Theorizing the Child for the Twenty-First Century

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Modern Language Association

Theorizing the Child for the Twenty-First Century

Call for Papers for MLA 2021


What is a child in the twenty-first century? Scholars have long theorized figurations of childhood: the child has represented innocence, a pure point of origin, selfhood constituted through memory, as well as an emblem of futurity. These are also distinctly Western notions of childhood, typically synonymous with whiteness and wealth. Such characteristics have never described the reality of childhood, but recent scholarship has begun to explore how such figural children are giving way to new forms in the context of neoliberalism and impending climate disaster. In a 2016 special issue of GLQ,“The Child Now,” editors Jules Gill-Peterson, Rebekah Sheldon and Kathryn Bond Stockton remark how “the concept of the future has changed in this century,” and thus the familiar figural children from the twentieth century have come to represent outdated notions of development and futurity. In her book The Child to Come, Sheldon describes a distinctly twenty-first century phenomena: “the literal and material conjunction of the child and capital.” As such, she argues that the child is now more often imagined as a form of capital available for exploitation rather than a latent subject in need of shaping or directing. And yet, what does it mean that the figure of the child persists in both old and new forms? In the 2015 special issue of WSQ entitled “Child,” editors Sarah Chinn and Anna Mae Duane underscore the harmful effects of these figurations, old and new, on actual children: “If we are to explore the workings of gender, class, race, and sexuality (among other taxonomies) in the pursuit of social justice, we must make visible and actively critique the discursive and actual violence that occurs in the space between ‘the child’ and raced, gendered, classed, nationed children.” Citing Lee Edelman’s polemical argument against “the Child” as a symbol of heteropatriarchal futurity “in whose name we’re collectively terrorized,” Chinn and Duane call for greater recognition in scholarly analyses “that children themselves are part of that terrorized collective.” What would a theory of the child look like that engages this social justice work?   


This non-guaranteed session sponsored by the Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum seeks papers that explore new theorizations of the child for our contemporary moment. Papers might focus on cultural critique that exposes new definitions and functions of “the child” today, or they might theorize new possibilities for thinking childhood in the twenty-first century that offset the harmful effects of figurations of “the child,” past and present. Papers that approach these questions from the perspective of Indigenous, critical race, queer, trans, feminist, ecocritical, historical, activist, and/or literary methods are particularly welcome.    


Please submit a 300-word abstract and a 2-page CV to by March 1, 2020.


Dr. Derritt Mason

University of Calgary