Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 11:00am to 12:45pm

Emerging in Emergency: A Childhood and Youth Studies Roundtable

Thu, November 8, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain 2

Session Submission Type: Non-Paper Session: Dialogue Format


Often regarded as a state of emergence, childhood is central to the ways in which people articulate and address change and crisis. Young people have faced our present emergencies with force and clarity; children may also have the most to lose. Yet American Studies may also interrogate how United States discourses of child emergence/y affect young people themselves. What are the stakes of placing children at the center of our urgent calls, and which children become the emblems of crisis? How can childhood studies shed light on the very cultural constructions of “emergence” and “emergency”?

Panelists discuss these questions across history and methodologies. Moving chronologically: Allison Curseen interrogates the divide between mature and childish responses to emergency, particularly in the context of slavery and sexual violence. Attending to Harriet Jacobs’s depictions of her daughter’s infantile responses to being captured by her white masters, Curseen suggests that the author troubles her narrative’s more overt appeals to rationality and respectability and asks us to consider the “special providence” of childishness as a fugitive approach to the crisis of being approached and captured. Mary Zaborskis notes how the child has emerged time and time again as a key figure for queer theory since its institutionalization in the 1990s. She proposes that archival work on children, specifically in late-nineteenth and twentieth-century U. S. state institutions, can put pressure on queer theory’s often figural and ahistorical deployments of childhood. Harriette Kevill-Davies argues that amid Cold War discourses of emergency, state and commercial entities coalesced to promote to children the United States’ nascent role as the pioneer of nuclear technology. Focusing on Walt Disney Studios and Boy Scouts of America, she discerns such organizations’ links to the state and considers their implications for emergent subjects. Amy Fish proposes that young people themselves have long weighed in on their own cultural representation as exceptional voices of crisis. Reading child-authored texts of the circa-1970 U. S., she surfaces the literary tactics with which young writers of color both leveraged and disrupted their own cultural position at the intersection of emergence and emergency. Marilisa Jiménez García analyzes how portrayals of children and youth by Puerto Rican and U.S. Anglo writers underline anxieties about the ambiguous, colonial relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. She claims that in order to understand the development of ethnic studies movements and the role of the U.S. as a twentieth-century empire, scholars need to look to youth literature and culture. Lara Saguisag interrogates U. S. representations of young activists of the global south through TIME Magazine’s list of “Most Influential Teens of 2017.” While apparently affirming children’s power to respond to global emergencies, by linking teen activism with individualism and celebrity, TIME’s list demonstrates that young people's acts of (potential) revolution can be appropriated and determined by neoliberal globalization. Roundtable chair Elizabeth Marshall draws on her research in children’s texts and popular culture to facilitate a room-wide conversation about children and childhood in American states of emergence and emergency.


Elizabeth Marshall, Simon Fraser University


Allison S Curseen, Boston College

Amy Fish, Harvard University

Marilisa Jimenez, Lehigh University

Harriette Kevill-Davies, Northwestern University

Lara Saguisag, CUNY College of Staten Island

Mary Zaborskis, University of Pittsburgh

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