CHC Episode 12: Governmentality

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.

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audio-file-16Audio of Patrick J. Ryan’s conversation with Karen Smith
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Transcript coming soon!
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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 12
 
Karen Smith’s The Government of Childhood: Discourse Power, and Subjectivity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) provides a synthesis of three major bodies of literature: (1) the governmentality studies inspired by the later works of Michel Foucault [1]; (2) the sociology of childhood – utilizing Christ Jenks’ distinction between the Dionysian and Apollonian images of the child [2]; (3) and vast range of works in the history of ideas and politics – with a particular debt to the work of Michael Allen Gillespie. [3] I was struck by the range of Karen’s competencies and her ability to forge links between distinct – sometime difficult – fields of study. Her notes alone (over 1,600 of them) should be useful for anyone interested in the many intersections between the history of childhood, the sociology of childhood, governmentality studies, political theology, social policy & legal studies, and related fields.

Cover art for Government of ChildhoodThe central claim of The Government of Childhood is historical: contemporary childhood can not be adequately grasped without an appreciation of the rise of biopower and the “governmentalized” state during the early modern period. Here, Karen sees herself following a “well-trodden” path. This is true, but she does so by navigating existing research in interesting ways. Her synthesis utilizes an impressive range of existing historical literature on childhood, families, and the state to outline what the concept of governmentality implies for childhood. In doing this, she draws upon Gillespie’s Theological Origins of Modernity (which might be read along side other important synthetic works, such as Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age or Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve). Her efforts carry two important implications: (1) secular modernity can not longer be imagined simplistically as the death of God. By extension contemporary childhood is recognizable only if one has a better understanding of the theological politics of modernity; (2) the history of ideas and discursive practices is indispensable when we address larger questions about the shape of modern childhood as a whole. [4]

The book recounts the ways renaissance humanism, the Protestant reformation, and enlightenment science contributed to an increasingly intense concern with childhood socialization. These movements arose as part of a shift in pastoral religious forms and state sovereignty and produced novel disciplinary armaments. These disciplinary techniques thrived most notably within changes to schools and families between the 15th and 18th centuries. Drawing on Foucault, she writes about the movement of the family serving as a “model” corresponding to the state’s sovereign power toward it becoming a “tool” in the state’s package of governmental regulations.

The Government of Childhood argues that the increasing disciplinary sophistication of early modern schools and families strengthened and drew upon an image of children as wilful, pleasure seeking, and irrational. Karen uses terms first advanced by Chris Jenks to name this image, the Dionysian child. In my own view, there was an ancient association between the child and irrational folly. What seems more novel and disruptive is the early-modern confrontation between the rationalist/reformer Dionysian images of childhood and their Apollonian opposites: the romantic pictures of children innocent of passion and jealousy, authentic, and well-ordered from birth. Be this as it may, the book persuasively situates Jenks’ Dionysian-Appollonian contrast historically. The Dionysian image of childhood becomes intensified during the 16th- and 17th-centuries, before the development of a Apollonian response in 18th- and 19th-century childhood thought and practice. The well-known contrast between rationalism and romanticism would be a sensible way capture the timeline. The book’s description of the opening-up of a Dionysian-Apollonian opposition suggests that it has been a point of long-term continuity working itself into the present. The two might be thought of as part of a conditioning-authenticity couplet. [5]

In the last chapter of the book, “Governing the Responsible Child,” Smith argues that a late-20th-century shift toward seeing children as competent agents who participate in their own representation altered and partially displaced the structure of discourse framed by the Dionysian-Apollonian dialectic. Indeed, some have hailed that a “paradigm shift” as happened when we see children as social subjects. And they tie this shift to a ‘new sociology of childhood.’ [6] To capture this movement, Smith names the agentive child, the child as a social actor, an Athenian child.

I asked her why she chose the term “Athenian.” If the Dionysian-Apollonian childhood opposition developed from the early-modern shift within Christian pastoralism which produced disciplinary forms of power, I wonder if she might be suggesting that the contemporary agentive child has a family resemblance to what Foucault called the games of citizenship rooted in the ancient polis – Athens primary among them? [7] Karen did not have that connection in mind; she was thinking of the story of Athena – a god who emerged fully formed from the forehead of her father – Zeus. The Athenian child is a figure who has little use for growing up.

It seems to me that by casting a major theme within contemporary childhood research as a pre-figuring category of a child born fully formed, Smith has presented an important opportunity for researchers to rethink their assumptions. While reading the book, I thought there might be a potential bite to this concept that was not fully delivered. Implicitly the Athenian child historicises the promises of progress that are advanced when social scientists say they offer a new and improved (or post-whatever) way to explore childhood.

This is only my reading of what the Athenian child might do, and I am not neutral on these matters. When I asked Karen Smith about this, she wished to specify the target carefully. Calling attention to the uncritical ways that the idea of the agentive child can be utilized, she said:

“It’s really easy for discourses around children’s agency to get colonized and… taken-up within discursive strategies that are rooted in salvation and malleability and potentiality. So [the Athenian child] is not necessarily a critique of the new sociology of childhood (which I find very stimulating and interesting) but perhaps I suppose there’s a neglect in some of the childhood literature in terms of the link between freedom and agency and the exercise of power… I think there’s probably a political naiveté in some of this literature… [but] it is incredibly difficult to untangle ourselves from relations of power-knowledge at any point in time.”

She continued by pointing-out that the governmentality literature casts a light upon the links between an essentialist understanding of human agency and neo-liberal politics. In the United States, and increasingly in Europe, she emphasized that social policy “…is very much rooted in activation, and individual responsibility for self-improvement.” Whatever merits these ideas have, they occlude the operation of power-knowledge under modernity. In Smith’s words, “…what the new sociology of the child hasn’t done is help us escape very far from the liberal model of subjectivity… it’s challenging it, but it doesn’t represent a serious enough challenge to it.”

In sum, The Government of Childhood takes on a wide range of ideas across multiple disciplinary concerns. The scope of reading required to compose such a book is impressive. From my perspective, the result draws forth a couple of significant themes. It advances the notion that a serious engagement with the history of ideas is a fruitful avenue for the critical interdisciplinary study of childhood.   In the process, it also calls childhood scholars to reconsider the liberal maxim that research should proceed around the circle that children are best understood as competent agents who make their own worlds.

Recent articles and chapters by Karen Smith:

Smith, K. “Producing Governable Subjects: Images of Childhood Old and New” Childhood: a journal of global research vol. 19, no. 1 (2012):24-37.

Smith, K. “Sociological Perspectives on Childhood” in Early Childhood Education and Care: An Introduction for Students in Ireland edited by M. Mhic Mhathúna and M. Taylor (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2012).


 

[1] In addition to leading interpretations and applications provided by Mitchell Dean, Colin Gordon, and Nikolas Rose, those interested in governmentality should see Picador’s excellent series that reconstructs and translates the lectures given by Foucault at The Collège de France from 1972-1984. Several of these books are of acutely important here, including: Society Must Be Defended (1975-76); Security, Territory, Population (1977-78); The Birth of Biopolitics (1978-79).
[2] Chris Jenks, Childhood second edition (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005).
[3] Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
[4] Gillespie’s work is utilized conceptually throughout, but see especially The Government of Childhood, 76-101.
[5] See Patrick J. Ryan, “Discursive Tensions on the Landscape of Modern Childhood,” Educare Vetenskapliga Skrifter (2011: 2): 11-37.
[6] For a review see, Patrick J. Ryan, “How New is the ‘New’ Social Studies of Childhood? The Myth of a Paradigm Shift,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 38, no. 4 (Spring, 2008): 553-576.
[7] Foucault formulates the contrast between pastoral power (shepherd-flock game) and the polis (city-citizenship game) in Security, Territory, and Populations edited by Michel Senelbart, trans. Graham Burchell (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
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CHC Episode 11: Relation and Belonging

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.

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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 11
 
This June 24-26, between 230 and 250 delegates will meet at the University of British Columbia for the 8th biennial conference of the Society for the History of Children and Youth. I discussed the conference with Mona Gleason, incoming President of the Society, who chaired the Organizing Committee (which included her UBC colleagues Tamara Meyers and Leslie Paris).
UBC campus at duskWhen Mona reflected the call for sessions organized around the theme of belonging and relationships, she explained that the University rests on Point Greyunceded, ancestral lands of the Musqueam people. British Columbia (despite what its name announces to the neighbouring U.S. state – Washington) is a place where the negotiation of sovereignty – between diverse peoples and with the land itself – is ongoing. Settlement is not settled in Canada. This produces a way of being in “relationship” that troubles fixed, imperial, uniform notions of nationalism. The conference organizers hoped to call forth historical work that explores the ways children and youth have confronted and helped fashion such a world: global, multi-cultural, liminal, unstable, transnational.

The three-day conference will offer about 60 sessions vetted by a committee of Marcia Chatelain (Georgetown University), Shurlee Swain (Australian Catholic University), Judith Lind (Linköping University), David Pomfret, (University of Hong Kong), and Ishita Pande (Queen’s University). As I looked over Preliminary-Program-SHCY-2015-March-24-201512.pdf, and considered Mona’s explanation of the conference theme, I saw its initial impact. While we will have plenty of topical variety, words like migration, colonialism, empire, transnational, global, citizenship, becoming, mobilization, representation, relation, memory, negotiation, identity, reciprocity, and performance fill the titles. The keynote lecturer – Karen Dubinsky – is well-situated to address these terms and concepts. She is author and editor of numerous books, including the 2010 Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas (Univ. of Toronto) and the collection with Adele Perry and Henry Yu Within and Without the Nation: Transnational Canadian History (Univ. of Toronto, 2015).

In addition to the academic content of the sessions, Mona, Tamara, and Leslie thought about other ways the conference might help build relationships between scholars. Of course, we will have 1/2-hour coffee breaks between sessions, an evening reception on Wednesday, the Society business meeting during lunch on Thursday, and a conference Banquet on Thursday night. But, a couple of new events will appear too. Following the Banquet, we’ll have a dance — that — ought to be entertaining. There will also be a “join SHCY” luncheon on Friday where Jim Marten will provide an update on the Journal for the History of Childhood and Youth.

Friday’s luncheon responds to one of the Society’s ongoing challenges – maintaining membership. It confronts all scholarly organizations. Our ability to run the journal, hold conferences, provide prizes for excellent work, collaborate with other organizations, and assist graduate students rests upon attracting dues-paying members. I asked Mona about other things she would like to put on the Society’s agenda as she begins her tenure as President. She named three: inviting/developing new leaders, establishing policies around endorsements, and creating a guide for conference planning. You can listen to our conversation above.

Aerial photo of UBC campusAs I write this report in a still-frozen Ontario March, with the coldest February on record chattering in my bones, I admit that some of my plans for SHCY-2015 are decidedly unprofessional. How pleasant will the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest be? From afar the UBC campus seems to be surrounded by lush parks, misty trails, sandy beaches, and (moving) water. Perhaps I’ll take a walk through the Nitobe Memorial Gardens on campus. The UBC Bike Kitchen rents bicycles, but runners might want to scout-out courses along nearby Jericho Beach or take a jog through Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Mona recommended visiting the University’s renowned Museum of Anthropology.

Beyond the campus, metropolitan Vancouver offers numerous opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and other adventures. You might even come across urban bald eagles if you take a stroll through beautiful Stanley Park, which boasts 400-hectares of rainforest, beaches, waterfront vistas, and more.

Photo of Vancouver skylineDowntown is a short 20-minute drive or 40-minute bus-ride from campus. It offers a variety of excellent restaurants, including the Bluewater Cafe + Raw Bar (Seafood), Chef Tony Seafood (Chinese), My Shanti (Indian), Mr. Red Cafe (Vietnamese), Absinthe Bistro (French), and Ask for Luigi (Italian). On your way downtown, you might visit Granville Island – an industrial site revamped for tourism – offering a farmer’s market, craft vendors, shops, galleries, and other entertainments.

Make your plans, extend your stay if you can, and consider becoming part of the Society.

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CHC Episode 10: By Birth or Consent

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.

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audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Holly Brewer, part 1
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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 10
 
This episode of CHC offers a conversation with Holly Brewer at the ten-year anniversary of her prize-winning book, By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority.

By Birth or Consent cover artHolly Brewer placed ideas about childhood and age at the center of the rise of modern, democratic political culture. It seems to me that her arguments about Anglo-American law are consistent Bernard Wishy’s and Jacqueline Reinier’s earlier work relating childhood to American liberal ideas. Clearly, there is a strong connection between the issues raised in By Birth and Consent and those of Corinne Field’s recent The Struggle for Equal Adulthood. See CHC Ep6.

During our discussion, we shared observations about the historical significance of age and childhood. Holly offered several stories about the initial difficulties she faced doing graduate work on children and the law during her doctoral studies at UCLA from 1987-1994. When she was defending the prospectus for her dissertation, Gary Nash said something to the effect of… “You’re right… nobody has asked… whether these political theory debates have anything to do with the lives of real children in the 17th- and the 18th-centuries, but maybe there is nothing to find. Maybe it is just a ridiculous question, and a kind of worthless one.”

Holly asks us to think about why would there be “blindness” on the part of social historians to the shifting, non universal character of childhood. She believes that the habits encouraged by “demographic and sociological techniques” fostered an inability to recognize the practices of pre-modern childhood. I added that current institutions are permeated with age-grading, and that it has become part of how we have attacked other forms of inequity and exclusion – those based on gender, race, class, etc.   Not only has age-grading become the ‘natural’ and invisible hierarchy, but as By Birth or Consent shows, liberal political and legal culture was produced (at least in part) through a new, universal distinction between the consenting adult and the dependent, developing child. Seeing childhood historically might destabilize a cornerstone of modern consensus about what constitutes a free and democratic society.

While discussing some of the detailed arguments within By Birth or Consent, I asked how she handled formalized texts such as legal treatises. What could they have to tell us about childhood as part of a living sensibility and practice for ordinary people? Holly argued that the realms of children and adults, everyday life and formal texts, the ideas of ordinary people and educated elites are “connected at so many different points.” If historians are unstudied in difficult, sometimes arcane discourses and languages they will do “a deeply problematic social history where you’re using modern conceptions [and reading them into] the 17th and 18th centuries, you’re putting our words in place of theirs…” She argued persuasively that a history from the bottom-up doesn’t need to be a history from the neck down.

We concluded by discussing her current book project on slavery, monarchy, and inheritance. Before the rise of a late-18th-century abolition movement, slavery was discussed more widely among the English than most of us understand. She explained that the promotion and growth of American slavery was less a necessary part of the pursuit of yeoman independence, than it was encouraged by the royal absolutism of the Stuart monarchs trying to build a British Empire. This line of argument draws upon the idea that patriarchal forms of inheritance were stronger in early America than historians have typically acknowledged.


 

Select Articles and Chapters by Holly Brewer:

“Entailing Aristocracy in Colonial Virginia: ‘Ancient Feudal Restraints’ and Revolutionary Reform,” William and Mary Quarterly vol. 54, no. 2 (April 1997): 307-346.

“Power and Authority in the Colonial South: The English Legacy and Its Contradictions,” in Britain and the American South: From Colonialism to Rock and Roll (University Press of Mississippi, 2003): 27-52.

“Apprenticeship Policy in Virginia: From Patriarchal to Republican Policies of Social Welfare,” in Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America edited by Ruth Wallis Herndon and John E. Murray (Cornell University Press, 2009): 183-198.

“Age of Reason? Children, Testimony, and Consent in Early America,” in The Many Legalities of Early America edited by Christopher Tomlins and Bruce Mann (University of North Carolina Press, 2012): 293-332.

“Subjects by Allegiance to the King? Debating Status and Power for Subjects -and Slaves- through the Religious Debates of the Early British Atlantic,” in State and Citizen: British America and the Early United States edited by Peter Thompson and Peter S. Onuf (University of Virginia Press, 2013): 25-51.

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CHC Episode 9: The Challenges of Childhood History

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.

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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 9
 

Tessa Chynoweth and Catherine Rose - conveners of "Challenges of the History of Childhood," January 16, 2015 - Queen Mary University of London.
Tessa Chynoweth and Catherine Rose – conveners of “Challenges of the History of Childhood,” January 16, 2015 – Queen Mary University of London.

This episode of CHC offers video recordings of the two keynote addresses delivered January 16, 2015 at “Challenges of the History of Childhood” hosted by Queen Mary University of London. [Challenges in the History of Childhood Program PDF]

The meeting was organized by Catherine Rose and Tessa Chynoweth. It brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to share ideas about common problems facing the historical study of childhood. The one-day event offered 14 papers dealing broadly with the relationships between ideas and lived experience within the field. It called for a discussion of memory, interdisciplinarity, the historicity of age, cultural comparison, institutional space, and the significance of historical research on childhood.

Pooley Keynote Lecture

In “Children’s writing and subjectivity in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century England,” Siȃn Pooley provided a close reading of children’s contributions to and correspondence with late-19th/early-20th century periodicals and their editors. She explores children’s writing, family relations, public presence, and the production of the self to pose questions about agency, power, and causality.

Click here to access an audio recording synced with slides from Pooley’s keynote lecture.

Select Publications by Sian Pooley:

“Children’s writing and the popular press in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century England,” History Workshop Journal 80 (forthcoming 2015)

“‘Leagues of Love’ and ‘Column Comrades’: Children’s Responses to War in late-Victorian and Edwardian England,” in L. Paul and R. Johnston (eds), Approaching War: Childhood, Culture and the First World War, ed. by L. Paul and R. Johnston (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming)

Co-edited with K. Qureshi, Parenthood Between Generations: Transforming Reproductive Cultures (Berghahn: Oxford, forthcoming)

“Parenthood, child-rearing and fertility in England, 1850-1914,” History of the Family, 18:1 (2013), pp. 83-106.

“‘All we parents want is that our children’s health and lives should be regarded’: child health and parental concern in England, c.1860-1910,” Social History of Medicine, 23:3, (2010), pp. 528-48.

Co-edited with C.G. Pooley and R. Lawton, The diary of Elizabeth Lee: growing up on Merseyside in the late nineteenth century (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010).

“Domestic servants and their urban employers: a case study of Lancaster 1880-1914,” Economic History Review, 62: 2 (2009), pp. 405-29.

Newton Keynote Lecture

In “Voices of Sick Children: Challenges and Solutions in the History of Childhood,” Hannah Newton explored five major issues:
(1) a lack of written records by children;
(2) the temptation to assess authenticity of past children’s actions based on the present;
(3) the difficulty of assessing emotions and pain of persons in the past;
(4) urge to make ethical judgments about past practices;
(5) lack of evidence regarding poor children.

Click here to view a video recording of Newton’s keynote lecture.

Click here to view the slide show to follow along with Newton’s lecture.

Special Note: The Powerpoint presentation for Newton’s talk has not been sync’d with the video recording (nor were we able to create a ‘split-screen’ presentation). If you open both links in separate windows, and use the pause button to halt the slides as necessary, you should be able to follow along nicely.

Select Publications by Hannah Newton:

“‘Nature Concocts & Expels’: The Agents and Processes of Recovery from Disease in Early Modern England” (forthcoming) in Social History of Medicine (2015).

The Sick Child in Early Modern England, 1580–1720 (Oxford University Press, 2012; paperback 2014)

“The Sick Child in Early Modern England,” Endeavour, 38 (2014), 122–29.

“Children’s Physic: Medical Perceptions and Treatment of Sick Children in Early Modern England, c. 1580–1720,” Social History of Medicine, 23 (2010), 456–74. (open access)

“‘Very Sore Nights & Days”: The Child’s Experience of Illness in Early Modern England, c. 1580–1720,” Medical History, 55 (2011), 153–182. (open access)
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CHC Episode 8: Nailing Jelly to a Wall

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.

[gn_spoiler title=”Audio of Patrick Ryan’s Conversation with James Marten” open=”1″ style=”2″]
audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with James Marten, part 1 (.mp3)
Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with James Marten, part 2 (.mp3)
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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 8
 
In 1998, I told Kris Lindenmeyer that I thought childhood was a secondary designation for historians. It had been ancillary to other fields for about a half-century. At that juncture, I was unconvinced that a network on H-Net dedicated only to the historical study of childhood would be viable. We should consider linking it with related areas of interest. Kris disagreed. She was recruiting me to help her start H-Childhood, and she was sure it would be a mistake to explicitly pair a network in childhood history with closely associated areas like families, social policy, or education. I do not recall her arguments in detail, but she may have seen that adding another category would shrink the pool of potential subscribers by excluding those with interests outside of whatever area we chose.

I still think the study of childhood is a secondary designation for most of us, and the ways that the new technologies altered the implications of this fact are unsettled. Oh, some developments are obvious. The internet facilitated collaboration beyond traditional geographic limits in ways that encouraged specialization. You might be one of a few scholars interested in studying childhood historically in your locale, but that would mean there were thousands like you globally. Sixteen years later, H-Childhood continues to provide a means for about 1,700 scholars across the globe to communicate at the click of a button.

It is also clear today that “networking” scholars might facilitate interest in a topic, but it is not the same thing as creating a coherent field of study. Early in the life of H-Net, there was a hope that the new technology might provide an alternative to academic conferences, journals, and societies. Might it be possible to hold virtual meetings and generate scholarly discourse that was more open, free, frequent, and dynamic? This vision has yet to be fulfilled. Scholarship continues to depend upon enclosed, costly, slow-paced, quiet, solitary labour. Email lists, websites, twitter feeds (and what have you) lack key features of personal presence and thoughtful debate. Travel, face-to-face relationships are especially important for a long-distance scholarly community.

This said, H-Childhood seems to have facilitated a wider set of activities. It helped a small group of historians (who met in Baltimore in 2000) to reach hundreds of colleagues across disciplines and outside of the United States to hold a childhood history conference at Marquette University in 2001. This became the founding meeting of the Society for the History of Children and Youth.

The Society’s biennial conferences never struggled to field panels. Today they include 220-250 papers and have been held on both coasts of the U.S., Sweden, and England; in 2015 SHCY will visit Vancouver, British Columbia. The current 320 dues-paying members live in twenty-three countries (although 183 are concentrated in the U.S. with another 60 residing in Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand).

Like H-Childhood, SHCY has pursued an interdisciplinary, international, and topically diverse membership in an academic context that remains disciplinary, national, methodologically specialized. The tension between these poles is obvious in a simple recounting of the Society’s early leadership. SHCY‘s first three Presidents and its first three program committee chairs were all Americanists with primary training in the 19th and early 20th-century social history (Kris Lindenmeyer, Ray Hiner, Joe Hawes, Jim Marten, Paula Fass, and Julia Grant). Nevertheless, the first conferences succeeded in reaching outside this area of concentration. They were strongly attended by Canadians and Scandinavians – and to a lesser extent – by scholars outside of social history. If my memory serves, Bengt Sandin was one among a number of leaders (notably supported by Paula Fass) who encouraged SHCY to amend its mission statement, formally re-structure its executive board, and plan its conferences to promote the study of childhood historically across temporal, geographic, national, and disciplinary boundaries after 2005.

In my view, explicit internationalism has made SHCY‘s conferences more interesting and compelling. Casting the net wide also must have helped the meetings reach a critical mass of attendees.

issue cover artIn just a few years, SHCY demonstrated that childhood history would attract numbers adequate to support an academic periodical. A group of scholars mostly based near Amherst, Massachusetts (Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Martha Saxton, Laura Lovett, Brian Bunk, and Jon Pahl) formed the first editorial team for the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth in 2008. The editors’ were themselves a diverse group with multi-disciplinary designations: a scholar of 19th-century literature, two historians of women, an expert on modern Spanish popular culture and sport, and professor of Christian theology and religious history. So too, the executive board of JHCY included members located across North America, Europe, and Australia with expertise in American, Canadian, European, Asian, and Australian history.

The founders of the Journal were willing to experiment. They formed an editorial “collective” with a rotating chief. In retrospect, this non-hierarchical editorial structure seems consistent with the diffusion of historical research on childhood. Each issue came with its own introductory statement authored by the standing Editor. None of the first editors claimed childhood as their primary scholarly designation (and they still don’t); childhood was and is “an interest” for most studying it historically. The articles offered a wide temporal, geographic, cultural, and topical range, and explored childhood from multiple disciplines with theoretically diverse assumptions. Each issue began with an “object lesson” – short presentations of cultural productions that were suited to classroom use. Every number included a piece on contemporary childhood policy. If there was a thematic volume, say on children’s rights or schooling, more than one geographic area and/or vastly different periods of time would be represented. Even the cover art on every issue sported three images, rather than one. All and everything childhood was welcome.

The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth has been the most important organizational accomplishment within childhood historical study. I remain impressed by the ongoing growth of academic programs, conferences, and networks dedicated to the area. Yet, I wonder about intellectual coherence in an era that combines globalization and specialization. Peter Novick once wrote that making history is like nailing jelly to a wall (a structure framed by disciplinary standards or a given school of thought); maybe the emergent field of childhood history was possible precisely because we were willing to forgo walls. Has the result been something like a hammer striking jelly in freefall?

I admit this is more of a provocation, than a question. But these thoughts encouraged me to ask Jim Marten, the current President of SHCY and new Editor of JHCY, about how he understands the challenges of the temporal, geographic, and methodological diversity of childhood history.

Jim described his own path toward the study of childhood as something that was ancillary to his primary training as an history of the American Civil War. We discussed how this part of his background is aligned with general features of the emergence of childhood history. Our conversation moved into an extended discussion of how he approaches his duties as editor. He emphasized that he wants the journal to advance historically significant work upon childhood and youth. Pursuing this priority is complicated in an interdisciplinary area that attempts to cast wide methodological, geographic, and chronological nets. Yet, this vast scope is part of why the journal and the conferences are bolstered by strong participation from a diverse range of scholars.

Toward the conclusion of the conversation Jim extolled the intensity of the intellectual exchange at the conferences. However, he expressed two concerns: (1) will we maintain an adequate number of dues paying members and (2) can we develop a group of new leaders for the society over the next decade? He suggested that SHCY may be having difficulty maintaining membership consistent with the numbers we field at conferences and on H-Childhood, because research in the field exists in-between and as an extension of so many diverse and distinct interests and topics. Childhood study remains a secondary identification. This makes it more difficult for SHCY to compete for paying members.

Interesting, isn’t it? The development of a specialization in childhood history became possible because we made a concerted effort to collaborate across important boundaries; but, these boundaries have remained paramount and may inhibit the growth of the organizations that serve childhood history. I am not particularly troubled by this state of affairs. But, it may be useful for those studying childhood historically to try to understand it. Listen to our recorded conversation above.

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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.

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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 7
 
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.

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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.

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audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Corinne T. Field
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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).
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CHC Episode 5: Producing Self-Regulating Subjects

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.

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The U.S. Department of Health – Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2010 that boys (12%) were more than twice as likely as girls (5%) to have been diagnosed with ADHD; and kids living in households without a mother or a father (15%) were twice as likely to suffer from the disorder than those living with both parents (7.5%). The CDC‘s 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health reported very significant regional differences too. In the old American south ADHD was assigned to one child (4-17 years) in seven to ten, while from California to Texas it was used for perhaps one in fifteen or twenty children.

This is big business. During the 1990s sales of Ritalin increased more than 7 fold in the U.S., and more than 5 fold in Canada. By 2002 the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. posted a profit of 36 billion USD and held an average profitability margin of 18.5% of sales (the Fortune 500 average is 3.3%).1 According the CDC, by 2012 about 1 in 5 high-school-aged American boys had been diagnosed with ADHD, and among them about 2 out of 3 were prescribed medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. TheNew York Times reported that total annual sales of drugs to treat ADHD had more than doubled (from 4 to 9 billion USD) between 2007 to 2012.

How might we grasp the startling history of ADHD? What does it tell us about childhood?

Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) addressed the question in 2008 when he told the watchdog organization he helped found, Citizens Commission on Human Rights, that ADHD should no more be confused with a medical condition than “spring fever” should be confused with typhoid fever. Common phrases such as – “he has a chemical imbalance in the brain” – are part of an ideology that serves the interests of the psychiatric profession by extending the domain of the somatic into the social. In Szasz’s view, such falsehoods are general to psychiatric thought and the stakes could not be higher: “I have long maintained that the child psychiatrist is one of the most dangerous enemies not only of children, but of adults, of all of us who care to the most precious and most vulnerable things in life. And these things are children and liberty.”2

A mirror image of Szasz’s claims against psychiatry appears in the parent-centered magazine ADDitude. In “Silencing the Skeptics,” Debra Carpenter says the medical authorities are in consensus that ADHD is “real.” Repeatedly, ADDitude tells its readers not to blame themselves or others: “If your ADD son could exert the control necessary to conform, he would.” Free yourself from guilt by helping your child with brain training games and by optimizing the meds. Rather than Szasz’s picture of the isolated mother duped by the concealed interests of the psychiatric profession, the assumed reader of Additude is a competent agent, an active parent who attacks the disorder and all its possible outcomes. ADHD is not something one can outgrow and its boundaries spill into every part of ordinary life. It presents challenges in matters of money, career, and love. But there is hope. A drop-down menu provides a way to “join the community” with “ADDconnect.”

mother hugging daughter next to message "Don't Punish Me or My Child! ADHD symptoms are real, not the result of bad parenting."
A common theme found in the magazine “ADDitude.”

At least two positions are necessary conditions for the polar responses to ADHD. (1) Anti-psychiatry rejects the somantic basis of ADHD, while organizations like ADDitude support it. The debate requires a sharp distinction between ‘real’ phenomena and cultural constructions. Sometimes this is translated into the distinction between a material world external to the mind and a representational one that is produced by the mind. (2) Anti-psychiatry presents ADHD as a fraudulent diagnosis which robs children of childhood and all of us of meaningful freedom. Those who embrace the diagnosis see its treatment as necessary to allow people to master themselves, to establish the self-control necessary to live well at liberty. Both parties place childhood in a particularly important place within the development of competent agents.

I discussed these issues in a recent conversation with MacEwan University’s Gregory Bowden, who has published two excellent articles on ADHD in the past year.3 Bowden explained that similar diagnoses are nearly a half-century old, and that psychiatric attempts to categorize a lack of impulse control were present in the late-19th-century.4 The current debate often ignores this history, just as it assumes (incorrectly in Bowden’s view) that “real” science is apolitical and asocial. Bowden emphasized that the debate over ADHD has reinforced discursive practices that treat childhood as a site for intervention. He urges us to see the expansion pharmacological treatments for children on a continuum of disciplinary practices that include checklists, systems of reward-punishment, and other forms of behaviour modification.

Taking this perspective, Bowden see ADHD as project to “produce responsible subjects” through childhood. In his articles, he argued persuasively that the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder exists on the edge of a paradox. One is freed from ADHD by becoming bound to the terms of responsibility. Yet, the very idea of responsibility rests upon the assumption that conduct is determined by the will. What is a child diagnosed with ADHD, if not a person whose conduct is beyond the will? This does not mean that ADHD makes no sense (nor is it an attack upon disciplinary technologies more broadly). Instead, recognizing this tension might help us understand what the ADHD debate produces on the landscape of modern childhood.


1Susan McBride, “Pharmaceutical Industry Practices and the Medicalization of Childhood: Is Pathology for Sale?” Windsor Review of Legal & Social Issues no. 23 (2007): 55-83.

2 As quoted in the clip posted by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQegsqYhuZE). Szasz’s reading of psychiatry was established in many publications over decades. See The Myth of Mental Illness: foundations of a theory of personal conduct (New York: Hoeber-Harper, 1961); Ideology and Insanity: essays on the psychiatric dehumanization of Man (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1970); The Therapeutic State: psychiatry in the mirror of current events (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984).

3 Gregory Bowden, “Disorders of inattention and hyperactivity: The production of responsible subjects,” History of the Human Sciences vol. 27 (2014) 88–107; “The Merit of Sociological Accounts of Disorder: The Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder case,” Health vol. 18 (Jul 2014): 422-438.

4 Rick Mayes and Adam Rafalovich, “Suffer the restless children: The Evolution of ADHD and paediatric stimulate use, 1900-1980,” History of Psychiatry vol. 18, no. 4 (Dec 2007): 435-457.

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CHC Episode 4: Developmental Thinking

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.

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This episode of CHC offers an extended two-part conversation with André Turmel, professor emeritus at Laval University in Quebec City and author of the 2008 book A Historical Sociology of Childhood.

Turmel begins by summarizing how he came to the historical sociology of childhood. He gained his commitment to history while studying at the University of Provence Aix Marseille I, where Annalistes historians such as Georges Duby and Paul Veyne were linked to the sociologists who trained him. He saw childhood has an area that needed sociological attention, noting that for most of the twentieth-century sociologists focused upon the family, leaving childhood to the psychologists. Citing the examples of Talcot Parsons and Pierre Bourdieu, Turmel claims that until quite recently, leading sociologists have uncritically imported developmental psychology into sociological theory.

In response, Turmel developed an historical sociology of childhood by drawing upon some of the ideas of Bruno Latour, and building on the insights of the physician and historical philosopher Georges Canguilhem’s post-WWII work on the normal and the pathological.

His research utilizes precise analytic concepts, but these are fashioned through detailed archival efforts. Most of our conversation focused upon Turmel’s key concepts for investigating modern childhood: “graphic visualization,” “the normal child,” and “developmental thinking as a cognitive form.”

Select Works by André Turmel:

A Historical Sociology of Childhood. Developmental Thinking, Categorization and Graphic Visualization (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

“Das normale Kind: Zwischen Kategorisierung, Statistik und Entwicklung,” in Ganz normale Kinder: Heterogenität und Standardisierung kindlicher Entwicklung edited by Helga Helle and Anja Tervooren (Juventa, 2008): 17-40.

“La catégorie d’orphelin en milieu institutionnel. Quelques paramètres pour la région de Québec (1850-1950),” in Québec-Wallonie. Dynamiques des espaces et expériences francophones edited by Brigitte Caulier and Luc Courtois (Laval University Press, 2006): 113-134.

“De la fatalité de penser la maturation au terme de développement. Esquisse d’une alternative,” in Questions pour une sociologie de l’enfance edited by Régine Sirota (University of Rennes Press, 2006): 63-73.

“Towards a Historical Sociology of Developmental Thinking: the Case of Generation,” Paedagogica Historica vol. 40, issue 4 (August 2004): 419-433

“Historiography of Children in Canada,” in Histories of Canadian Children and Youth edited by Nancy Janovicek and Joy Parr (Oxford University Press, 2003): 10-18.
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CHC Episode 3: Ireland: Reading Childhood Comparatively

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.

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With the Irish Research Council and St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, the Society for the History of Children and Youth provided support for a conference on the history of childhood in Ireland in June, 2014. The conference drew over fifty papers covering an impressive diversity of issues, and offered four thought-provoking plenary lectures. Listen above to a conversation about it and the development of the field of childhood history in Ireland with one of the organizers, Mary Hatfield – Ph.D. Candidate at Trinity College, Dublin.

Organizers of "Twenty Years A-Growing" from left to right: Sarah-Anne Buckley, Mary Hatfield, Marnie Hay, Riona Nic Congail, and Gaye Ashford (another member - Jutta Kruse - not shown).
Organizers of “Twenty Years A-Growing” from left to right: Sarah-Anne Buckley, Mary Hatfield, Marnie Hay, Riona Nic Congail, and Gaye Ashford (another member – Jutta Kruse – not shown).
To prepare for the conference, I surveyed 40 peer-reviewed articles and chapters on Irish childhood history published over the previous decade and delivered a review of the literature. This reading and the conference experience left me with a few comparative observations. It also affirmed for me the value of reading childhood history comparatively across national boundaries.

About ten years ago there was a sustained increase in publications on Irish childhood history. The trend seems to be increasing every year. These efforts are interdisciplinary and predominantly focused on modern Ireland – that is familiar in other national contexts. Two narratives organize current Irish literature: (1) studies that tell a story of structural and institutional deprivation and mistreatment of Irish children since the mid-19th-century; (2) studies that explore the relationships between childhood, youth, and the politics of nationalism in late-19th- and 20th-century Ireland.1 I suspect continuing efforts will extend beyond these dominant concerns with deprivation and nationalism, yet (given my limited examination) there is room for more work on youth consumer culture & sports, educational institutions (outside of residential schools), the history of scientific ideas about childhood (outside of paediatrics).

This said, the current emphases in Irish historiography prepare fertile ground for considering important comparative issues. My attention was drawn to a familiar tension between modern ideals of childhood and the existence of workhouses (or poorhouses) in the mid/late 19th-century. Influenced by ideas about childhood conditioning and innocence, like other elites, many Irish leaders feared workhouses would “pauperize” children through association with the worst kind of adults. At the same time, Irish authorities held the prejudice that ordinary Irish homes were unfit to raise children by middle-class standards. Neither the family as it was, nor institutions as they had been previously built, were adequate. This dilemma (common in other nations) created the framework for a vast overhaul of childhood policy in the late-19th- and 20th-century.2

While the Irish shared key elements of a larger childhood-saving concern, their discourse developed unique features. There was a much stronger fear that practices such as foster care or “friendly visiting” (later professional casework) would be used to proselytize across confessional boundaries. Since, the Church exercised more influence over governmental policy and held a unique position within identity politics, the balance tipped decidedly toward building large Church-run institutions for children.3 As it is still said in Ireland, the poor or troublesome child was “sent to the laundries” – residential schools typically run by nuns. The rise of juvenile courts, legal adoption, foster care, the rationalization of “outdoor” relief, the professionalization of social work, and a multitude of structures that advanced middle-class childhood discourse over the past 150 years in North America and Great Britain did not have the same presence or timing in Irish childhood history.

You might say that the relationship between the child and the modern state captured by the Anglo-American doctrine of “the best interests of the child,” has been particularly contentious, and perhaps incongruous with primary features of Irish culture.4 This seems consistent with Caroline Skehill’s 2004 historical study of social work in Ireland, but the sources and consequences of this divergence are not obvious to me.5 If Ireland was different, was it due to an ability to maintain elements of master-servant childhood? What is the Pauline exhortation? Husband-wife, parent-child, master-servant are “one-flesh.”6 It is more than tantalizing to contrast this ancient doctrine with Ellen Key’s 1909 claim that “the century of the child” could only begin when humanity “abandoned the Christian point of view” and embraced the “holiness of generation.”7

Before going too far down this road, we might recall one of Ian Miller’s excellent points in his 2013 study of 19th-century Irish industrial schools and reformatories. Miller urged us to resist condemnation of the past or the propensity to see Irish childhood history only for what it lacked.8 If the Irish industrial schools and reformatories (founded upon confessional division and a jaundice view of family life) inflicted harm, it would not follow that other national histories offer rational policy alternatives, harmless “best-practices.” Taking this a step further, one might reconsider the narrative of trauma and survival fashioned to such popularity by the hyperbolic Frank McCourt. If taken as an axiom, the idea that nothing is so miserably heroic as Irish Catholic childhood forecloses other ways of reading the history of Irish childhood.9

When considering the lessons of childhood practices in Ireland, historians would do well to reflect on the prefiguring potential of the narrative of childhood trauma and survival. It has certainly framed the histories of childhood policy in other, purportedly more “modernized,” countries: Bernardo’s global farming out of “Home Children” from England to Australia and Canada; Charles Loring Brace’s orphan trains from U.S. eastern cities to the western states.10 Canada constructed a large residential school project to assimilate First Nation children in institutions run by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, paid for by the Federal Government. The Canadian assault upon indigenous culture, its humiliation and violence has been called “cultural genocide” recently. These projects, apologized for today, were once proudly advanced as means to human progress.11

A comparative perspective might call into question the idea that if only Irish childhood practices had caught-up sooner, all would have been better (or at least less miserable). So many practices advanced earlier and more thoroughly outside of Ireland have come under critical review and debate. These include the professional investigation of the poor, compulsory standardized education, the removal of children and youth from paid work, not to mention the massive pharmacological network framing the treatment of North American children and youth today.12

It seems to me that the medicalization of childhood policy, what André Turmel called “developmental thinking as a cognitive form,” was later and less comprehensively instituted in Ireland.13 Taking a comparative view, it is difficult to read this as simply a blessing or a curse, but it is clearly a significant point for analysis. The difference might have been related to what Robbie Gilligan reasonably names Ireland’s history as a “reluctant state.”14 Yet – here again – a comparative view complicates the matter. If we call Ireland a “reluctant state” (defining it by what it lacked), are we saying that modern childhood policy gains its unifying features by the triumph of a medical model? Do modern child-state relations have this sort of global essence? Or, might there be multiple reluctances among us? Might it be that states are apt to do many different things? If they have purposes at all, might these be temporary, contingent, protean, and divergent?

These questions are asked without denying that historians possess reasonably compelling ways to position the child-state relationship in particular places and times. It compresses too much, but we might say that in America, a reluctant state developed from late-18th-century Republican motherhood and the idea that insecurity and competition are necessary for developing manhood. These threads became aligned against church-state monopolies, but in the 20th-century they formed around certain bio-political techniques.15 The “reluctant” state in Ireland seems to have emerged from the growing monopoly of Church institutions in the 19th-century with a complex connection with Irish nationalist identity and developed different (perhaps less subtle and less effective) disciplinary regimes. Juxtaposing two quite divergent “reluctant” states should disrupt the notion that the child-state relation moves toward the realization of an essential form; the idea of progress (or decline) may serve reformers better than historians.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this genealogical reading of the past may move categories, cast doubts upon assumptions, and put us in a position of perpetual critique.16 Maybe it leaves us with nothing better than history and comparison, and calls us to read about childhood outside of our most familiar frameworks of time and place. To do so remains a laborious and risky thing. We are usually historians of a time, a place, a culture, before we are historians of childhood. Boundaries are not easily discarded, even if we sense that childhood is a discourse passing and shifting between eras – traversing state structures, and that it might be illuminated best upon a wide historical landscape.


 

1 This essay will focus on the first of these two lines of inquiry. In the literature on nationalism and identity, many articles documented the institutional histories of youth voluntary associations. A fine example is Marnie Hay, “The Foundation and Development of Na Fianna Éireann, 1909-16,” Irish Historical Studies v. 36, n. 141 (May 2008): 53-71. Others take a cultural studies approach, such as Ríona Nic Congáil, “Young Ireland and The Nation: Nationalist Children’s Culture in the Late Nineteenth Century,” ÉireIreland v. 46 (Fall/Winter 2011): 37-62.

2 For a concise overview of part of this period with a useful bibliography see, Lindsey Earner-Byrne, “Reinforcing the family: The role of gender, morality and sexuality in Irish welfare policy, 1922-1944,” The History of the Family v. 13 (2008): 360-369.

3 Virginia Crossman, “Cribbed, Contained, and Confined?: The Care of Children under the Irish Poor Law, 1850-1920,” ÉireIreland v. 44 (Spring/Summer 2009): 37-61.

4 This is a complex issue. See Moira J. Maguire and Séamas Ó Cinnéide, “‘A Good Beating Never Hurt Anyone’: The Punishment and Abuse of Children in Twentieth Century Ireland,” Journal of Social History v. 38, no. 3 (2005): 335-352; Sarah-Anne Buckley, “Child neglect, poverty and class: the NSPCC in Ireland, 1889-1939 – a case study,” Saothar: Journal of the Irish Labour History Society (2008): 57-69; Maria Luddy, “The early years of the NSPCC in Ireland,” Eire-Ireland v. 44 (Spring/Summer 2009): 62-90; Mary E. Daly, “The primary and natural educator? The role of parents in the education of their children in independent Ireland,” ÉireIreland v. 44 (Spring/Summer 2009): 194-217.

5 Caroline Skehill, History of the Present Child Protection and Welfare Social Work in Ireland (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004).

6 See Patrick Joseph Ryan, Master-Servant Childhood: a history of the idea of childhood in medieval English culture (New York: Palgrave, 2013).

7 Ellen Key, The Century of the Child (New York: Putnam, 1909): 3.

8 Ian Miller, “Constructing Moral Hospitals: Childhood Health in Irish Reformatories and Industrial Schools, c. 1851-1890,” in Growing Pains: Childhood Illness in Irish History, 1750-1950 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2013): 108.

9 The narrative of trauma and survival is highlighted on the first page and the jacket cover of Angela’s Ashes. Given in the authorial voice of the adult just prior to taking the child’s point of view, McCourt tells us that when he looks back on his “…childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes: a memoir (New York: Scribner, 1996).

10 Roy A. Parker, Uprooted: the shipment of poor children to Canada, 1867-1917 (Bristol: Policy Press, 2008); Alan Gill, Orphans of the Empire: the shocking story of child migration to Australia (Alexandra: Vintage Australia, 1997); Philip Bean and Joy Melville, Lost Children of the Empire: the untold story of Britain’s child migrants (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

11 On the Canadian aboriginal residential schools see Celia Haig-Brown, Resistance and Renewal: surviving the Indian residential school (Vancouver: Tillacum, 1988). See also this 1955 CBC news release.

12 Ansgar Allen, Benign Violence: Education in and beyond the Age of Reason (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Michael Bourdillon et al eds., The Rights and Wrongs of Children’s Work (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010); Louise Armstrong, And They Call It Help: the Psychiatric Policing of America’s Children (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1993).

13 This is a general observation of my own, rather than a point of a particular study. The “medicalization of childhood” refers to an approach toward the lives of young people including policies, diagnostic tools and language, treatments systems, and more. For example, see Tom Feeney, “Church, State and Family: The Advent of Child Guidance in Independent Ireland,” Social History of Medicine v. 25, no. 4 (2012): 848-863.

14 Robbie Gilligan, “The ‘Public Child’ and the Reluctant State?” Eire-Ireland v. 44 (Spring/Summer 2009): 265-290.

15 The classic treatment of the establishment of bio-political techniques in the British and American situation is found in Nikolas Rose, Governing the Soul: the shaping of the private self (London: Routledge, 1989).

16 See Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews edited by D.F. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977): 139-164; and Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?” in The Foucault Reader edited by Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1984): 32-50.

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CHC Episode 2: Teaching Childhood as Discourse for Professionals

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.

[gn_spoiler title=”Audio of Patrick Ryan’s Conversation with Jonas Qvarsebo and Johan Dahlbeck” open=”1″ style=”2″]

audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Jonas Qvarsebo and Johan Dahlbeck (.mp3)
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Transcript coming soon!
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Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 2
 
Since 2011, each May sixteen students from Kings University College – Canada and Malmö University – Sweden have joined an international exchange seminar in the study of childhood.   Students travel to each other’s countries attend lectures on the history of social institutions and critical thought; we discuss a common set of readings.

Students and Faculty of the Kings-Malmo International Comparative Seminar in Childhood Study.  May, 2013 - London, Ontario.
Students and Faculty of the Kings-Malmo International Comparative Seminar in Childhood Study. May, 2013 – London, Ontario.

Admission to the program is competitive and drawn from the undergraduate programs in Childhood and Social Institutions at Kings, and within the Faculty of Education and Society at Malmö. The students’ professional paths lean toward the field of education – complimented by their interests in social work, law, and health care. The course provides an avenue for those headed into the helping professions to read and think about childhood more critically. For many of them, it provides their first opportunity to travel across the Atlantic. Much of the learning happens through the relationships between students. A number have made second-trips to Canada or Sweden building upon the friendships initiated by the seminar.

The seminar’s comparative readings, discussions, and lectures prompt students to reconsider their categories. Typically, English Canadians are at pains to distinguish themselves from Americans, but maintaining this winkle of identity in a situation where the Scandinavian-North American comparison is paramount becomes precarious to say the least. Even a brief introduction into Swedish social policy or educational practices makes the comparative weakness of social democracy in Canada obvious.
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CHC Episode 1: What to Make of Child-Saving Discourse?

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.

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audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Shurlee Swain (.mp3)
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Download: Full Transcript of Patrick Ryan’s Conversation with Shurlee Swain (PDF)
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Click to Download a PDF of CHC Episode 1
 
This summer British Airways interrupted my in-flight movie to ask for a charitable donation.  There we were, jet-setting at six kilometres above the earth, as a promotional video showed silken flight attendants and pilots walking a dusty road hand-in-hand with barefooted African children.  Seeing passengers fold-up their “High Life” magazines to toss a few dollars into a hat, while these images were projected upon rows of individualized screens, struck me as one of the world’s particularly absurd moments.

Several weeks later, I searched in vain for this video.  It may have vanished from cyber-space after a pilot took his own life amid allegations that he had molested children while participating in the Airline’s program; law suits have followed.  British Airways’ programs are hardly alone in providing a venue for the exploitation of children, anymore than child-rescue or child-saving discourse is incidental to larger structures of class, race, and globalization.[1]

The most troubling stories are simultaneously familiar and disorienting.  What to think?

Should we read ever popular child-saving campaigns for ideological concealment – as if they were like the happiness blankets offered in-flight to facilitate “deep, undisturbed sleep”?  This is part of the story. Companies hope to associate themselves and what they sell with progress and human well-being. Canada’s Free the Children calls their corporate sponsors “change makers,” “visionaries,” “champions,” “ambassadors,” and “friends” – valuable tributes for Allstate, Cineplex, Ford (and others) in a media saturated world.  But, there is more to it.  If We Day (proclaimed as a “rock concerts for social change”) feels like a “pep-rally”, it also features everything from the Dalai Lama to Justin Bieber. There must be more than one line of thought at work.
Barnardos
Consider Barnardos history of manipulation of childhood images. The photograph above created controversy in late 1999 by showing an infant injecting himself with heroine. The caption read, “Battered as a child, it was always possible that John would turn to drugs.  With Barnardo’s help, child abuse need not lead to an empty future.” The image was purportedly designed to raise consciousness and money for preventative programs for ‘at-risk’ youth.  Some publications refused to run it – arguing it was obscene. It doesn’t offend me, but it also does more than its producers say they intended. The image hails forth the possibility that a young adult addict remains in essence a person worthy of forgiveness and care – like a child. Though more caustic, its affect is similar to the substitutions used in Goebel Reeves‘ “Hobo’s Lullaby,” performed by both Woody and Arlo Guthrie. In these texts, the juxtaposition of image or melody and word begins to erase a distinction that child-saving discourse itself relies upon: the polarity between innocence and guilt, between purity and profanity. As they destabilize the line separating the saved from the damned, they propagate an unsettling feature of modern discourses of personal transformation – something akin to what Stanley Fish called “self-consuming artifacts.”[2]

If nothing else, the complexity of these texts foster thoughts and feelings that might move readers in opposing directions.  They produce conflict at least as much as they conceal it.  This is another reason to be careful with the concept of ideology.  As Mitchell Dean explains, the “objective of ideology critique is to unmask the ideological content of language to reveal real relations of subordination.”[3]  Ideology critique handles the power-knowledge relation by discounting not only multiplicity, but the possibility that culture produces who we ‘really’ are and how we “actually” relate.  If language is not a mask, but is the way we produce ourselves and our relations, then there is no pre-discursive “real” or “root” or “base” to be revealed.  Analysis should ask what texts do, not what they hide or uncover.

Continue reading “CHC Episode 1: What to Make of Child-Saving Discourse?”