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Slowing Down Fast: Safe Spaces for Childism?

Updated: May 13, 2022

Tanu Biswas


In the last transnational childism colloquium on Childist Approaches to Law, Prof. Karl Hanson, pointed out the pertinent need for us to slow down as academics. His concern seemed to be that we might be getting ahead of ourselves in taking on political agendas before we have reached some indispensable intellectual clarities. I responded by asking him,

Prof. Hanson, we are passing through a point in history where we must think/act long term in the short term. Paradoxically we must slow down real fast. Future generations probably won’t have a chance at life tomorrow if we don’t slow down fast today. So, our best bet is to embrace the ‘gleichzeitigkeit’ of intellectual and political projects. What are your thoughts?

Prof. Hanson clarified that he acknowledges that scholarly lives unfold in liaison with political experiences. His caution was related to the hasty, combined unfolding of intellectual and political projects through individual scholars. I see his point.

And it makes me wonder how we need to step back as speedy scholars and apply any ‘childhood relational agency theses’ to our own scholarly lives. I mean to say that we cannot possibly slow down real fast all by ourselves. Especially not as the speed of academic life and its demands keep accelerating. I do not celebrate being part of a generation of academics who simply have no time for meaningful conversations – without a goal. It’s like being in a playground full of friends who don’t really have the time to play. There is always something to be scored in the end – which is not just a conversation and sharing of perspectives, that can help us understand each other and co-develop thought. There seems to be next to no time or desire alive for healthy debate. There seems to be no time to dream without fear, restlessness and anxiety. There seems to be no time to unlearn our rigidities, in order to learn from children; to tune back into the playfulness and curiosity that probably drove most of us to pursue intellectual life-journeys. This does not happen in isolation, does it? Saying no because one needs to rest, or take a walk or simply get bored – would be frowned upon. We seem to be acting through our own academic versions of FOMO (fear of missing out) – saying yes to speedy commitments because one might miss out on being part of important alliances. What everyone misses out on, however, is time with and for themselves, their beloved, their loved ones, and children – regardless of whether or not they are one’s own. Time with and for children, could simply be taking time to notice how that little girl on the bus puts up with her busy mother, or following children and youth on media ‘to keep up’. We not only compromise on time to ‘watch them grow’, we compromise on time to ‘grow with them’. We would need to find ways to support each other in saying no, in slowing down real fast.

Developing childism collectively requires us to go beyond doing ‘fieldwork with/on children’. While there are strategic and pragmatic needs to continue social scientific knowledge production as per the speedy status quo, co-developing childist perspectives that future generations will thank us for – paradoxically require us to slow down real fast. We surely need space to do that; a safe space for childism?

A safe space for childism – would/could be a version of what in the art world is known as an ‘artist residency’ or ‘writer residency’ coordinated via the institutional framework of the Childism Institute. It could be a tiny house, a room, a cabin, apartment that academics from our community are willing to offer to someone who wants/needs to write about childism. Rent would be covered by the host, one pays for travel and food. The residency would not come with additional obligations of giving talks, lectures, reviewing doctoral dissertations, networking obligations, and all sorts of ‘exchanges’ that come with the package of ‘visiting fellows’.

There is one thing to do – to dream, think and write about childism in response to ongoing conversations picked from the archive of the transnational childism colloquiums (or someplace else). It is up to the writers to choose the channels they share their writing with us. In a time, where teleworking/home-office seems to have entered the global academic work culture – a writing residency away from presence obligations would no longer be an odd thing to do.

Over the last two years, the Childism Institute has been growing organically and it has become part of our socio-intellectual lives, purely digitally. There seems to be institutional hybridity taking form, which might have opened possibilities for us to slow down fast and collectively cultivate - a safe space for childism.

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