Dr. Mary Byrne

Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow in Childhood Studies and Racial Justice

Mary Byrne is a youth studies scholar whose work examines how the figure of the child drives right-wing and neoliberal political organizing. Mary’s current project, based on a year and a half of participant observation with the extremist group Moms for Liberty, explores the rapid rise of organizing against “gender ideology” in the United States. Their work explores how pseudoscientific ideas about youth fuel transphobic political movements, demonstrating how parents are radicalized into anti-trans and white supremacist movements through deeply naturalized ideas of youth development. Mary’s research highlights age as a foundational part of systems of oppression, tracing how moral panics about youth have been used to privatize public services and maintain racial, class, and gender hierarchy. 

Mary is also interested in how the figure of the child has been mobilized in other movements that have worked to privatize the school system. Their previous work has explored how No Excuses Charter Schools, Teach for America, and other neoliberal education reform institutions used the figure of the academically neglected child to create an unlikely political coalition between neoliberal reformers, progressive parents of color, and right-wing businesspeople that jump-started the process of educational privatization. 

Mary earned their MA and PhD in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, with concentrations in Public Policy in English, from The Ohio State University, and earned their BA from Amherst College. They are excited to join the Childhood Studies Department at Rutgers-Camden as a Mellon Fellow.