Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein writes:
Bielefeld Institute of Advanced Study Workshop on ‘Transformation of Childhood in Contemporary Britain’
Dr Jess Sage and Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein from the Department’s Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL), gave presentations at a workshop at the Centre for Advanced Study of the University of Bielefeld in Germany from the 6th to the 9th November 2014.
The workshop was organised by Sandra Dinter, a former CIRCL Visiting Scholar (during 2013-14) who is doing a PhD in Bielefeld on childhood in contemporary English Literature. Sandra was a wonderfully engaged and lively member of CIRCL during her visit with us, and in the light of the fact that Childhood Studies is not a prominent field of research in Germany Sandra and her PhD supervisor, Professor Ralph Schneider, obtained funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies to hold this workshop including several of the most prominent Childhood Studies academics in the UK and elsewhere to promote such an approach in Germany. Other speakers included also Professor Jonathan Bignell from CIRCL and the Department of Film, Television and Theatre Studies here at the University of Reading, Professor Karen Lury of the Film Department of the University of Glasgow, Professor Ken Walker from Goldsmith’s College of the University of London, Professor Nigel Parton from the University of Huddersfield, Dr Daniel Monk from Birkbeck College, University of London, and Professor Erica Burman of the University of Manchester, amongst others. Several of these academics have long-standing cooperative relationships with CIRCL.
Jess gave a fascinating paper on: ‘Bodies, books, buying: sexuality and looking in children’s books and the media’, discussing the recent furore over the new Penguin cover for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, analysing constructions of childhood, the body and looking in criticisms of the cover and in her own readings of it.
I gave a paper on ‘Children’s literature, cognitivism and neuroscience, or, capitalism and/ as the return to the same’ analysing how discourses in a range of fields, including children’s literature and neuroscience, rely, perhaps surprisingly, on the same claims to being able purely and stably to see objects such as the child and the brain. The paper further suggests that this idea of a pure and stable looking is also about the way capitalism relies on an absolutely maintained distinction between subject and object.
The workshop was wonderful: with only a few speakers it was intimate and able to generate real discussion, but, above all, Sandra and Ralph and all the contributors were so open-minded, excited and engaged that it was a breath of fresh air and a genuine learning experience for all concerned.