All SHCY members receive the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. Published three times a year, it features scholarly research and critical book reviews.

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Mar  02

Guest Post: Shurlee Swain on Networking, Interdisciplinarity, and the SHCY

Shurlee Swain is Professor in the Faculty of Education and the Arts and Australian Catholic University. A long-time and active member of the SHCY, her most recent book is The Market in Children: Stories of Australian Adoption (2013). She is guest editor of the forthcoming special issue of the JHCY.

Although the organizational history of children’s institutions has been well documented, there has been less space in the academic sphere for exploring the experience of those who grew up within their walls. The forthcoming issue of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth is a first step towards filling this gap.

The special issue brings together papers presented at the 2013 SHCY conference in Nottingham which shared an interest in the history of children in out-of-home care. At its core are a group of scholars whose work has been shaped by their involvement in the inquiries into institutional abuse that have taken place in many Western countries over the last two decades. In such inquiries it is the voice of the victim/survivor that is given precedence, a voice which often challenges the ways in which the history of institutional care has been written in the past. SHCY conferences have provided a valuable networking space for those who work in this area leading to the development of an International Network on Studies of Inquiries into Child Abuse, Politics of Apology and Historical Representations of Children in Out-of home Care which, with Swedish funding, is now able to hold meetings of its own.

In the special issue you will find papers by Johanna Sköld, founder of the Inquiry Network and a researcher on the Swedish national inquiry, Maria Rytter and Jacob Knage Rasmussen, who conducted the Danish inquiry, Kjersti Ericsson who has closely observed the inquiry and reparation process in Norway, and Shurlee Swain and Nell Musgrove who have worked on projects funded in the aftermath of similar inquiries in Australia. They are joined by Lieselot De Wilde and Bruno Vanobbergen whose study of the orphan houses in Ghent, Belgium, began independently from any national inquiry but has been profoundly influenced by the demands of former orphanage residents that their voices be heard. It is such voices that Kathleen Vongsathorn would like to be able to access in her article on the Kumi Children’s Leper Home in Uganda but in their absence she interrogates the surviving sources to identify the gaps and silences which hide the children’s experiences from view. The victim/survivor voice that emerges through inquiries is predominantly negative. In this context, the article by Birgitte Søland provides a useful corrective. Working in the United States, where no national inquiries have taken place, her interviews with former orphanage residents tap the positive memories which struggle to find a place where the focus is on past abuse.

The appearance of the special issue on the eve of the SHCY conference in Vancouver is timely, emphasizing the valuable networking opportunity that the conference provides. Several of the contributors will present papers at the conference so if you have an interest in the history of children in out of home care we look forward to meeting you there!

Feb  23

CHC Episode 7: The Examined Life

CHILDHOOD: History and Critique (CHC) is a series of interviews, commentary, and happenings in historical studies of childhood presented by Dr. Patrick J. Ryan, Kings University College at Western University, Canada.

Conversation Transcript
Transcript coming soon!

Commentary by Patrick J. Ryan

This episode of CHC offers a conversation with Ansgar Allen, author of the recently published Benign Violence: Education in and Beyond the Age of Reason. book cover art

Ansgar Allen began this project with a desire to attack the most mechanistic, instrumental aspects of schooling. Along the way he concluded that this orientation, which might be called ‘ideology critique,’ made it more difficult to maintain a critical stance upon practices that are – purportedly – child-centered.1 He also came to doubt whether the various elements of schooling could be self-consciously sorted-out for improvement. In our conversation, he explained that “examination basically constitutes us.” We have to inhabit it, even as we may do so unwillingly. “We are made up of its procedures and ways of thinking. It’s got a logic that is already well-embedded within us… It’s made us what we are.” In this sense, Benign Violence offers what Michel Foucault once described as “an historical ontology of ourselves.”2 Such a work does not free us from the logic of examination, but might help us gain a better sense of its sources and operations.

In Benign Violence, the comparison of two types of 19th-century English schools (moral training schools and monitorial schools) does the most to disturb the assumption that humanistic forms of schooling are ‘good’ while their mechanistic counterparts are ‘bad.’ The chief architects of monitorial techniques were Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, and much has been written about their institutions. The “moral training schools” are not as well-defined or understood by historians. In Britain, these schools were founded or inspired by James Kay-Shuttleworth, David Stow, the Glasgow Educational Society, and the advent of normal school training for teachers. It seems to me, both of these threads of educational discourse were present in the American Sunday School movement. The moral training schools were related to the child-centered pedagogical writings and practices of leaders such as Montessori, Steiner, and later – Dewey, Maslow and Rogers.

The Foucauldian concept of disciplinary power (its components of hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and examination) have been convincingly used to analyze monitorial school practices.3 Allen’s work confirms earlier studies, but Benign Violence also uses the Foucauldian concept of “pastoral power” and Foucault’s discussion of confessional relationships to develop an equally troubling stories of the way capturing children’s play has been used with more intimate pedagogical methods to institute moral training.4

Benign Violence questions the standard dualisms between humanistic and bureaucratic methods of education, for example, as it is typically delivered in the debate over standardization testing. Ansgar deliberately plays with the Socratic phrase “the examined life” to narrow the comforting space between high-minded educational ideals and the dual deployment of teachers as confessors and the mechanistic sorting of large numbers of children into various tracks. I challenged him on this point. Isn’t there a difference between the types of “souls” (to use both the Foucauldian concept and the ancient word) fostered through a cultural of disputation, and those likely to be produced in the factory of multiple-choice testing or the vast architecture of diagnostic categories? He acknowledged that this probably was a important distinction, but insisted that these various strands are wrapped around each other in current and past practice.

Ansgar also defended his playful use of the phrase “the examined life,” because it is part of a larger attempt to unsettle the academic’s superior position in the analysis of schooling. When I contrasted the negative pressure that processing large numbers of students places on the our ability to assign and mark student writing, he encouraged me to be “equally suspicious of the academic essay.” Indeed, this critique of the formal essay is embodied in the book. Benign Violence is not a standard monograph. It purposefully violates genre expectations. The text breaks and then flows again beautifully. There is something of the spirit of Gilles Deleuze working. At points, the subject is displaced so entirely that one cannot determine where precisely the object lay. This is not how Strunk and White taught us to write. As Ansgar explained:

“With academic style, typically it’s very precise… …The academic is doing everything they can to minimize the amount of interpretation that is necessary in order to decipher what they’re saying. If they’ve got a statement or critique they will do everything they can to show you exactly what they mean, who they are talking about when they are levelling their critique and so on… I can be precise, if I want…but if you can see that I am attacking something in education, [but] you’re not quite sure where my attack is located and so (hopefully) you start to wonder: am I attacking you? You wouldn’t think that, necessarily, if I was giving you a more straightforward academic argument. Because, you would either be able to say: “Oh, he is attacking me. I reject that.” Or you’d be able to say: “Oh he is attacking them.” And you’d either reject it or feel like you are coming along with the author…. “ya, ya, he’s right. Agree.” You become complicit with the critique. You assent to it. I don’t want that… so I’m using different devices to disturb the process of reading.”

Benign Violence creates this type of disturbance for the reader. It is not something that is easily condensed or reiterated. Below is a list of some of the other thought-provoking writings of Ansgar Allen.

2 Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?” in The Foucault Reader edited by Paul Rabinow (New York, NY: Panteon Books, 1984): 32-50.
3 See David Hogan, “The Market Revolution and Disciplinary Power: Joseph Lancaster and the Psychology of the Early Classroom System,” History of Education Quarterly v. 29 n. 3 (Autumn 1989): 381-417; Ronald Rayman, “Joseph Lancaster’s Monitorial System of Instruction and American Indian Education, 1815-1838,” History of Education Quarterly vol. 21, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 395-409.
4 Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. Trans. Graham Burchell (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).


Articles and Chapters by Ansgar Allen:

Allen, A. & Goddard, R. (2014) “The domestication of Foucault: government, critique, war” History of the Human Sciences 27 (5), 26-53.

Allen, A. (2013) “The Examined Life: On the Formation of Souls and Schooling” American Educational Research Journal 50 (2), 216-250.

Allen, A. (2013) “The Idea of a World University”. In M. Murphy (ed) Social Theory and Educational Research, volume 4: Governance and Management: Performativity, audit cultures and accountability. pp. 23-38. London: Sage.

Allen, A. (2012) “Cultivating the myopic learner: the shared project of high and low-stakes assessment” British Journal of Sociology of Education 33 (5), 641-659.

Allen, A. (2012) “Life without the ‘x’ factor – meritocracy past and present” Power and Education 4 (1), 4-19.

Allen, A. (2011) “Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy: a Philosophical Critique” British Journal of Educational Studies 59(4), 367-382.

Ansgar Allen

About Ansgar Allen

Ansgar Allen is a lecturer in education at the University of Sheffield and author of Benign Violence: Education in and Beyond the Age of Reason (Palgrave, 2014). He was a Co-convener of 2014 conference: “Foucault and Education: retrospect and prospect”. His writing has appeared in many periodicals, including: British Journal of Sociology of Education, History of the Human Sciences, Pedagogy, Culture, and Society, and American Educational Research Journal.

Feb  02

CHC Episode 6: Childhood and Adulthood

CHILDHOOD: History and Critique (CHC) is a series of interviews, commentary, and happenings in historical studies of childhood presented by Dr. Patrick J. Ryan, Kings University College at Western University, Canada.

Audio of Patrick Ryan’s Conversation with Corinne T. Field

Conversation Transcript
Transcript coming soon!

Commentary by Patrick J. Ryan

This episode of CHC offers a conversation with Corinne Field, author of the recently published The Struggle for Equal Adulthood.

book cover artField initially hoped to contribute to the study of 19th-century American feminists by examining how they confronted the dilemma of aging with dignity as women. She came to see that their understanding of this problem was inseparable from their use of the distinction between childhood and adulthood. They argued that the denial of women’s adulthood (their perpetual association with childhood) was a key cultural mechanism that underlay white-male privilege as a whole.

By reading closely for the ways feminists and abolitionists wrote, spoke, and organized to demand equal adulthood, Field was able to bring fresh insights to a well-research area of American history. The demand for equal adulthood was an important point of common ground between African-American and white feminist activists. But, the claim on adulthood could also be used to reinforce racial and gender hierarchies. If historians notice this part of 19th-century political writing, they are in a better position to grasp the divisions between and collaboration among diverse groups seeking citizenship. It also contributes to our reading of feminism as a body of thought. According to Field, the struggle for equal adulthood helped political writers think through the links between private relationships and political rights. The private-public distinction did not silence women’s dissent, but helped them conceptualize how power operated in politics and family life.

One of Field’s contributions to our understanding of the child-adult distinction has been to unpack the idea of maturity in 19th-century political writing. She found three dominant uses of the concept: (1) to position chronological age as a qualification for political rights; (2) to speak about how we navigate life as a voyage; (3) to make claims about proper family relations. In her book, Field documents how these variations were used to advocate for the equality of one group by excluding others from the position of full maturity.

Field suggests that historicizing maturity and adulthood (not allowing them to rest as natural “unmarked norm[s]“) might complement our exploration of childhood. It seems to me that this is one of the most important issues for us to consider: what is the relationship between adulthood and the history of childhood? In retrospect, I wish we could have spent more time discussing this issue. Parallel questions have arisen with the study of masculinity, whiteness, sexuality, and the middle-class over the past several decades.[1]

Social historians who study children may take a jaundice view of studying adulthood. Joe Hawes and Ray Hiner argued that children’s history should continue to be a “subaltern field that challenges the historical establishment’s almost exclusive concentration on adults and adulthood.” They asked if the field came to be “centered on adults and adulthood, [would] children once again [be] hidden from view?”[2]

I think posing the issue this way relies upon an assumption that the purpose of historical work is to demonstrate how diverse groups exercised agency and possessed experiences unique to them: history as a project of group identification.

An alternative would be to study childhood as discourse: structures of thought, feeling, practice. This would entail the premise that our senses of childhood (even when we are children) are always, already mediated by historically situated discourses. Reconstructing those discursive formations – to make them visible – becomes our task. From this perspective, ideas and emotions are not possessions of groups or individuals. They are produced by our engagement with discourse. This claim runs against the modern propensity to essentialize the human subject by positioning childhood in a pre-discursive space prior to culture. Scholars will forever debate these foundational issues, but many may agree that the equation of adulthood with rights of participation and self-determination (the struggle for equal adulthood) was a necessary condition for “children’s rights” to become limited to protection and care.[3]

If so, Field’s book deserves a reading.

In our conversation, we did not directly address the inherent tension between the social history of children and the history of childhood as discourse provoked by the study of adulthood.[4] But, we did discuss whether the importance of the child-adult distinction in 19th-century political thought might draw us to reconsider the thesis that the period lacked age-consciousness. Field pointed out that the state invoked age as a vehicle for defining access to citizenship, not only while other distinctions were under attack, but before there was a reliable apparatus for documenting how old people were. She thinks there is more work to be done on the link between political liberalism and age.[5]

We concluded with some thoughts about the present implications of Field’s concept of equal adulthood. She wondered if 19th-century feminist engagement with the problem of aging with dignity as women remains an unresolved dilemma in American economy and society. She referred to the unreasonable expectation the women retain youthful beauty, and highlighted the fact that the gender difference in earning power was located in the later decades of the life-cycle. In these senses the struggle for equal adulthood continues.

As I suggested above, Field’s concept of a struggle for equal adulthood has ironic implications for childhood policies: might the ideal of adult equality have created the terms for an intensified regulation of children and youth in the 20th-century? We might wonder if the struggle for equal adulthood helped create the setting for childhood rescue literature (CHC ep1), or the narrative of Irish childhood trauma (CHC ep3), or the development of the ADHD debate (CHC ep5).

Works by Corinne T. Field:

The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America. University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Co-editor with Nicholas Syrett, Chronological Age in American History, Under contract at New York University Press.

“Frances E. W. Harper and the Politics of Intellectual Maturity,” in Black Women’s Intellectual and Cultural History, edited by Farah Griffin, Mia Bay, Martha Jones, and Barbara Savage. University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming 2015.

“‘Made Women of When They are Mere Children’: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Critique of Eighteenth-Century Girlhood,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (Spring 2011): 197-222.

“‘Are Women . . . All Minors?’: Woman’s Rights and the Politics of Aging in the Antebellum United States,” Journal of Women’s History (Winter 2001): 113-137.

“Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Gendered Politics of Aging,” Iris: A Journal About Women (Spring 2001): 28-31.

“Breast-Feeding, Sexual Pleasure, and Women’s Rights: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication.” Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender, and Culture 9 (1995): 25-44.

[1] Daniel Wickberg, “Heterosexual White Male: Recent Inversions in American Cultural History,” The Journal of American History vol. 92, no. 1 (June 2005): 136-157.

[2] Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner, “Hidden in Plain View: The History of Children (and Childhood) in the Twenty-First Century,” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth vol. 1, no. 1 (Win 2008): 47.

[3] Patrick J. Ryan, “Discursive Tensions on the Landscape of Modern Childhood,” Educare Ventenskapliga Skrifter vol. 2 (2011): 11-37.

[4] Daniel Wickberg, “Intellectual History vs. the Social History of Intellectuals,” Rethinking History vol. 5 no. 3 (2001): 383-395.

[5] Joseph F. Kett, Rites of Passage: adolescence in America, 1790-present (New York: Basic Books, 1977); Howard P. Chudacoff, How Old Are You?: age consciousness in American culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

Corinne T. Field

About Corinne T. Field

Corinne Field is Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Women, Gender, Sexuality Program and a Lecturer in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, the Journal of Women’s History, and the Women’s Review of Books. With Nicholas Syrett, she is currently editing a collection of essays on the significance of chronological age in American history from the colonial period to the present.

Jan  28

Opportunity: Editor of Children, Youth and Environments

The current editors are soliciting candidates for editor (or co-editors) of the journal Children, Youth and Environments. The new editor will assume the position of editor-designate in the summer of 2015 and during the transition will begin working with the current editors Willem van Vliet, Louise Chawla and Fahriye Sancar to become familiar with journal operations and procedures. The editor-designate will assume lead responsibility for the journal beginning in the Spring of 2016, commencing with Volume 26.

The position of editor/co-editor is a volunteer position, with journal funds available to pay for a Managing Editor, copy editor, and other technical assistance. Requirements for editor/co-editor include having a Ph.D. in a field related to children’s environments, some editing and publishing experience, and familiarity with the Children, Youth and Environments journal. Please, direct questions about this position to the journal’s lead editor, Dr. Willem van Vliet (phone 303-492-5015; email:
[Continue reading…]

Jan  26

SHCY Outreach Grant: Child’s Play: Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan and Beyond

The SHCY is proud to be a co-sponsor of the interdisciplinary workshop CHILD’S PLAY: MULTI-SENSORY HISTORIES OF CHILDREN AND CHILDHOOD IN JAPAN AND BEYOND, to be held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, February 27-28, 2015. The workshop is partly funded by a SHCY Outreach Grant.
Workshop website:​

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