International Conference on The Child’s Room as a Cultural Microcosm

Announcing: International Conference on The Child’s Room as a Cultural Microcosm: Space, Consumption, and Pedagogy
National Museum of Education, Rouen, France, 8 – 10 April 2013

Call for Papers Submission Deadline: November 30, 2012
Submit to: Annie Renonciat (ENS Lyon, National Museum of Education/CNDP)


“The Child’s Room as a Cultural Microcosm” aims at gathering knowledge on the subject of children’s domestic material culture and stimulating the development of research along three main axes. These axes were chosen to provide a better understanding of the child’s room in its history and the contemporary world, through its materiality as well as through the representations which contribute to defining it as a material, social, aesthetic and cultural place. The first axis will examine the child’s room from an architectural-spatial point of view, as well as a well-defined space within the house specifically intended for the child. It may be characterized by technical specificities (shape, volume, etc.) as well as cultural ones. The second axis will investigate the child’s room as a privileged place for his or her belongings. The idea will be to focus on children’s consumption and material culture, examining how objects actually belong to a child in a child’s room. Finally, the last axis comprehends the child’s room as an educational place that sits at the intersection of both pedagogical and recreational uses and, as such, of both adults’ and children’s points of view. The organisation of this room thus may contribute, in turn, to the education of taste, to an aesthetic education or to the education to consumption.

In the 19th century, the child’s room was conceptualised by French authors as a “place for hygiene and prudence,” a perimeter protected from the dangers of the house and from those of the street, a women’s “sanctuary” (Fonssagrives 1871) as well as a “nest of souls” (Hugo 1859) and an instrument for the education to social, moral and aesthetic values (Renonciat 1989, 2005). Today, the child’s room is a reality shared by boys and girls in the Western world: a place to rest and work, a place of either real or virtual games, a “refuge for intimacy” (Ranum 1986), an open window on the world (be it discovered or fantasized), a learning center for autonomy, a developer of identity. As it was the case in the past, the contemporary child’s room turns out to be a complex reality which, although it has aroused researchers’ interest in various fields for over half a century, still remains an unexplored territory, especially in France.

1. A Space Within the House
The first axis will investigate the child’s room from an architectural-spatial point of view, as a well-delimited space belonging to the child within the house and defined by location, shape, area, volume, orientation, communication. These various specificities, for all their technicalities, still depend on cultural criteria and representations to define the space as a child’s space (Perrinjaquet 1979, 1982). Various specialists have studied this private territory in Great Britain (King-Hall 1958) and Germany (Weber-Kellermann 1979, 1991), have linked its appearance to the mutations of housing in industrial societies in Northern Europe (Robertson 1974, C. Hall 1987, Perrot 1987, Guerrand 1987, Eleb-Vidal and Debarre- Blanchard 1989), among other things. Yet, we ask, have the new prospects opened by these pioneers been followed? What is the place of a child’s room today? What is its place in the work of the great architects of the 20th century, in the post-WW2 reconstruction effort, in all the suburbs built in the 60s? What are its contemporary features?

2. A Privileged Place for the Child’s Belongings
As it was related to the evolution of mentalities and ways of living, the emergence of the child’s room in the 19th century emerged alongside the rise of consumption in industrial societies. The child’s own room became a place to control children as well as a container where they could store, play with and attend to the increasing number of things specially made for their use and consumption: furniture, books, pictures, toys, clothes. A good deal of historical research exists on these cultural objects belonging to childhood for Great Britain (Miall 1980, White 1984), Italy (Nogare and Finocchi 1982), the United States (Calvert 1992, Cross 1999). In France, studies look mainly at books (there are too many to be mentioned here) and at toys (Manson 2001). The history of children’s furniture and functional objects is to be written in our country, requiring the use of monographs and comprehensive studies which would be likely to comprehend production and customs in their historical, social and cultural dimension.

In the United States, the power of the cultural industry has led researchers to wonder about the relationships between children and their belongings in rooms that were created as spaces of individual consumption of the products they are being offered. Facing the development of adolescent culture (James 2001, Baker 2004), the very notion of “room culture” has developed (Brown, Dyckers, Steele and White 1994, 1995, Livingstone 2002) and extended to pre-adolescence in France (Glevarec 2010). It requires the analysis of the way youngsters work and play with a variety of available symbols and cultural artifacts, in an interactive process of elaboration of their identity (Ang et Hermès 1991) – the “cultural tool kit” of global society (Swidler 1986). From this angle, the room is now perceived as a cultural microcosm, a place laden with tension, confrontation, negotiation, a place of compromises between adults and children, between the media and individuals. Today, it is important to look at what is happening in France, especially with the youngest ones, to study their relationship to material culture and the way their culture belongs to the domestic space, and also to grasp the different strategies of independence, of autonomy or, on the contrary, of parental guidance.

The various objects which are aimed at children and which are meant to be kept and used in the child’s room (toys, games, books, stationery, technical objects, sweets, clothes, etc.) will also be of interest in the research on children’s belongings. How are these belongings conceived, produced, distributed and consumed? How do they fit into a mass culture which allows the circulation of characters and worlds through various media (Brougère 2003, 2008 ; De La Ville et Durup 2008)? The mercantile aspect shall also be analyzed, not only as a way of presenting consumer-children with what they can buy, but also as a way of “portraying” the latter, as a part of the very process of conception of these products.

3. An Educational World
In the Western world, the child benefits from a room that is dedicated to him or herself, a privileged place for the concentration of the objects of children’s material culture in the house, but also a place of identity construction and learning. The room may also be used, if not in an educational purpose, as a way of enhancing education. It is not different from the typical objects used at school to transmit knowledge: school material (schoolbags, pencil cases, books, etc.), furniture (desk, bookcase), holiday homework books, educational games, etc., even if these objects have to be confronted with mass culture references such as a Dora the Explorer pencil case or a Pokemon schoolbag. The room then appears as a place where different things can meet, oppose or be integrated: children’s leisure and school prescriptions but also children’s desires and parents’ expectations.

In this respect, decoration in the child’s room seems an interesting subject for research, where the tastes and aesthetic values of adults meet the supposed or real preferences of the child. As early as at the end of the 19th century, the discovery of the effects of the child’s material and visual environment on his or her mental and intellectual development led educators, parents, educationalists and creators to pay attention to the aesthetic quality of his or her environment, without failing to use educational resources, in a room that is sometimes perceived as a book with giant pages (Renonciat 2006). Pictures, wallpapers, fabric, furniture then appeared, promptly switching from traditional creation with artistic ambitions to an industrial production which turns out to be huge today. This field of investigation opens vast prospects and lies between art and education, art and industry. Still, to start with, these prospects require the close analysis of a production that has partly disappeared, being the victim of the ill-treatment of its recipients or the victim of its illegitimacy, both artistic and cultural.

What can be said today about the relationship between the room, the objects that it contains and the education of children? Are some objects conceived, created and used as tools for aesthetic education? It shall also be interesting to study the role of the design of children’s objects as a way of educating their taste. The question of the education to consumption is also one of the dimensions of the encounter between the room, children’s objects originating from mercantile and non-mercantile backgrounds and also adults’ instructional design. Hosting a specific activity, the room is the product as much as the producer of social and semiotic mediations which make it possible for children to participate in multiple activities of consumption (De La Ville et Tartas 2011). Thanks to the use of cultural tools, children are being shown how to give meaning to their own consumption habits and how to make them change.

Submission Guidelines

The paper proposals will have to be related to one of the three axes (architectural, material or educational) and if they are not, it will have to be clearly justified. Yet, these questions can be addressed from multiple angles: representations of the child’s room (in literature, in films, in arts, etc.), historical, anthropological, sociological, psychological dimensions, as well as questions of gender, etc.

The proposals, either in English or in French, should be sent to the following address by 30 November 2012:

They will have to be a Word document of no more than one page (Times New Roman 12, single spaced), including the following:
– Title of the paper
– Author
– Institutional belonging
– Personal details: address, country of residence, phone number, e-mail address
– A summary of approximately 400 to 500 words, which shall contain the object of the
paper, the methodology which was used, the corpus or the data which were analyzed and the results.

Notification of acceptance: 1st February 2013
Authors will have to send their written papers by 30th April 2013, for publication of the proceedings.


National Museum of Education/CNDP, University of Paris 13 (EXPERICE), University of Poitiers (CEREGE), with the support of the ANR Research Programme “Children’s Possessions at Home”

Scientific Committee:

Gilles Brougère (University of Paris Nord)
David Buckingham (Loughborough University, GB)
Dan Cook (Rutgers University, USA) Inès de la Ville (University of Poitiers)
Yves Gaulupeau (National Museum of Education/CNDP)
Michel Manson (University of Paris Nord)
Roger Perrinjaquet (École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris – La Villette)
Michelle Perrot (University Paris 7- Denis Diderot)
Annie Renonciat (ENS Lyon, National Museum of Education/CNDP)

Fees : 130€ (including coffee breaks, three lunches and one night banquet)
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