Children's Challenging Cultures


Running Riot in the 2000s: Subcultural Fiction, Terror and Resistance (Blanka Grzegorczyk)

Blanka Grzegorczyk is a Lecturer in English (Writing for Children and Young Adults) at Manchester Metropolitan University and a Teaching Associate in Education at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Discourses of Postcolonialism in Contemporary British Children’s Literature (Routledge, 2015) and Terror and Counter-Terror in Contemporary British Children’s Literature (forthcoming with Routledge in 2019).

The outpouring of novelistic comments on the attractiveness of subcultures to younger members of ethnic minority communities in post-terror Britain suggests a cultural urgency to the connection that these writers divine between local cross-racial solidarity and social empowerment. This paper looks at subcultural literature that sets out to explore the limits and possibilities of certain youth alliances—a kind of literature which in itself has received little scrutiny after falling between academic disciplines (see, for example, Bentley 2014)—in its socio-political context and through the lens of the meanings that subcultures hold for those involved. Considering these texts in the light of postcolonial and critical race theory involves highlighting the ways in which colonial legacies continue to complicate young people’s individual and communal sense of identity at the same time as counter-terror wars triggered by 9/11 and 7/7 appear to be underpinned by the contemporary incarnation of colonial oppositions. The paper traces the emergence of new trans- and subcultural identities that are especially attractive to ethnic minority youth growing up in Britain following these terror events. Its readings of novels by Bali Rai, Na’ima B. Robert, and Nikesh Shukla demonstrate how young minority Britons attempt to create shared imaginative spaces for the construction and reinforcement of hybrid identities outside the boundaries both of the state and of existing social structures. The focus is the fictional investigation of whether these new modes of belonging can be the sustaining basis for transcending the discourses that associate minority groups in Britain with the threat of home-grown terrorism, and whether they can provide a nonviolent grounding for new political constructions, positions, and affiliations. Taken together, the novels I discuss might stand as an exploration and a performance, albeit from very different standpoints, of both problematic and positive aspects of subcultural affiliation and expression in the new, post-terror reality. We can see in them an increasing investment in the transnational and the global as post-terror geographies of social regeneration and political liberation, and an emphasis on the capacity of youth culture to determine the way in which we imagine and hope for a truly democratic global space to be produced.

Absent architectures: post-war housing in British children’s picture books (1960–present) (Emma Hayward)

In the decades following World War II, British cities—and, to a lesser degree, rural areas—underwent radical architectural and structural transformations. Yet, architecture associated with post-war reconstruction is significantly underrepresented in children’s picture books of the period. The home, the street, and the high-street are, more often than not, depicted in a formal language associated with Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian architectural ideals. This paper explores what kind of cultural ideologies children are integrated into when it comes to the representation of post-war architecture. Specifically, the paper focuses on domestic space and asks what ideas of the ‘home’ are promoted. Drawing on Gaston Bachelard’s exploration of the relationship between domestic architecture and emotional/psychological response in The Poetics of Space (1957), and Jean Baudrillard’s theory of communication in the age of postmodernity, the paper maps the influence of post-war architectural design on a selection of children’s picture books published during the 1960s and 1970s.

Immortal Children: W.E.B DuBois, Jessie Redmon Fauset and Children’s Magazines (Katie Taylor)

As editor of prominent African American magazine The Crisis, W.E.B DuBois was committed to providing literature for African Americans, which both educated and entertained readers as well as countering the racist stereotyping featured in the mainstream white press. Children played a key role in DuBois’s efforts to provide literature that would show black Americans positive representations of themselves and black people across the world. In The Crisis’s annual Children’s Numbers, and later in the establishment of the first African American children’s magazine The Brownies’ Book, DuBois and his literary editor Jessie Redmon Fauset published a range of artistic responses to and debates about black childhood that, as Katherine Capshaw Smith argues, brought about the nativity of African American children’s literature (2006).

The objectives of this paper are:

  1. To discuss DuBois’s concept of “the immortal child,” as laid out in his 1920 publication Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil. DuBois emphasised the importance of educating black children on the reality of racism in America and of raising them with a sense of race pride and hope for the future. To do this, he believed, was to ensure infinite generations of black progress.
  2. To explore how The Crisis’s Children’s Numbers and The Brownies’ Book responded to racism in the white press by creating a counter-literature which both inserted black children into existing narratives about American childhood and established a children’s literature that drew specifically on black culture.

Capshaw Smith writes that DuBois and Fauset ‘spotlighted the special role of the child to the movement for black social progress and artistic distinction’ (2006), and the focus of this paper is to spotlight in turn how their children’s magazine publications sought to eternalize that progress by writing for black children.

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