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The Childist Turn in Children’s Literature Studies

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Despite its rightful concern with childhood as an essentialist cultural construct, the field of children’s literature studies has tended to accept the endemicity of the asymmetrical power relations between children and adults almost without question. It is only recently, under the influence of children’s rights discourses, that children’s literature scholars have developed concepts reflecting their recognition of more egalitarian relationships between children and adults. I argue that a radical change in the perception of these power differentials has to occur in scholarship itself: at the time of the growing support for protagonist- and rights-based ideology in childhood studies, our field would benefit from opening up, albeit critically and cautiously, to participatory methods that engage young readers as co-researchers having a say in designing, conducting and disseminating research aimed at exploring the significance of texts addressed to them. Thanks to such an intergenerational focus, children’s literature studies may become a socially and politically transformative venture with reverberations beyond academia. I substantiate my proposition—both its positive outcomes and potential difficulties—by reflecting on ChildAct – Shaping a Preferable Future: Children Reading, Thinking and Talking about Alternative Communities and Times, a participatory reader response project I am co-organizing in Cambridgeshire in 2017/2018.

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak is Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture at the Institute of English Studies, University of Wroclaw, Poland. She is the author of Yes to Solidarity, No to Oppression: Radical Fantasy Fiction and Its Young Readers (2016). Her research focuses on speculative fiction, utopianism, and participatory and child-led approaches. She is currently a Marie Sklodowska-Curie visiting fellow in the Department of English and Media, Anglia Ruskin University.

This talk is part of the Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge series.

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