The exploration of childism over the past couple of weeks has been a brand new territory for me. Changing the angle on age and all its intersections to a child-inclusive point of view has uncovered many social realms, in which crucial processes of marginalisation and hierarchy building rely on adultist structures. By taking the childist perspective, I broadened my understanding of these specific issues and their intertwined nature. Most of all, I was able to challenge my own perception of social relations using the childist lens as an enriching tool in any analytical task. This blog post is part of that personal reflection process and explores some initial thoughts from my experience of diving into childism.
Understanding the childist lens
Childism as an own analytical tool expands on childhood studies by establishing a new perspective on scholarship and society as a whole. Taking a perspective that is sensitive to individual and diverse living realities of children around the globe uncovers the adultist pre-construction of social norms and structures (cf. Wall 2019: 2, 4). Crucially, acknowledging children’s own means of agency and subjectivity allows for the specific childist lens (Wall 2019: 2). This lens enables a new angle on age-based exclusion: Instead of asking where children are excluded from a specific ‘adult’ practice, childism asks how that specific practice is designed to serve adults, exclude children and marginalise their lived experiences.
For example, childism may serve as a tool to critically consider the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which aims at providing equal rights and safety to children around the globe. When applying the childist lens it becomes evident though that this aim does not suffice in acknowledging different livelihoods of children around the world, nor does it include the children’s own voices in the process of law formation. Questions arise on who these rights are designed by and for what purpose. A truly inclusive and fair approach towards a children’s rights convention must consider the diversity of childhoods in a culture-sensitive manner and include children’s voices in the process to prevent from enforcing and normalising a white, adult-based perspective of what ‘the child’ should do or be ‘protected from’ as well as what ‘childhood’ is.
The childist lens thus serves as an invitation to not only deconstruct social norms in a post-structural manner but rather to rethink and reconfigure these structures all together to make them age-inclusive for everyone and sensitive of multiple differences in livelihoods.
Reconstruction and the notion of difference
This shift of attention from ways of improving child inclusion in adult practices towards the creative and inclusive rethinking of these practices altogether turns childism into the “critical task of responding to children’s experiences by reconstructing scholarly and societal norms” (Wall 2019: 8). This reconstructionist solution puts special attention to both social independence and inter-dependence of difference, underlying the paradox of the marginalised needing the marginalising to overcome their exclusion (cf. Wall 2019: 10). That is, children need to be acknowledged in their subjectivity but at the same time become the object of a larger discourse to listen to their voices. This poses questions of agency, which are also picked up by Sparrman et al. (2016) when exploring the dialectic interactions of adult-made frameworks for children and child-made culture (cf. Sparrman et al. 2016: 258).
Reconstruction of adultist norms and structures thus needs to consider both the marginalisation of children’s voices and their own unique agency and subjectivity in their intertwined relation in order to be truly child-inclusive. This inter-dependent relationship becomes evident in the Fridays for Future movement. The children’s and youth’s protests are now deeply embedded in the public discourse of climate justice, showing the unique and powerful action of a young generation, which is on the one hand supported by initiatives such as Parents and Grandparents for Future, but on the other hand, is still reliant on the representation in adult-lead media and politicians to be transported to a greater audience and turned into politically enforced social change.
Transforming my own experience
As I am diving into childism I encounter various situations in my everyday life in Germany, which I start to question through a childist lens. This does broadly affect the way I perceive and encounter my surroundings related to children.
For example, while strolling through a supermarket around mother’s day, my attention was immediately drawn to this advertisement promoting a Heart for Women or Children. The yellow heart-shaped boxes were filled with either some fruit juice, candy and toy-like gadget for ‘children’ or a drink and cosmetic product for ‘women’. Half of the heart’s price is further donated to some ‘children’s charity’. What is presented here is two stereotyped images of women and children through the content of the hearts, while at the same time being labelled as a way of ‘doing a good deed‘ by supporting them through charity. Intersections of adultist and sexist - namely patriarchal - thought are present.
Crucially, the child who is targeted by the content of the box must be some sort of ‘ideal‘ prototype of a child, presupposing certain preferences like sweets and toys on the one hand and the weak and poor child on the other hand who needs to be provided for by strangers buying these boxes. This strongly reminds me of white saviorism, even though the aspect of race is not specifically raised here as it is in other charity projects regarding ‘Africa’. Yet, a certain way of adultist protectionism is employed here, depicting the ‘child’ as someone to protect and care for, even though they are unknown to the buyer of the boxes. The other child, the one the content of the box is designed for, is further embedded in a white German context, where a certain Western reality of childhood is implied, neglecting individual differences of children on the one hand while presupposing a specific Western childhood and desires of the child, e.g. the image of eating sweets as desired by children who are ‘forced ’ to eat healthy by their parents.
The intersection of age- and race-based dominance structures as touched upon in this example are yet to be further discovered in my exploration. It is through childism in a decolonial context that I have started to notice more of such intersections that are sometimes obscured through my white German gaze. Being in touch with the lens of childism helps me to rethink social realities in a more broad way, which uncovers the real potential of childism in not only reconstructing structures for children but for society and scholarship as a whole. Childism then unfolds its whole potential and becomes not only about questioning adultist structures around me. It enables reconstruction of the image of ‘the child’ itself, a necessary step toward tackling one’s own adultist behaviour and rethinking and acknowledging the various aspects of age-based marginalisation in practice.
Sparrman, Anna; Samuelsson, Tobias; Lindgren, Anne-Li; Cardell, David (2016): The ontological practices of child culture. In Childhood 23 (2), pp. 255-271. DOI: 10.1177/0907568215602475.
Wall, John (2019): From childhood studies to childism: reconstructing the scholarly and social imaginations. In Children’ Geographies 18 (2), pp. 1-14. DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2019.1668912.
About the author
Jana Effertz is a master student of Intercultural German Studies. She obtained her BA in German and Linguistics & Phonetics at the University of Cologne and the University of Edinburgh. At the University of Bayreuth, she takes an additional program in Intersectionality and Diversity Studies, which is how she got in touch with the study of childism. Jana is keen on exploring further topics related to diversity and intersectionality and is eager to challenge her own beliefs and understandings of social structures. For her MA thesis, Jana would like to combine both her fields of study and explore an intersection of linguistic, social and intercultural relevance in a German context.