Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures

 

Volume 12, Issue 1

Summer 2020

 

Introduction to Special Section

Youngsters 2: On the Cultures of Children and Youth

Naomi Hamer and Erin Spring

 

The Association for Research in Cultures of Young People (ARCYP) hosted their second Youngsters conference on May 9-12, 2019, at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario—situated on the “Dish With One Spoon Territory” of the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee peoples. Supported by a SSHRC Connection Grant as well as funds from Ryerson University, the University of Calgary, Simon Fraser University, the University of Winnipeg, and the University of Lethbridge, Youngsters 2: On the Cultures of Children and Youth (2019) was a field-defining event that explored the intersections between childhood and youth studies as interdisciplinary fields of scholarship and community engagement. As conference organizers and ARCYP executive members, we (Naomi Hamer and Erin Spring) hope that this special section of Jeunesse offers a sampling of the cross-disciplinary dialogue around young people’s cultures that emerged at Youngsters 2.

ARCYP’s Youngsters conference constitutes a unique cross-disciplinary event for childhood and youth studies hosted by an association in Canada. While scholars have produced exciting work in the field for decades, that work has found itself positioned most often under the umbrellas of disparate disciplines. Since its inception in 2007, ARCYP reflects a response to these ongoing divisions in the field of childhood and youth studies, and it has aimed to provide innovative and dynamic venues for cross-disciplinary researchers whose work focuses on the lives of young people (See Poyntz, Coulter, and Brisson). ARCYP has worked to define itself as an academic home for researchers whose work is often marginalized to the so-called children’s table of other scholarly associations for research (Duane). The inaugural Youngsters conference took place at Simon Fraser University in October 2016, with President Stuart Poyntz (SFU) at the helm and supported by a cross-Canada committee of organizers. Youngsters 2016 evolved from ARCYP’s commitment as a cross-disciplinary scholarly association [end of page 7] focused on the cultures of young people: it aimed

to explore the intersections between childhood and youth studies as interdisciplinary fields of scholarship and community engagement. Drawing together internationally renowned researchers from across the social sciences and humanities, with child- and youth-engaged artists, community groups, and students, Youngsters 2016 offered new sightlines from which to see connections and establish future directions for our work. (Hamer and Poyntz 14-15)

While the first Youngsters conference addressed issues of precarity, risk, and crisis for young people, this second iteration aimed to grapple with current intersections and debates in child and youth studies, including queer and trans childhoods and Indigenous childhoods—dynamic, community-engaged, and collaborative research that moves across the boundaries of art, literature, activism, and scholarly work. Expanding on the first conference’s vision, Youngsters 2 continued to develop collaborations between various Canadian institutions and international research centres that critically challenge the limits of the field. It featured theoretical and methodological perspectives on [page 8, figure 1, image description: Event poster from Youngsters 2, featuring the conference title, dates, list of keynotes, information to register, list of sponsors, and a land acknowledgement interspersed with abstract images. Image Designed by Reg Beatty, Centre for Digital Humanities (Ryerson)] [end of page 8] [page 9, figure 2, image description: Youngsters 2 conference bag at the Spadina subway station in Toronto, Canada. Image credit: Naomi Hamer] current trends in child and youth studies related to the themes of 2SLGBTQIA+ childhoods, Indigenous youth, Black girlhood, youth activism, and community-oriented collaborative research. Many of the scholars in attendance care very deeply about decolonizing and queering entrenched institutional discourses and centring voices that have been historically marginalized in academic work on youth and children.

As ARCYP executive members and conference coordinators, we are committed to collaborative and interdisciplinary research and to creating venues for knowledge exchange and community building, especially for graduate students and early career scholars. As conference co-chairs, we were supported before and after the conference by a team of scholars, student research assistants from various institutions, and research centres from across Canada.1 The conference included conventional panels of paper presentations as well as special roundtables on the key themes of the conference and a participatory workshop on collaborative research. The four-day-long event was comprised of over twenty panel discussions, featuring individuals at different stages in their careers and included students, researchers, and artists. Panel topics included affective youth communities, gendered and queer childhoods, race and colonialization, and youth in the virtual age.

The conference included four keynote speakers: Dr. Kathryn Bond Stockton, University of Utah, is an internationally renowned scholar, whose work—including The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century—focuses on the intersections between queer theory and childhood studies. Her keynote was titled “Kissing, Reading, and Sex with Ideas: I Was a Queer Child and So Were You.” Dr. Jules Gill-Peterson, University of Pittsburgh, author of the recent book The Histories of the Transgender Child, gave a talk titled “Depathologizing Trans Childhood: Racial Justice and the History of Gender.” Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who examines Black girlhoods, radical youth intervention, and digital cultures in Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood, gave a talk titled “Showing You How I Heard Us: Resounding Radical Black Girlhood and Listening Differently.” Finally, Joshua Whitehead—Oji-Cree two spirit storyteller-author-scholar, Governor General’s Award nominee for Jonny Appleseed, and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Calgary—discussed the ways youth studies intersect with questions of race, gender, sexuality, [end of page 10] and Indigenous identities in his talk, “That Day I Aged By a Thousand Years: Rethinking the Temporalities of Indigenous Childhood.” The selection of these four keynotes reflects our interest in not only highlighting cutting-edge research and cross-disciplinary work in the field, but also scholars from different stages of their scholarly careers.

As an organization, ARCYP has always attempted to foment discussion and dialogue between early career scholars and established figures in the field in formats beyond conventional panels. Youngsters 2 opened with a film screening and discussion of Violent Playground, directed by Basil Dearden, followed by a talk-back chaired by Dr. Catherine Ellis (History, Ryerson). A special panel event, “Author and Creative Arts Roundtable,” brought together both Canadian and international participants, including the Governor General’s Award–winning picture-book author and poet JonArno Lawson, children’s book author and activist Zetta Elliott, children’s book author Ruth Ohi, and Khary Mathurin from Another Story Bookshop. In addition, the conference included a book launch event for the collection Queer as Camp: Essays on Summer, Style, and Sexuality, co-edited by Dr. Kenneth Kidd (Florida) and Dr. Derritt Mason (Calgary).

An important theme that emerged throughout the Youngsters conference was effective and ethical ways of engaging in collaborative and community-engaged research. We decided to host a special panel consisting of multidisciplinary scholars from across Canada to discuss the ways in which they are currently working with communities on issues related to the cultures of young people. Prior to the conference, panel participants were asked to submit questions raised by their work, which fell into three categories: research methodologies and collaboration, institutional and funding issues, and knowledge mobilization and evaluation. The questions posed by panellists were open-ended and provocative, providing an opportunity for participants and conference attendees at different career stages to flesh out ideas for collaboration across geographic regions and disciplines. Other special sessions included a lunchtime showcase of digital projects by ARCYP members across various institutions at the Centre for Digital Humanities at Ryerson and a roundtable discussion focused on “The Rise of Children’s Literature” organized by the MA in Literatures of Modernity students at Ryerson. A number of public elements [end of page 11] of the conference ensured a level of accessibility and supported our knowledge transfer goals. Finally, Youngsters 2019 culminated in a celebratory dance party—acknowledging the exceptional work and contributions of all those who attended and made the conference such a success.

A special section of the Winter 2017 issue of Jeunesse arose from the inaugural Youngsters conference. This second special section in Jeunesse features four pieces that emerged from paper presentations given at Youngsters 2. This section illustrates the range of work in play at the conference and how ARCYP and Youngsters (with Jeunesse as an affiliated journal) offer distinctive venues for cross-disciplinary and community-engaged research on young people’s cultures. 

In “‘God Only Knows What It’s Doing to Our Children’s Brains’: A Closer Look at Internet Addiction Discourse,” Katie Mackinnon and Leslie Regan Shade recount the history of social anxieties around internet addiction, especially among young people. They argue that young people are framed in this debate in one of two ways: as victims of powerful tech corporations or responsible for their own over-exposure. The former framing is explored through “tech humanism,” a concept that ignores youth agency to focus on youth protection, usually through the commodification of play and the creation of “gateway tech.” The latter framing fails to hold tech companies responsible for the negative effects their products have on young people’s mental health. Mackinnon and Shade conclude that addictive processes need to be regulated and enforced and that education initiatives are a useful tool to teach youth to disconnect on their own terms.

In her article, “Girls Playing at Soldiers: Destabilizing the Masculinity of War Play in Georgian Britain,” Jennine Hurl-Eamon examines the complex gendering of children’s war play in Georgian Britain. Looking at first-hand accounts and representations from the period, she asserts that make-believe was not bound by the adult conception of male soldiers—which allowed girls to partake in war play as well as boys. Although the marketing of war toys was primarily directed toward boys, girls were able to access war stories and use “bricolage” as a more gender-inclusive method of accessing war play. Hurl-Eamon also delves into girls’ military education and drill training, which developed physical control and other traits that were desirable in women. The [end of page 12] article concludes that war play fostered transgressive dynamics of gender and power and demonstrates the larger effects of war on all children in the eighteenth century.

Using a “new sociology of childhood” methodology that accepts children as active agents and subjects of research, Ameera Ali explores the normative gender classifications of toys and the ways children use play to make sense of the world and their place within it. In her article “‘Girls Don’t Like Cars, They Like “Girl” Cars’: Kindergarten Children’s Conceptions of Gender and Play Materials,” Ali discusses her interviews with six children between the ages of four and five and their answers to questions about selected play materials and gender perceptions. Ali concludes that play allows children to establish rules of understanding and to transform their social worlds, which often leads to a binary understanding of gender. She suggests that adults need to offer more gender-neutral—or more diverse—play material options, and that we must come together to collectively dismantle dichotomized conceptions of gender.

In his moving resource, titled “On Being Haunted by King: An Elegy for Queer Youth,” Adam J. Greteman grapples with the murder of Lawrence/Leticia/Latisha King in 2008, exploring the intersections between their race, gender identity, and sexuality. The media’s misrepresentations of King act to erase their multiple identities. Greteman examines queerness as an act of becoming, something that King never got the chance to fully explore. By labelling King, the media limits the potential of an identity that was never fully realized. Greteman concludes that public schools should include instruction on LGBTQ+ issues, so that all students can feel safer moving toward their own self-becoming.

 

Notes

1 See acknowledgements for full list of organizers and collaborators.

 

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the work of our research assistant, Dana Mitchell, who assisted with ARCYP in the year following the conference and contributed to the preparation of this editorial.

This conference would not have been possible without the support of a SSHRC Connection Grant. We would like to thank our co-applicants and collaborators: Dr. Kristine Alexander (Lethbridge); Dr. Cheryl Cowdy (York); Dr. Catherine Ellis (Ryerson); Dr. Elizabeth Marshall (Simon Fraser); Dr. Rachel Berman (Ryerson); Dr. Lorraine Janzen Kooistra (Ryerson); Dr. Derritt Mason (Calgary); Dr. Andrew O’Malley (Ryerson); Dr. Lissa Paul (Brock); Dr. Mavis Reimer (Winnipeg); and Abigail Shabtay (McGill/York).  [end of page 13]

We were also supported by Ryerson University (Faculty of Arts, MA in Literatures of Modernity and the Department of English, MA in Early Childhood Studies, the Centre for Digital Humanities, and the Department of History), the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, the Institute for Child and Youth Studies at the University of Lethbridge, the Centre for Young People’s Texts and Cultures at the University of Winnipeg, and the Children, Childhood and Youth Studies Program at York University.

Special thanks to Dr. Heather Snell, Larissa Wodtke, and Lauren Bosc from the University of Winnipeg’s Centre for Research in Young People’s Texts and Cultures and Jeunesse for their support during and after the conference.

We are very grateful to all research assistants, volunteers, participants, and organizers for their work in creating a successful conference.

 

Works Cited

Bond Stockton, Kathryn. The Queer Child, Or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009.

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood. U of Illinois P, 2013.

Duane, Ann Mae. Children’s Table: Childhood Studies and the Humanities. U of Georgia P, 2013.

Gill-Peterson, Jules. The Histories of the Transgender Child. U of Minnesota P, 2018.

Hamer, Naomi, and Stuart Poyntz. “Introduction to Special Section: Youngsters: On the Cultures of Children and Youth.” Jeunesse, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 14-19, doi: 10.1353/jeu.2017.0022.

Kidd, Kenneth, and Derritt Mason, editors. Queer as Camp: Essays on Summer, Style, and Sexuality. Fordham UP, 2019.

Poyntz, Stuart R., Natalie Coulter, and Geneviève Brisson. “Past Tensions, Future Possibilities: ARCYP and Children’s Media Studies.” Journal of Children and Media, vol. 10, no. 1, 2016, pp. 47-53, doi: 10.1080/17482798.2015.1121887.

Violent Playground. Directed by Basil Dearden, performances by Stanley Baker, Anne Heywood, and David McCallum, The Rank Organisation, 1958.

Whitehead, Joshua. Jonny Appleseed. Arsenal, 2018. [end of page 14]

 

 

Dr. Naomi Hamer is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Ryerson University. Her research and publications examine the cross-media adaptation of children’s literature. She is the co-editor of More Words about Pictures: Current Research on Picture Books and Visual/Verbal Texts for Young People (2017), and The Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy-Tale Cultures (2018). She is the President of the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People.

 

Dr. Erin Spring is an Assistant Professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. Erin’s interdisciplinary research focuses on young people’s literacies and cultures, with a particular interest in the role of place. She has published in a range of journals, including Children’s Literature in Education, Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, and Children’s Geographies.

 

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