The Department of Childhood Studies is excited to announce recent publications by department faculty.

John Wall, Professor
Give Children the Vote: On Democratizing Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2021)

Throughout history, the right to vote has been extended to landowning men, the poor, minorities, women, and young adults. In each case, the meaning of democracy itself has been transformed. The one major group still denied suffrage is the third of humanity who are under 18 years of age. However, children are becoming increasingly active in political movements for climate regulation, labor rights, gun control, transexual identity, and racial justice. And these have led to a growing global movement to eliminate minimum ages of enfranchisement.

This book argues that it is time to give children the vote. Using political theory and drawing on childhood studies, it shows why suffrage cannot legitimately be limited according to age, as well as why truly universal voting is beneficial to all and can help save today’s crumbling democratic norms. It carefully responds to a wide range of objections concerning competence, knowledge, adult rights, power relations, harms to children, and much more. And it develops a detailed childist theory of voting based on holding elected representatives maximally responsive to the people’s different lived experiences. The book also introduces the concept of proxy-claim voting, wherein parents or guardians exercise proxy votes for non-competent persons, both child and adult, until whatever time those persons wish to claim or reclaim the exercise of their vote for themselves. Ultimately, the book maps out a new vision of democratic voting that, by equally empowering children, is at last genuinely democratic.

Meredith A. Bak, Assistant Professor
Playful Visions: Optical Toys and the Emergence of Children’s Media Culture (MIT Press, 2020)

The kaleidoscope, the stereoscope, and other nineteenth-century optical toys analyzed as “new media” of their era, provoking anxieties similar to our own about children and screens.

In the nineteenth century, the kaleidoscope, the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, the stereoscope, and other optical toys were standard accessories of a middle-class childhood, used both at home and at school. In Playful Visions, Meredith Bak argues that the optical toys of the nineteenth century were the “new media” of their era, teaching children to be discerning consumers of media—and also provoking anxieties similar to contemporary worries about children’s screen time. Bak shows that optical toys—which produced visual effects ranging from a moving image to the illusion of depth—established and reinforced a new understanding of vision as an interpretive process. At the same time, the expansion of the middle class as well as education and labor reforms contributed to a new notion of childhood as a time of innocence and play. Modern media culture and the emergence of modern Western childhood are thus deeply interconnected.

Drawing on extensive archival research, Bak discusses, among other things, the circulation of optical toys, and the wide visibility gained by their appearance as printed templates and textual descriptions in periodicals; expanding conceptions of literacy, which came to include visual acuity; and how optical play allowed children to exercise a sense of visual mastery. She examines optical toys alongside related visual technologies including chromolithography—which inspired both chromatic delight and chromophobia. Finally, considering the contemporary use of optical toys in advertising, education, and art, Bak analyzes the endurance of nineteenth-century visual paradigms.

Daniel Cook, Distinguished Professor of Childhood Studies
The Moral Project of Childhood (NYU Press, 2020)

Examines the Protestant origins of motherhood and the child consumer.

Throughout history, the responsibility for children’s moral well-being has fallen into the laps of mothers. In The Moral Project of Childhood, the noted childhood studies scholar Daniel Thomas Cook illustrates how mothers in the nineteenth-century United States meticulously managed their children’s needs and wants, pleasures and pains, through the material world so as to produce the “child” as a moral project.

Drawing on a century of religiously-oriented child care advice in women’s periodicals, he examines how children ultimately came to be understood by mothers—and later, by commercial actors—as consumers. From concerns about taste, to forms of discipline and punishment, to play and toys, Cook delves into the social politics of motherhood, historical anxieties about childhood, and early children’s consumer culture.

Daniel Cook, Distinguished Professor of Childhood Studies
Reimagining Childhood Studies (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018)

Reimagining Childhood Studies incites, and provides a forum for, dialogue and debate about the direction and Media of Reimagining Childhood Studiesimpetus for critical and global approaches to social-cultural studies of children and their childhoods. Set against the backdrop of a quarter century of research and theorising arising out of the “new” social studies of childhood, each of the 13 original contributions strives to extend the conceptual reach and relevance of the work being undertaken in the dynamic and expanding field of childhood studies in the 21st century.

Internationally renowned contributors engage with contemporary scholarship from both the global north and south to address questions of power, inequity, reflexivity, subjectivities and representation from poststructuralist, posthumanist, postcolonial, feminist, queer studies and political economy perspectives. In so doing, the book provides a deconstructive and reconstructive dialogue, offering a renewed agenda for future scholarship. The book also moves the insights of childhood studies beyond the boundaries of this field, helping to mainstream insights about children’s everyday lives from this burgeoning area of study and avoid the dangers of marginalizing both children and scholarship about childhood. This carefully curated collection extends beyond critiques of specified research arenas, traditions, concepts or approaches to serve as a bridge in the transformation of childhood studies at this important juncture in its history.

Lynne Vallone, Distinguished Professor of Childhood Studies
Big and Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies (Yale UP, 2018)

Exploring miniaturism, giganticism, obesity, and the lived experiences of actual big and small people, Vallone boldly addresses the uncomfortable implications of using physical measures to judge normalcy, goodness, gender identity, and beauty. This wide-ranging work surveys the lives and contexts of both real and imagined persons with extraordinary bodies from the seventeenth century to the present day through close examinations of art, literature, folklore, and cultural practices, as well as scientific and pseudo-scientific discourses. Generously illustrated and written in a lively and accessible style, Vallone’s provocative study encourages readers to look with care at extraordinary bodies and the cultures that created, depicted, loved, and dominated them.

John Wall, Professor
Children’s Rights: Today’s Global Challenge (Rowan & Littlefield, 2016)

This accessible and authoritative book provides the first systematic overview of the global children’s rights movement. It introduces students, children’s advocates, and scholars to child and youth rights in all their theoretical, historical, cultural, political, and practical complexity. In the process, it examines key controversies about globalization, cultural relativism, social justice, power, economics, politics, freedom, ageism, and more.

Combining vivid examples with cutting-edge research, Children’s Rights: Today’s Global Challenge lifts up the rights of the youngest third of humanity as the major human rights challenge of the twenty-first century.’s-Rights-Today’s-Global-Challenge#

9780857855565Kate Cairns, Assistant Professor, with Josée Johnston (U. of Toronto)
Food and Feminity (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Drawing on extensive qualitative research in Toronto, Cairns and Johnston demonstrate how food and femininity remain closely connected in the public imagination as well as the emotional lives of women. The book analyses how women navigate multiple aspects of foodwork for themselves and others, from planning meals, grocery shopping, and feeding children, to navigating conflicting preferences, nutritional and ethical advice, and the often-inequitable division of household labor. What emerges is a world in which women’s choices continue to be closely scrutinized – a world where ‘failing’ at food is still perceived as a failure of femininity.

Lauren Silver - System KidsLauren Silver, Associate Professor
System Kids: Adolescent Mothers and the Politics of Regulation (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

This intriguing study considers the daily lives of adolescent mothers as they negotiate the child welfare system to meet the needs of their children and themselves. Combining critical policy study and ethnography, and drawing on current scholarship as well as her own experience as a welfare program manager, Lauren Silver demonstrates how social welfare “silos” construct the lives of youth as disconnected, reinforcing unforgiving policies and imposing demands on women the system was intended to help. 

Inhabiting 'Childhood': Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India book coverSarada Balagopalan, Associate Professor
Inhabiting ‘Childhood’: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

Dr. Balagopalan’s book redresses the limits of the notion of ‘multiple childhoods’ commonly deployed as a way to recognize the heterogeneity of children’s lives and experiences. This ambitious ethnography redresses these limits by drawing on the everyday experiences of street children and child labourers in Calcutta to introduce the postcolony as a critical, and thus far absent, lens in theorizing the ‘child’.

Recent Book Publications by Childhood Studies Graduates

The Department of Childhood Studies is excited to announce the recent publication of books by recent PhD graduates, based on their dissertation research.

Ryan Bunch (PhD, Childhood Studies 2023)
Oz and the Musical: Performing the American Fairy Tale (Oxford University Press, 2022)

Oz and the Musical: Performing the American Fairy Tale considers the special relationship between Oz and Musicals in the US. Drawing on my experiences as a fan, scholar, and practitioner I argue that musical adaptations of The Wizard of Oz make the “American fairy tale” available as participatory culture. In return, Oz contributes to the musical’s pedigree as an America art form. Along the way, I discuss L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), the popular Broadway adaptation of 1903, the famous MGM film, the stage and screen versions of The Wiz (1975 and 1978), and Wicked (2003). The book concludes with a chapter on home, school, and community musical performances of Oz. Central to these adaptive performances are the contributions of diverse American producers, performers, and audiences, including kids, immigrants, Black people, and queer people, who have expanded and transformed the American fairy tale through song, dance, and the gestures of musical theater.

The cover image is from photographer Carol Highsmith’s America, which is curated by the Library of Congress. These ruby-slippered feet belong to Ashley Harkins, who plays Dorothy at the Land of Oz park in Beech Mountain, North Carolina.

Oz and the Musical is available for purchase at Oxford University Press, or wherever you buy books.

Martin Woodside (PhD, Childhood Studies, 2015 )
Frontiers of Boyhood: Imagining America, Past and Future (Oklahoma University Press, 2020)

When Horace Greeley published his famous imperative, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” the frontier was already synonymous with a distinctive type of idealized American masculinity. But Greeley’s exhortation also captured popular sentiment surrounding changing ideas of American boyhood; for many educators, politicians, and parents, raising boys right seemed a pivotal step in securing the growing nation’s future. This book revisits these narratives of American boyhood and frontier mythology to show how they worked against and through one another—and how this interaction shaped ideas about national character, identity, and progress.

Lara Saguisag (PhD, Childhood Studies, 2013)
Incorrigibles and Innocents: Constructing Childhood and Citizenship in Progressive Era Comics (Rutgers University Press, 2018)

Histories and criticism of comics note that comic strips published in the Progressive Era were dynamic spaces in which anxieties about race, ethnicity, class, and gender were expressed, perpetuated, and alleviated. The proliferation of comic strip children—white and nonwhite, middle-class and lower class, male and female—suggests that childhood was a subject that fascinated and preoccupied Americans at the turn of the century. Many of these strips, including R.F. Outcault’s Hogan’s Alleyand Buster Brown, Rudolph Dirks’s The Katzenjammer Kids and Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland were headlined by child characters. Yet no major study has explored the significance of these verbal-visual representations of childhood. Incorrigibles and Innocents addresses this gap in scholarship, examining the ways childhood was depicted and theorized in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century comic strips. Drawing from and building on histories and theories of childhood, comics, and Progressive Era conceptualizations of citizenship and nationhood, Lara Saguisag demonstrates that child characters in comic strips expressed and complicated contemporary notions of who had a right to claim membership in a modernizing, expanding nation.

Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices Behind Gun Violence book coverDiane Marano (PhD, Childhood Studies, 2014)
Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices Behind Gun Violence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Dr. Marano’s book explores how and why twenty-five incarcerated young men of color acquired and used guns, how guns made them feel, and how they felt about the violence in which they participated as well as the violence to which they were exposed as victims and witnesses. Through their narratives, patterns emerge of boys attempting to become men in homes headed by mothers who struggled financially, the multiple attractions of the street that exceeded those of school, and the risks of the street lifestyle that prompted these youth to arm themselves.

Race Among FriendsMarianne Modica (PhD, Childhood Studies, 2014)
Race among Friends: Exploring Race at a Suburban School (Rutgers University Press, 2015)

Dr. Modica’s book argues that attempts to be colorblind do not end racism—in fact, ignoring race increases the likelihood that racism will occur in our schools and in society. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a “racially friendly” suburban US high school, Modica finds that race affects the daily experiences of students and teachers in profound but unexamined ways—particularly through student friendships and administrative practices.,5632.aspx