Empowering children by critiquing norms and structures
The Childism Institute aims to stimulate childist research across the academy, test and evolve the concept of childism, and inform childist social and political justice activism.
It does so by developing a range of projects including colloquia, workshops, conferences, speakers, collaborative publications, opinion pieces, special issues of journals, edited volumes, and books. It includes children and youth as appropriate in these initiatives. In addition, it formulates workshops and consultations for local, national, and international organizations run by both adults and children to understand how childism could inform – and be informed by – their work.
These cross-currents of theory development, scholarly investigation, and practical engagement enrich one another. In this way, the Childism Institute strives to develop an ongoing generative conversation about the lives of children that organically evolves new ideas and perspectives over time.
Childism is like feminism but for children. It has emerged in the academic literature as a term to describe efforts to empower the lived experiences of the third of humanity who are children through the radical systemic critique of scholarly, social, and political norms.
Beyond including children and young people as active social participants, childism challenges and transforms the historically ingrained adult-centered assumptions that underlie children’s systemic marginalization in the first place. It functions analogously to terms like feminism, antiracism, womanism, postgenderism, postcolonialism, decolonialism, environmentalism, and transhumanism. As such, it provides a needed critical lens for deconstructing adultism and patriarchy and reconstructing age-inclusive research and societies.
WHAT IS CHILDISM?
Founded in 2019, the Childism Institute grew out of discussions among childhood studies scholars at Rutgers University, Roskilde University, and Linköping University who wished to develop new approaches to critiquing adultist normative structures. In different ways, we felt there are limits to the idea of empowering children and children's experiences simply by understanding and encouraging their agency, voices, and participation. A similar shift seemed to be needed to that from second- to third-wave feminism, that is, from recognizing children's equality to adults to also questioning the underlying structural assumptions that define this equality in the first place.
Our Advisory Board was formed in 2020 and a strategic plan developed to focus on three areas: 1. childism theory (the big idea, how it can be developed, and how it needs to be critiqued and evolved); 2. childism research (interdisciplinary social scientific and humanistic studies); and 3. childism practice (finding ways to inspire collective reimaginings of politics, economics, education, families, communities, law, business, and power relations).
Since that time, our major endeavor has been our Transnational Childism Colloquium (TCC), an online discussion that brings together childism experts and scholars and activists interested in childism. The TCC takes place three times each academic year, focusing respectively on childism theory and research, childism in relation to other -isms, and childism in practice. We have also conducted online workshops and book discussions. And we have consulted, given presentations, engaged in activism, written a blog series, and produced other media.
Finally, we have a listserv of close to 200 subscribers that provides announcements, discussions, and other information on childism.