constructions to extract an authentic person? As the conversation moves between the humanities and the social sciences, between archivists and activists, childhood studies struggles with the question of how to bridge the relationship between the rhetorical...

    • The Prepolitical Child of Child-Centered Jurisprudence
      (pp. 19-37)
      Annette Ruth Appell

      Childhood studies scholarship has revealed that childhood, the category that holds, defines, and governs children, is to be a social construct contingent on time and place.¹ While young children are, generally speaking, vulnerable and dependent, the length, contours, and extent of that dependency, as well as the assignment of children to dependency, vary greatly across time, nation, geography, and race.² This central insight, that childhood is not natural, has yet to gain currency in legal studies. Although legal scholars have developed critical jurisprudence regarding race and gender, illustrating how these seemingly natural categories are socio-legal constructions that create and maintain...

    • Childhood of the Race: A Critical Race Theory Intervention into Childhood Studies
      (pp. 38-51)
      Lucia Hodgson

      The popular defense of processing children under eighteen in the adult criminal justice system instead of the juvenile justice system turns on the nature of the offense: children who commit adult crimes should do adult time. This position highlights the ways in which American cultural constructions of the child are not exclusively child based. That is to say, adult constructions of the child often do not correspond to what children themselves say and do. Paradoxically, children can lose their child status when they do not act like children. The definitions of the child that inform academic inquiry and social policy...

    • Childhood Studies and History: Catching a Culture in High Relief
      (pp. 52-67)
      James Marten

      “Childhood,” writes Joseph M. Hawes, “is where you catch a culture in high relief.”¹ This deceptively simple statement reveals the possibilities created by the merger of childhood studies and history. Although children and youth do not make laws, declare wars, manage corporations, or write books and plays—although they do not feature in traditional measures of progress—they are at the center of many kinds of cultural markers, including support for education, respect for the family, and provision for adequate health care, all of which not only measure the status of children and youth but also reveal the ways in...

    • Childism: The Challenge of Childhood to Ethics and the Humanities
      (pp. 68-84)
      John Wall

      If the humanities focus in some way on “the human,” including its meanings, diversities, constructions, and possibilities, then it would be curious to neglect the third of human beings who happen to be under the age of eighteen. This situation would appear all the more peculiar if the humanities are charged, as many argue, with challenging normative assumptions and investigating historically marginalized voices. Yet to a large extent children and youth do in fact occupy the periphery in contemporary humanities scholarship, arguably more so than any other social group. The oddness of this situation is compounded by the fact that...

  6. Part 2. Recalibrating the Work of Discipline
    • [Part 2. Introduction]
      (pp. 85-88)

      This section explores the structures—literary, physical, and social—that adults set up to educate children. As childhood studies argues, educational theories inevitably reflect adult desires about what children should become. Those desires in turn, exert a powerful force on the lives of children raised within these imaginative, legal, and literary configurations. The chapters here focus on the ongoing project of determining what children need from adults as they grow up. What sort of discipline and what sort of protections are necessary in order for a child to mature successfully?

      In his watershed work Discipline and Punish—a text that...

    • “So Wicked”: Revisiting Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s Sentimental Racism through the Lens of the Child
      (pp. 89-104)
      Sophie Bell

      After decades of critical skepticism, studies of both sentimentalism and childhood are becoming thriving areas of scholarly inquiry and analysis. In Hildegard Hoeller’s recent assessment, the study of sentiment is “cooking on all burners,” having overcome a century of marginality in the American literary canon to become a nimbly theorized, richly interdisciplinary body of work.¹ Her review of new scholarship finds sentimentality finally treated “as a central concept in American culture, the very vehicle through which Americans imagined themselves and defined their identity as a family, class, race, gender, or nation.” Far from the masculine American literary canon’s shrinking girl...

    • Minority/Majority: Childhood Studies and Antebellum American Literature
      (pp. 105-123)
      Lesley Ginsberg

      The field of antebellum American literature has been radically transformed over the last thirty years by spectacular projects of literary recovery that have in turn redefined the foundational texts of the discipline.¹ A renewed interest in authorship and publication studies is currently reinvigorating the field.² Further, a turn toward the transnational has highlighted transatlantic literary relationships in the pre–Civil War era and introduced to our understanding of the field a hemispheric component. This has complicated assumptions about the relative exceptionalism of the literatures of the United States and challenged received notions of borders, boundaries, and nationalism.³ While childhood studies...

    • The Architectures of Childhood
      (pp. 124-144)
      Roy Kozlovsky

      The metaphor of the “children’s table” alludes to the familiar architecture of the everyday, where the ambiguous status of the child is literally inscribed into the choreography of domestic space. How then does the scholarly focus on the child challenge or inform current approaches to the study of architecture? And conversely, what can the study of the material culture of childhood contribute to the discipline of childhood studies? This chapter explores the prospects of bringing together these two academic disciplines to open a critical space for engaging core issues facing the humanities. The motivation for studying the “architecture of childhood”...

  7. Part 3. Childhood Studies and the Queer Subject
    • [Part 3. Introduction]
      (pp. 145-148)

      This section occupies a fissure in childhood studies that the field is working to bridge between social constructionism—a central insight of childhood studies icon Philippe Ariès and a key tenet of humanities scholarship—and social science’s emphasis on biologically determined development. Our first two contributions by Sarah Chinn and Susan Honeyman pick up the theme of educational control ably introduced in section 2 and explore the work of disciplining children’s habits of love and attachment. They do so by focusing on heteronormative control over children’s gender and sexuality or, to be more precise, the social insistence that children cannot...

    • “I Was a Lesbian Child”: Queer Thoughts about Childhood Studies
      (pp. 149-166)
      Sarah Chinn

      On September 9, 1992, about a dozen members of the newly formed Lesbian Avengers, a “direct action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility,” gathered outside the entrance to an elementary school in Queens, New York, School District 24. Over the course of that summer debate had raged about the proposed “Rainbow curriculum” for New York City schools, a curriculum plan that discussed and praised the diversity of New York, including the contributions of the city’s large and active lesbian and gay communities. District 24 leader Mary Cummins had spearheaded opposition to the Rainbow curriculum, based almost...

    • Trans(cending)gender through Childhood
      (pp. 167-182)
      Susan Honeyman

      If one is not born a woman, as Simone de Beauvoir and Monique Wittig so famously argue, then one is not really born a girl or boy either.¹ In fact, one is not necessarily born a child. Ever since Philippe Ariès posited childhood as an invention of modernity, childhood studies has argued for recognizing the state of prolonged protection (and sometimes fetishization) generally ascribed to Western youth as relatively constructed, class bound, and historically varied. Most of the world’s young can’t afford what many in affluent nations take for granted as universal: early years of total dependence, security, innocence, extended...

    • Childhood Studies and Literary Adoption
      (pp. 183-198)
      Carol Singley

      Representations of adoption abound in nineteenth-century American fiction and have much to tell us not only about formal aspects of plot but also about the construction of cultural narratives of the child, family, and nation—all important sites of inquiry for the field of childhood studies. This chapter explores the ways that childhood studies can affirm the importance of biological and nonbiological kinship as categories of analysis. It also shows how childhood studies can reveal the historical dimensions and limitations of romantic conceptions of childhood. It is grounded in the understanding, now a given in the field, that the child...

  8. Part 4. Childhood Studies:: Theory, Practice, Pasts, and Futures
    • [Part 4. Introduction]
      (pp. 199-202)

      This section thinks critically about how childhood shapes our relationship with the past—personal, cultural, historical—and considers some ways in which the study of children may shape the future of classroom behavior, disciplinary exchange, and the academy’s role in larger culture and society. Robin Bernstein’s chapter offers an exciting theoretical model for bridging the gap archivists and others have struggled to negotiate between “real” children and adult representations of childhood. Taking on a question that animates much of childhood studies—and many contributions in this collection—Bernstein draws from performance theory to develop a way of thinking about the...

    • Childhood as Performance
      (pp. 203-212)
      Robin Bernstein

      The relationship between young people (“children”) and the cultural construct of “childhood” constitutes a central problem in the field of childhood studies.¹ Is childhood a category of historical analysis that produces and manages adult power, as Caroline Levander, Lee Edelman, Kathryn Bond Stockton, Jacqueline Rose, James Kincaid, Anne Higonnet, Carolyn Steedman, and many others have argued? Or do the complicated lives of young people constantly deconstruct and reconstruct the abstract idealizations of childhood, as is suggested by the work of Karin Calvert, Howard P. Chudacoff, and Steven Mintz, among others?² Literary scholars who study “the child” conjured in texts as...

    • In the Archives of Childhood
      (pp. 213-237)
      Karen Sánchez-Eppler

      In this chapter I argue that the ideas, practices, and institutions of historical preservation reverberate with conceptions of childhood. I find these connections to be mutually illuminating, productive not only for the comparatively new field of childhood studies but also for the many disciplinary and institutional structures through which we have tried to locate origins and to access, understand, preserve, and recall a time that is gone. For scholarship in the humanities the “archival turn” proves to have much in common with the study of childhood: both elaborate the repositories of our cultural and personal pasts. In many ways, for...

    • Doing Childhood Studies: The View from Within
      (pp. 238-254)
      Lynne Vallone

      After seventeen years at a university in central Texas, I accepted a position in southern New Jersey. This fact is not so very surprising or even particularly interesting; academics relocate frequently and for a host of reasons. Two things, however, made this move somewhat unusual: I left a conventional, well-established discipline at the center of liberal arts curricula—English—to join a nascent multidisciplinary department in an emergent field, childhood studies. In what follows, I reflect on what this move has meant for me as a scholar of children’s literature. I also outline the creation of the Department of Childhood...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 255-258)
  10. Index
    (pp. 259-265)