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The Childhood, Law & Policy Network (CLPN)

Interview with Karen Malone, Marek Tesar, and Sonja Arndt about their book, Theorising Posthuman Childhood Studies

Our member, Prof. Marek Tesar (Auckland, New Zealand), along with his co-authors Prof. Karen Malone (Swinburne, Australia) and Dr. Sonja Arndt (Melbourne, Australia), talk about their book, Theorising Posthuman Childhood Studies (Springer, 2020).


Q: What is this co-authored book about?

This book presents original and cutting-edge knowledge for a growing field of scholarship about children. Its focus is on the interface of children being in the everyday spaces and places of contemporary childhoods, and how different theoretical approaches influence ways of knowing the future lives of children.

We explore and analyse children’s lived and embodied everyday experiences and encounters with tangible objects and materials such as artefacts, toys, homes, landscapes, animals, food, and the broader intangible materiality of representational objects, such as popular culture, air, weather, bodies, relations, identities and sexualities. We are attentive to the mundane everyday relationships, in-between “what is” and “what could be”, with matters and materials, and challenge traditional western-centric views of children and childhood by drawing on a range of perspectives including Indigenous, Pacifica, Asian and those from the Global South.

We focus on a shift from developmental, social constructivists, structuralist approaches to understanding and heorizing about childhood. These dominant paradigms are challenged through a variety of postpositivist / postqualitative / posthumanist theories of being children and childhood.

This book is also a genealogical foregrounding and performance of conceptions of children and their childhoods over time. We map the field by taking up a cross-disciplinary, genealogical niche, to offer both an introduction to theoretical underpinnings of emerging theories and concepts, and to provide hands-on examples of how they might play out.

This book positions children and their everyday lived childhoods in the Anthropocene and examines how the shift towards posthuman and new materialist perspectives offers diverse ways to help us to understand contemporary constructions of childhood.

Q: What made you write this book?

This book is intended to support both those new to the field of childhood studies and posthuman studies of childhoods, and established researchers in the study of children and childhoods. In 1998, James, Jenks and Prout offered their text Theorizing Childhood as a quintessential “go to” immersion into heorizing children and childhoods through a new sociological lens. This book offers a posthuman response within educational thought to contemporary theorisations of childhoods arising from James, Jenks and Prout’s positioning. Like Theorizing Childhood, this book continues to demonstrate “the centrality of childhoods in sociological theory and contemporary debates”. Rather than rejecting sociology and the human, it builds on, re-articulates and offers new formulations of the anthropocentric and post-anthropocentric contexts of children’s lives and experiences with and beyond human-centric ways of knowing and being.

Our aim was to offer a critical bridge that connects historical studies and philosophies of children and their childhoods with contemporary scholarship and research. We hope that scholars and students across fields and disciplines will both benefit and gain inspiration from this book. We hope that, as a “critical bridge” and foundational text for our book series, this book offers new insights into a field that is continually evolving in new and previously unimaginable ways.

The aim of this book is to combine and perform theories and philosophies that build understandings through everyday anecdotes of children’s lives. The aim of the book is to contest universalising views of children’s lives by positioning the question of what it means to be a child within the broader story of the planet and the impending implications of the Anthropocene, and the contemporary conditions of the human and more-than-human world.

An excerpt from the book (pages 148–150):

Posthuman Childhood Studies Lens

Adding a posthuman lens to the study of childhoods allows us to see Te Whāriki [Early childhood curriculum framework in Aotearoa New Zealand] and other curriculum and policy documents without essentialising or mainstreaming children or their childhoods. The plurality offered by thinking through such a lens also enables a radical openness to relationality, with “Relationships” as one of the core principles of this curriculum. It elevates the importance of science in the conception of human relationships and growth, drawing on quantum physics, through Barad (2014), for example, or inter-species relationships through Haraway (2007), and for breaking down the nature-culture binaries that traditionally separated human children and childhoods from nonhuman others (see references to Malone’s work in Chapter 5, for example).

One way in which Te Whāriki faces the questions that Chapter 2 has raised in its reading of the new sociology of childhood are in its constructions and reconstructions of childhoods through metaphors that present children as “taonga” (treasures/gifts). This highlights the bicultural nature and intent of the curriculum and reflects the unique positioning of children and childhoods in Aotearoa New Zealand, as already entangled in relationships with human and nonhuman, with people, places and things Te Whāriki’s structuring of sections for “infants, toddlers and young children” illustrates also a traditional model of thinking as we have critiqued in this book. Just to remind, by traditional we mean developmental psychology, which uses tables and universal definitions of developmental stages and milestones. It omits an understanding of the influences of culture and society, of individual subjectivities and differences, or of the complex influences of ideology, globalisation and technology, and most importantly it omits the complex relationalities brought to the fore in a posthuman reading.

It is this tradition that new sociology of childhood set their agenda to depart from Te Whāriki;s approaches to children and childhood are linked to the notion that childhood is neither universal, homogeneous, nor does it exist in and of itself. We have already discussed in this book that childhood cannot be clearly (or universally) defined, but rather it is seen as a construct. Through the course of history, childhood has been invented and re-invented, in different times, societies and cultures, within diverse philosophical frameworks.

There are different perspectives on the history of childhood in relation to education and to society, as we have discussed in Chapter 1. There we have argued that historical analyses often pinpoint childhoods as undefined or non-linear and comprised of and influenced by complex interactions of individual experiences with ideologies and notions that challenge singular and easily understandable views on childhoods (as plural). Te Whāriki’s children and childhoods are grounded in the (relatively young) history of Aotearoa New Zealand, and undoubtedly, children affected by Te Whāriki’s today are “experiencing a very different world and a very different childhood from that experienced by previous generations” (Freeman & Higgins, 2013, p. 13). This section has given us some insights into the contextual background to a rereading of this particular curriculum, through a posthuman lens.

Posthuman Curriculum

In order to foreground the notion of materiality, objects and things, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017) reads as an affirmative challenge. Already in its original iteration released in 1996, it moved beyond a dominant humanist focus, to elevate children’s complex relationships not only with people, but with other things, materialities and nonhuman subjects as highlighted by posthuman, new materialist or more-than-human thinking. The curriculum framework situates children and their learning within the complex entanglements of their early childhood setting and the deeply relational context with which they are surrounded. In the principle of Relationships, for example, “children” are seen to “learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places and things” (p. 21), and furthermore, teachers are provoked to allow children to do so by trying “out their ideas and refin[ing] their working theories” (p. 21). Conceptualised from an environmental sustainability perspective, arguably one of the most critical and urgent for us to become familiar with, Malone (2017) argues that:

Despite perceptions that associate sustainable development mainly with a nonhuman environment, the broader focus of sustainable development is one of the ways the global community can meet the natural, social and economic needs of humans within the planetary boundaries and resource limits - so that human and planetary development can be both sustainable, and be sustained (p. 410).

Such sustainability concerns implicate today’s children in such life decisions that we may not even be able to imagine at this time. In expressing concern about worldly interdependencies, Bruno Latour (2014) laments the lack of preparedness within the general population to recognise the deeply related ways in which we are all interconnected with other people, places and things, and with such crises that are linked through these interconnections. Connecting children in their early years with such concerns requires a shifting attitude, and a recognition that “there is no distant place anymore” (p. 2). We are all interdependent, and we are all implicated. What happens in other places in the world is intrinsically connected to localities in which children live their childhoods.

Such an inextricably connected positioning of young children within global concerns and global relationships requires a new form of ethical and moral thought, decision-making and reading of policy. It implicates children’s human and nonhuman relationalities, when we consider the people, places and things by which these concerns are affected. Moving childhood studies scholarship towards posthuman and new materialist perspectives pushes us to reread Te Whāriki, and also policies and other regulatory structures, in a way that pays attention to the entanglements with objects and materials in children’s lives and in the world.



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