Children and Youth Studies Caucus Sponsored Session - ASA 2022 (American Studies Association)

deadline for submissions: 
January 14, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Mary Zaborskis and Brie Owen
contact email: 

Drawing on the ASA conference theme “The Roof is on Fire,” this session invokes the phenomenon of book burnings to launch a broader conversation about the politicization of children’s media and the category of childhood itself — especially in debates about what materials children can and cannot encounter in domestic, institutional, and public spaces. For example, how is childhood being deployed in the targeted disinformation campaigns over Critical Race Theory? What norms, values, and logics are reproduced in recent events like then candidate (and now Virginia Governor-Elect) Glenn Youngkin’s political ad featuring a mother who tried to ban Toni Morrison’s Beloved from her son’s high school curriculum on the grounds that “it gave him nightmares”? Or the legislative bill that initially passed in the Virginia General Assembly that would give parents the right to censor school-assigned materials at will? Where do recent events like these fit into the longer history of anxieties about children and children’s media? How are these events conditioned by shifts in the forms of power working today? How are these events shaped by phenomena like viral misinformation, manipulative social media algorithms, and post-truth?

Sponsored by the Children and Youth Studies Caucus of the American Studies Association, this “question-driven session” will focus on materials that have been banned, challenged, and/or considered controversial for children, youth, and young adults across historical and cultural contexts. We broadly conceive of “materials” as including but not limited to literature, television, films, comics, games, social media, and digital media.

We envision this alternative “question-driven” panel format to include 5-7 scholars, teachers, and/or activists who will each focus on a particular banned or controversial text/set of materials or a contentious event (recent or historical) involving prohibitions against children accessing particular texts or materials. Each participant will briefly introduce their focus, and then the session will proceed like a talk show with prepared questions posed by the moderator. The questions will be drawn from and respond to participants’ proposals and touch on themes such as:

  • childhood innocence and protection
  • what children are imagined as needing protection in the first place
  • children’s proximity to racialized, gendered, and sexual knowledges
  • the figure of the child vs. literal children
  • censorship
  • how and by whom value gets assigned to texts
  • how medical, legal, and/or scientific discourses are invoked to discuss texts’ potential impacts
  • institutional responses across scales to texts
  • children’s responses to bans
  • the challenges of researching this material in the neoliberal university
  • the challenges of teaching this material in the neoliberal university

The panel moderator will circulate the questions to participants in advance of the conference to help guide preparation. This alternative format will structure a productive interplay among participants’ separate topics, contexts, and arguments.  

If you are interested, please send a 300-word proposal explaining which text/s and/or context/s you’ll center, how you might approach or engage it via some of the above themes, and how centering this text/s might contribute to discussions and understandings of children’s media and childhood, particularly their politicization and/or institutional management. 

We welcome proposals from any historical period as well as proposals that approach these issues informed by indigenous, critical race, queer, feminist, ecocritical, anthropological, historical, sociological, and/or literary methods. We also welcome proposals that can speak to these issues from the positions of activism and praxis. Please note that should your proposal be accepted, you must be a member of the ASA by February 1, 2022.

Please send your 300-word proposal and a bio to Mary Zaborskis ( and Brie Owen ( by January 14, 2022.