The containment of childhood : children's literature and political rights

Nolte, Carmen
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2013]
This interdisciplinary dissertation draws on scholarship in the fields of Cultural Studies, Political Science, Translation Studies, Comparative Literature, and Children's Literature in order to scrutinize the political and cultural significance of the figure of the child in novels published for young audiences in Europe and the US since the 1970s. The figure of the child, lacking a political voice yet needing to be indoctrinated into adulthood, occupies a temporary space that poses a challenge to conceptions of the citizen and the nation-state. Texts for children reflect the child's peculiar status through their two-fold containment of childhood: the child is defined through the genre and thus contained by it, but these texts also contain, or include, the marginalized figure of the child and all its counterhegemonic potential. Even as I note the complicity of children's literature in the project of nation-building, I aim to highlight the subversive tendencies of the genre that have been particularly pronounced in children's books since the 1970s. Drawing on M. M. Bakhtin's analysis of social heteroglossia and dialogization in the novel, I propose to conceive of children's books, and the ways in which they contain the child, on a spectrum that moves from the didactic to the dialogic, with the former emphasizing the adult's power over the child and the latter demanding an engagement with the child's voice and subject position. My dissertation thus intends to intervene in current debates in children's literature scholarship on the child/adult binary, the construction of childhood, and the tension between conservatism and subversion. Although I focus on examples of children's literature, my project has several larger ramifications for literary criticism and Cultural Studies: a critical analysis of the voice of the child can help to enhance current debates on rights, citizenship, and the nation-state. In moving towards a more comprehensive model of children's rights and the politics of childhood, my project thus attempts to bridge the perceived gulf between politics and children's literature and to foster a dialogue between political theory and children's literature scholarship.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
Cultural Studies
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