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Dr. Lynne Vallone

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Dr. Sarada Balagopalan

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Home » Conferences » 2011 Conference: Multiple Childhoods/Multidisciplinary Perspectives

2011 Conference: Multiple Childhoods/Multidisciplinary Perspectives




As a field, childhood studies has flourished in large part because scholars have recognized the necessity of moving between and beyond traditional academic disciplines and have resisted the idea that there exists one, normative version of childhood common to all. Indeed, Multiple Childhoods/Multidisciplinary Perspectives seeks participation from those who work to counter the presumption or invocation of an unproblematically normative childhood by making visible how varied material and institutional circumstances, ideologies, beliefs and daily practices serve to shape the unfolding lives and experiences of children.

In this spirit, participants are encouraged to interrogate practices and discourses surrounding childhood and childhood studies, asking, for instance: What forms do childhoods take in various social arrangements? How do the dynamics of social class, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation and religion configure notions of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” childhoods? How do children understand various kinds of social difference and inequalities? What about the understandings of researchers, and those who care for or otherwise attend to children? In what ways do conceptualizations of “the child” and of presumed normative childhoods—in research, in the commercial world, in institutional and everyday settings, in literature and discourse—inform the kinds of actions undertaken by and on behalf of children?

Keynote Speakers

Elizabeth ChinProfessor Elizabeth Chin
Occidental College

“Culture and the Politics of Children”
I take as my starting place a reflection on Sharon Stephens’ 1995 introduction to Children and the Politics of Culture, reflecting on the ways in which scholarship on children and childhood has grown in the intervening years. Drawing from my emergent thinking on children and childhood in Haiti, I want to talk in particular about 1) children and NGOs; 2) constructions of child vulnerability 3) the need to look at both ‘endangered’ and ‘privileged’ children in the developing world. Too often research seems to reproduce the notion that privilege and poverty exist in entirely separate spheres, but these ‘multiple childhoods’ very often exist side-by-side: in the same schools, the same households and even the same families, patitcularly in what Russell Belk calls the ‘less affluent world’.

Judith EnnewDr. Judith Ennew
University of Malaya

“Why childhood? Why now?”
No previous historical period focused on childhood with the intensity of the past century. This was manifest in the increasing development of state-licensed professions, such as social work, education and psychology, which challenge centuries of parenting practices; implemented through political definitions of childhood and children’s rights; enshrined in legislative prohibitions against children’s involvement in work and war; and backed up in the appearance of studies of children and childhood in various realms of social research. This presentation will examine the socio-economic and political causes of this intensifying interest in childhood, and increasing activism on behalf of children, in the light of Karl Marx’s comment in 1859 that ‘the child in every epoch [represents] the character of the period in its natural veracity’.

Although current discourses of childhood are increasingly globalized, they are both manifold and contradictory, especially within parallel rapid changes in human rights and social freedoms. This is clearly demonstrated by considering the designation of the twentieth century by Swedish social reformer Ellen Key as the ‘century of childhood’, in which women and children would become free of male domination. While this may be partially true for some women, children remain under adult control – not least through manipulation of the misconceived couple ‘women-and-children’ in debates on human trafficking. Ancient patriarchal repression persists in a new guise. Taking a cynical approach to progress towards fulfilling the human rights of children, as well as to the development of ‘new’ studies of children and childhood, the presentation will ask if (and how) they articulate with the economic and political realities of 2011.

Spotlight of Panel

The conference will culminate with the convening of a Spotlight Panel comprised of scholar-experts from various fields who will address how notions of multiple childhoods and normativity inform their work and may inform social thought and practice. We are delighted to welcome Dr. Sarada Balagopalan, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India; Dr. Robin Bernstein, Harvard University, USA; Dr. Marcia Bunge, Valparaiso University, USA and Dr. Roger Hart, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, USA. 

Sarada Balagopalan
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

Sarada Balagopalan’s work is an attempt to critically theorise the category of Childhood by relating it to discourses of modernity, late capitalism and current transnational efforts to secure “rights” for children. Her doctorate from New York University was an ethnographic study on the literacy experiences of street children in Calcutta, and Sarada’s research utilizes the historically mediated specificity of childhood and children’s experiences in different social contexts to interrogate present efforts to naturalise a particular bourgeois construction of childhood as the ideal. This work on the politics of childhood also informs her broader intellectual interests in education. She is particularly interested in issues of pedagogy and its reliance on universal constructs of childhood, and their effects on the construction of identities amongst first-generation school goers and their communities.

Sarada has been deeply involved in translating these research interests into pedagogic and curricular interventions and has worked with Eklavya for several years on their social studies textbooks and school-based programmes. Currently she acts as the Chief Advisor for NCERT’s middle-school “Social and Political Life” textbooks. Sarada also co-edits Contemporary Education Dialogue, bi-annual inter-disciplinary journal on education in South Asia.

Robin BernsteinRobin Bernstein
Harvard University

I am a cultural historian who specializes in U.S. performance and theatre during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My interests include formations of race, age, gender, and sexuality, and my research integrates the study of theatrical, visual, material, and literary culture.

A graduate of Yale’s doctoral program in American Studies, I am an Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of History and Literature at Harvard University. My books include Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (forthcoming, New York University Press) and the anthologies Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater (University of Michigan Press) and Generation Q (Alyson). I put my scholarly interests in gender, ethnicity, and childhood into creative practice when I published a Jewish feminist children’s book titled Terrible, Terrible!. I am currently in residence in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin, where I hold a Donald D. Harrington Fellowship. During my year at Austin, I will write a book titled Hand Knife Photograph: The Erotics of Impossible Gender.

Marcia BungeMarcia J. Bunge
Valparaiso University

Marcia Bunge is the Dickmeyer Professor of Christian Education. She received her BA in English and music from St. Olaf College and her PhD in religion and literature from the University of Chicago. She taught at Gustavus Adolphus College, Luther College, and Luther Seminary before joining the CC faculty. Bunge has edited and contributed to Against Pure Reason: Writings on History, Language, and Religion (1993), and The Child in Christian Thought (2001). Bunge’s most recently co-edited books are The Child in the Bible (2008) and Children and Childhood in World Religions: Primary Texts and Sources (2009). From 2003-07 she served on the National Task Force on Education for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Bunge directs “The Child in Religion and Ethics” project and serves on the international board of the Child Theology Movement and on the steering committees of the “Childhood Studies and Religion Consultation” of the American Academy of Religion and “Children in the Biblical World” section of the Society of Biblical Literature. She regularly lectures at leading universities and conferences in the United States and abroad. 

Roger HartRoger Hart
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

His work focuses on the development of theory and research on children’s relationship to the physical environment. He has been particularly concerned with the application of research to the planning and design of children’s environments and to environmental education. In recent years, he has been more broadly concerned with developing theory, research and programs which foster the greater participation of young people in articulating their perspectives and concerns as a way of better fulfilling their rights.