Material Culture, Labor and Childhood Identities

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Children's Literature Association MLA 2019
contact email: 

Material Culture, Labor and Childhood Identities

            While one founding narrative of children's literature relates to children consuming the books, toys and other objects that are marketed to them (think of John Newberry's original pin-cushion and ball tie-ins); it is now well-established in children's literature that children made and continue to make objects themselves as part of play (as in the phenomenon of amateur press printing, or needlework objects made as gifts), work (through jobs in textile factories, apprenticeships, or even enslavement) or as part of their education (as in samplers and diaries).While scholars such as Robin Bernstein and Karen Sánchez-Eppler have begun to foreground objects made by children as primary sites for investigating their agency, however, this agency is still often thought of in terms of resistance. In our panel, we would like to think through how objects not only help children resist or collaborate with adult desires, but also how children might use objects or their labor in making them to affiliate themselves with different communities of adults or children, or different cultural, ethnic, racial, gendered, or religious identities.

            Our session would also engage in the ongoing conversation about theorizing children's agency exemplified by Marah Gubar's theory of collaboration. However, we aim to move beyond focusing just on middle-class children's contributions and Anglo-European children's contributions to focus more on the experiences of children of color and working-class children--many of whose stories feature identification with the adults closest to them, and collective resistance alongside adults to systems of injustice that attempt to oppress them based on their identities (i.e. when children do paid labor to help their families, engage in protests with their families, or become educated in order to help more marginalized adults in their communities).

            Papers engaging with any aspect of childhood labor and its role in shaping identity are welcomed. Proposals that take an interdisciplinary approach--either in their use of sources or methodologies--are particularly encouraged. Please send a 500-word proposal to Elissa Myers (emyers2@gradcenter.cuny.edu) and Chloe Flower (cf1016@nyu.edu) by March 1, 2018.