Empowering children by critiquing norms and structures
WHAT IS CHILDISM?
Childism is like feminism but for children. It has emerged in the academic literature as a term to describe efforts to respond to 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 also challenges and transforms the historically ingrained adult-centered assumptions that underlie children’s systemic exclusion 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 patriarchalism and reconstructing age-inclusive research and advocacy.
The concept of childism initially grew out of the interdisciplinary field of childhood studies, but has also crossed over into diverse humanities and social science fields. The term itself has been in use since around 2006 (Wall 2006, 2019) (though different uses of the word also existed earlier [Hunt 1991] and later [Young-Bruehl 2011]).
In the humanities, childism in this sense has informed fresh approaches to ethical theory and practice (Rubio 2010, Wall 2010), human rights and social justice (Elkins 2013, Ott 2019), poststructuralist literary studies (Wadsworth 2017), and biblical studies (Parker 2017). In the social sciences, it has been applied in girlhood studies (Mandrona 2016), education (Franck 2017, Warming 2011a), children’s political citizenship (Sundhall 2017, Wall 2008, 2014, 2016), and climate studies (Biswas 2019). In these and other ways, researchers have started to examine children’s lived experiences, not only as important in their own right, but also as raising fundamental questions about larger social systems.
The Childism Institute also builds on similar work coming out of childhood studies such as “childprism research” by Hanne Warming (2011b, 2016a, 2016b, 2018, 2019), the “child as method” approach of Erica Burman (2012 and 2018). It also shares much with other childhood studies concepts such as “generation” in Berry Mayall (2002) and Leena Alanan (2011 and 2016), and work by Spyros Spyrou (2018), Zsuzsanna Millei (2014-15), Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv (2017), Niklas Chimirri (2014), Katherine Vitus (2010), and others.
Abebe, Tatek and Tanu Biswas, "Rights in Education: Outlines for a Decolonial, Childist Reimagination of the Future." Fennia - International Journal of Geography, forthcoming. "We identify and discuss aspects of learning that educational research, policies and institutions can consider, addressing the needs and subjectivities of learners and activating a politics around rights in education ... [and] we outline four strategies of moving forward with a decolonial, childist lens of reimagining education as community formation."
Barajas, Sebastian, 2021. "Unearned Advantages? Redefining Privilege in Light of Childhood." Children's Geographies 19. "This article puts privilege theory in conversation with childhood studies in order to create a richer understanding of privilege." (see here).
Biswas, Tanu, 2019. Little Things Matter Much: Childist Ideas for a Pedagogy of Philosophy in an Overheated World (Büro Himmelgrün Munich, 2020). An investigation of childism and planetary/economic overheating that asks, “What is the scope for the philosophical blossoming of adults when they enter children’s playfully constructed worlds as guests?” (see here)
Biswas, Tanu, 2021. "Who Needs Sensory Education?" Studies in Philosophy and Education, 1-16. "[B]eing-with-children can enable philosophical clearings for adults to re-cognise plural temporalities, as opposed to a singular clock-time perception of Time." (see here)
Biswas, Tanu, 2021. "Letting Teach: Gen Z as Socio-Political Educators in an Overheated World." Frontiers in Political Science 3(641609):1-11. "[A]n integral dimension of reflexivity in further developing childist educational theory and praxis, entails a conscious commitment to letting children and youth teach adult educators too." (see here)
Chawar, Ewa, et al., 2018. Children's Voices in the Polish Canon Wars: Participatory Research in Action. International Research in Children's Literature, 11.2:111-131. "[W]e believe that [the field of children's literature] can embrace a more radical form of childism by paving the way towards child-inclusive humanistic methodologies. Such approaches could transform prevalent norms and strategies for reading literature and become a model of academic practice aimed at promoting intergenerational cohesion and counteracting antichild prejudice." (see here)
Elkins, Kathleen Gallagher. 2013. “Biblical Studies and Childhood Studies: A Fertile, Interdisciplinary Space for Feminists.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 29(2):146-53. This article proposes that there is productive tension between “childism” and “feminism.” (see here)
Franck, Olof. 2017. “Highlighting Ethics, Subjectivity and Democratic Participation in Sustainabiltity Education: Challenges and Contributions.” In Ethical Literacies and Education for Sustainable Development: Young People, Subjectivity and Democratic Participation, edited by Olof Franck and Christina Osbeck, 1-17. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. “In this chapter the challenge of developing democratic education for sustainability, where the aim is not that the students will be fostered into taking specific moral positions but rather that they will become aware of the right to deliberately choose ethical actions and strategies as moral and social subjects, is highlighted… The concept of subjectivity is discussed with regard to the philosophical-pedagogical approaches developed by Gert Biesta, Jacques Rancière and John Wall.” (see here)
Garroway, Kristine and John W. Martens, Children and Methods: Listening to and Learning from Children in the Biblical World (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020). “This collection of essays proposes that while the various lenses of established methods of higher criticism offer insight into the lives of children, by filtering these methods through the new field of Childist Criticism, children can be heard and seen in a new light.”
Garroway, Kristine. 2018. “2 Kings 6:24-30: A Case of Unintentional Elimination,” Journal of Biblical Literature 137(1):53-70. Applies the lens of childism to biblical scholarship about a passage about two mothers who agree to eat their children as a child sacrifice. (see here).
Josefsson, Jonathan. 2019. "Non-Citizen Children and the Right to Stay: A Discourse Ethical Approach." Ethics & Global Politics, 12(3):32-49. "Building on Seyla Benhabib’s concepts reciprocity and democratic iterations, this article develops a discourse theoretical approach that offers an alternative framework to a legalistic approach for the normative analysis of the rights of non-citizen children" seeking asylum. (see here).
Josefsson, Jonathan, and John Wall. 2020. “Empowered Inclusion: Theorizing Global Justice for Children and Youth,” Globalizations, 17(6):1043-1060. “This paper argues that contemporary child and youth experiences of globalization call for retheorizing global justice around a new concept of empowered inclusion.” (see here)
Mannion, Gregory. 1999. “Children’s Participation in Changing School Grounds and Public Play Areas in Scotland.” Ph.D Dissertation, University of Stirling, Scotland. Childism is defined in analogy to feminism as “the move to recover the child as active agent, citizen, and cultural participant.” (see here)
Moore, Amber. 2018. "'I Knew You Were Trouble': Considering Childism(s), Shame Resilience, and Adult Caretaker Characters Surrounding YA Rape Survivor Protangonists." New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship, 24:2, 144-166. Four pieces of young adult adult literature are examined to "suggest that how parent and school-based professional characters impact survivor protagonists is directly correlated with if, or the degree to which, the grown ups participated in “positive” or “negative” childism." (see here)
Newstead, Shelly. 2016. De-constructing and Reconstructing the unorthodox recipe of playwork. Doctoral Thesis, Human Development and Psychology, London, Institute of Education, University College London. “This study takes a new approach to the age-old problem of a unique identity for playwork by treating it as a collective and historical problem… This deconstruction of the historical playwork primary sources rediscovered the lost philosophy of the adventure playground pioneers, and this was used to develop the P.A.R.S. (Playwork Action Research System) model of playwork practice.” (see here)
Ott, Kate. 2019. “Taking Children’s Moral Lives Seriously: Creativity as Ethical Response Offline and Online.” Religions 10, pp. 525-37. “This article asks: Are children full moral agents? If so, what can Christian ethics, which predominantly focuses on adult subjects, learn from a focus on children?… Children as ethical subjects focus attention on issues of particularity, a decentering of rational individualism, and debunking linear moral developmental assumptions.” (see here)
Parker, Julie Faith. 2017. Valuable and Vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible, especially the Elisha Cycle. Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies. “Childist biblical interpretation encourages resistant reading of both the Bible and commentaries, replacing the tendency to ignore child characters with focused attention on them.” (see here)
Parker, Julie Faith. 2019. “Children in the Hebrew Bible and Childist Interpretation.” Currents in Biblical Research 17(2) 130–157. DOI: 10.1177/1476993X18821324. “Since the word ‘childist’ is still new to many in the academy, I discuss the origin of this term, define it, and urge its adoption. Most of the article assesses scholarship on children in the [Hebrew Bible], with an emphasis on publications that have emerged recently as well as works forthcoming.” (see here)
Rosen, Rachel and Katherine Twamley, 2018. "Introduction. The Woman-Child Question: A Dialogue in the Borderlands." In Feminism and the Politics of Childhood, edited by Rachel Rosen and Katherine Twamley 1-20. London: UCL Press. Discusses the complex relation of childism to feminism and concludes that "the cause of feminism and the cause of childism should be foundational tenets of all critical intellectual endeavours and political movements, regardless of the constitution of their membership or the causes that they pursue" (18). (see here)
Saal, Britta, "The Children's Polylogue - Doing Philosophy with Children in Intercultural Encounters," Polylog - Journal for Intercultural Philosophizing (2020), 1(7):55-69. "The concern of my paper is twofold: 1) to implement a childist perspective in doing intercultural philosophy and 2) to show one possibility of doing philosophy with children interculturally." (see here).
Sundhall, Jeanette. 2017. “A Political Space for Children? The Age Order and Children’s Right to Participation.” Social Inclusion 5(3):164-171. “This article discusses how adulthood is naturalized and how adulthood norms set limits on the possibilities of including children in democratic processes and understanding them as political subjects. The article examines the kind of resistance children and youth can meet when participating in democratic processes, with examples of speech acts from the Gothenburg Youth Council.” (see here)
Wadsworth, Sarah. 2015. “The Year of the Child: Children’s Literature, Childhood Studies, and the Turn to Childism.” American Literary History 27(2):331-341. A review of several books in literary studies that identifies a move in the field toward a kind of “childism” concerned with “reconstructing worlds in response to differences” of “generation and stage of life.” (see here)
Wall, John. 2006. “Childhood Studies, Hermeneutics, and Theological Ethics,” Journal of Religion 86.4, pp. 523-548. Suggests that, “in an analogous way to women’s and environmental studies, childhood studies should not only apply existing theological methods and norms but also challenge and transform them.” (see here)
Wall, John. 2008. “Human Rights in Light of Childhood,” International Journal of Children’s Rights 16.4, pp. 523-543. “This essay argues that children’s rights will adequately transform societies only when the very concept of ‘human rights’ is reimagined in light of childhood. In this case, human rights would be understood as grounded, not in modernist ideas of autonomy, liberty, entitlement, or even agency, but in a postmodern circle of responsibility to one another.” (see here)
Wall, John. 2010. Ethics in Light of Childhood (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press). An comprehensive development of the concept of childism as it transforms ethical theory and particular approaches to human rights, family life, and other issues. (see here)
Wall, John. 2016. Children’s Rights: Today’s Global Challenge (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers). Uses a childist frame to provide a “systematic overview of the global children’s rights movement … [that] examines key controversies about globalization, cultural relativism, social justice, power, economics, politics, freedom, ageism, and more.” (see here)
Wall, John. 2019. “From Childhood Studies to Childism: Reconstructing the Scholarly and Social Imaginations,” Children’s Geographies, 17(6):1-15, special issue edited by Hanne Warming on Society and Social Changes through the Prism of Childhood. “This article proposes a new lens or prism called childism for critiquing the deeply engrained adultism that pervades scholarship and societies and reconstructing more age-inclusive research and social imaginations.” (see here)
Zehavi, Ohad. 2018. “Becoming-woman, becoming-child: A joint political programme.” In Feminism and the Politics of Childhood, edited by Rachel Rosen and Katherine Twamley 241-256. London: UCL Press. Suggests that “childism” “sets the task for the revolutionary politician of childhood to theoretically and practically construct the means for children to speak out for themselves, in their own name, and be properly heard.” (see here)
Alanen, Leena. 2011. “Critical Childhood Studies?” Childhood 18(2):147-50. Argues that childhood studies must be more critical, and must take a normative turn towards critiquing child essentialism and improving children’s lives. (see here)
Alanen, Leena. 2016. “‘Intersectionality’ and Other Challenges to Theorizing Childhood.” Childhood 23(2):157-61. Suggests that age/generation should be for childhood studies what gender is for feminism. (see here)
Burman, Erica. 2012. "Deconstructing neoliberal childhood’: towards a feminist antipsychological approach." Childhood: a global journal of child research, 19, 4: 423-438. “This article analyses child development as text to highlight newly emerging contemporary tropes of northern, normalized childhoods in relation to gender, racialization and familial organization.” (see here)
Burman, Erica. 2018. "Child as method: anticolonial implications for educational research," International Studies in the Sociology of Education. “This paper advances an approach, ‘child as method’, as a resource for interrogating models of development in childhood and education.” (see here)
Chimirri, N. A. 2014. Investigating media artifacts with children: Conceptualizing a collaborative exploration of the sociomaterial conduct of everyday life. Roskilde: Roskilde Universitet. “The dissertation’s aim is to explore the everyday relevance media artifacts have for young children and thereby counter one-sided interpretations which either understand media to determine children’s behavior and actions or vice versa.” (see here)
Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Justyna, "Thinking with Deconstruction: Book-Adult-Child Events in Children's Literature Research," The Oxford Literary Review 41(2):185-201. "We need the force of such unanticipatable and irruptive (auto)- deconstructive events13 to disrupt our current practices and orientate ourselves to doing research with and not about children’s ecoliterature and with and not about young readers14 as a way towards collective intergenerational ventures addressing contemporary environmental issues." (see here)
Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Justyna, et al., 2019, "Productive Remembering of Childhood: Child-Adult Memory-Work with the School Literary Canon," Humanities 8(74):1-13. "This essay, co-written by adult and child researchers, marks an important shift in the field of children’s literature studies because it promotes an academic practice in which children are actively involved in decision-making. In our polyphonic account of the collaboration, we draw on the ideas of productive remembering, re-memorying, and child-led research to advance a new pedagogical approach to the current, adult-centered literary school canon in Poland, which was compiled in 2017 by a panel of politically appointed experts." (see here)
Gilliam, L. & E. Gulløv. 2017. Children of the Welfare State. Civilising Practices in Schools, Childcare and Families. London: Pluto Press (Anthropology, Culture & Society). “Children of the welfare state explores the civilizing processes embedded in child‐rearing practices in kindergartens, schools, and families in Denmark.” (see here)
Josefsson, Jonathan. 2017. “We beg you, let them stay.” Childhood 24. No 3:316-332. “This article uses a number of cases discussed in Sweden’s largest morning paper to analyse claims of asylum-seeking children and how these claims challenge the normative limits of contemporary asylum, concerning what and who ought to be recognized by law… The article suggests that the claiming of rights as a socio-political practice could be a vital analytical approach to studying children’s rights and offers a much needed alternative to the dominant mainstreaming paradigm.” (see here)
Kohan, Walter Omar, and Barbara Weber, eds., Thinking, Childhood and Time: Contemporary Perspectives on the Politics of Education (Lexington Books, 2020). "This book works toward a paradigm shift in our experience of childhood: To perceive the philosophical and political dimensions of childhood and education." (see here).
Lindholm, Sofia K. and Wickström, Anette. 2020. “‘Looping Effects’ Related to Young People’s Mental Health: How Young People Transform the Meaning of Psychiatric Concepts.” Global Studies of Childhood 10(1): 26–38. “The present article draws on ‘the minority voices’ of young people and theories developed by Ian Hacking to undertake a critical analysis of the conceptualisation of young people’s mental health… We demonstrate how the participants gave new meaning to these psychiatric labels, devalued and gave nuance to them, and by doing so transformed them into cultural categories rather than diagnostic categories.” (see here)
Mandrona, April. 2016. “Ethical Practice and the Study of Girlhood.” Girlhood Studies 9(3):3-19. Explores how children’s experiences transform conceptions of “sex and gender since girls and young women bring unique voices to creative and cultural expression and also interact with social spaces in particular ways.” (see here)
Mayall, Berry. 2002. Towards a Sociology for Childhood. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press. “As gender emerged as key to understanding social relations between women and men, generation is emerging as key to understanding relations between childhood and adulthood.” (see here)
Murris, Karin. 2013. “Reading the World, Reading the Word: Why Not Now Bernard is Not a Case of Suicide, but Self-killing.” Perspectives in Education 31(4): 85-100. “Philosophical teaching assumes a relationship of ’emptying’, not ‘filling’, and a conscious effort from the teacher to resist the urge to regard education as a formation of childhood. My argument will be supported by a transcript of a dialogue I facilitated with nine-year-olds discussing Bernard’s apparent suicide in David McKee’s picturebook Not now Bernard.” (see here)
Murris, Karin. 2016. The Posthuman Child: Educational Transformation through Philosophy with Picturebooks. New York: Routledge. “The idea of the book is to show educators how philosophical enquiries with children can bring about educational transformation. … Part I very much focuses on the ‘why’ of my particular philosophical approach to teaching and learning and curriculum construction. This is followed in Part II with more practical ideas of what childhood education from a posthumanist perspective looks like in the classroom.”
Murris, Karin. 2018. “Posthuman Child and the Diffractive Teacher: Decolonizing the Nature/Culture Binary.” In A. Cutter-Mackenzie et al., eds., Research Handbook on Childhoodnature. Springer. “This chapter shows how critical posthumanism as a navigational tool offers a different relational ontology – more akin to African Indigenous scholarship and ways of living – that reconfigures subjectivity and brings into existence the notions of posthuman child and the sympoietic diffractive teacher (human or nonhuman) – critically urgent notions to consider for education in the Anthropocene.
Rollo, Toby. 2016. "Democracy, Agency and Radical Children's Geographies." In Richard J. White, Simon Springer and Marcelo Lopes de Souza, eds., The Practice of Freedom: Anarchism, Geography, and the Spirit of Revolt Volume. Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 235-255. "From the perspective I have briefly outlined above, the role of the intel- lectual in confronting empire, settler colonialism, hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy and neo-liberal capitalism is to articulate the ways in which adults can work with children to recover relations of care and mutual aid. We do this not by incorporating children into adult institutions but, rather, by removing obstacles to the exercise of childhood agency in order to reinvent institutions" (p. 250).
Rollo, Toby. 2018. "Feral Children: Settler Colonialism, Progress, and the Figure of the Child." Settler Colonial Studies 8(1):60-79. From the Abstract: "I argue that civilizational progress and settler colonialism are structured according to the opposition between politics governed by reason or faith and the figure of the child as sinful or bestial. Thus, it is not contingent, but rather necessary that justificatory frameworks of European empire and colonialism depict Indigenous peoples as children ... [so that] the theoretical link between Indigenous peoples and children emerges not as a simple analogy, but rather, as the source of the premodern/modern and savage/civilized binaries."
Spyrou, Spyros. 2018. Disclosing Childhoods: Research and Knowledge Production for a Critical Childhood Studies. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Argues in part that “it is through a more radical decentering of the child that childhood studies might reinvigorate its research agenda and engage more critically with the wider empirical and theoretical worlds of knowledge.” (see here)
Swart, Ignatius and Yates, Hannelie. 2012. Listening to Africa’s children in the process of practical theological interpretation: A South African application.” Hervormde teologiese studies 68(2), p.1-12. DOI:10.4102/hts.v68i2.1310. “As part of the theological task of developing a publicly oriented ministry that will do justice to the social plight of children in Africa, this article adopted as its point of departure an appreciation of the new ‘hermeneutics of listening’ that is advanced today by an interdisciplinary movement of scholars from the disciplines of practical theology, theological ethics and religion studies.” (see here)
Vitus, Kathrine. 2010. “Waiting Time: the de-subjectification of children in Danish asylum centres.” Childhood – A global journal of child research, vol.17(1): 26-42. “This article analyses the relationship between time and subjectification, focusing on the temporal structures created within Danish asylum centres and politics, and on children’s experiences of and reactions to open-ended waiting.” (see here)
Wall, John. 2014. “Why Children and Youth Should Have the Right to Vote: An Argument for Proxy-Claim Suffrage,” Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 108-123. “This article examines recent debates about extending the right to vote to children and youth under the age of 18. It uses postmodern political theory to argue that concerns about children’s insufficient capabilities and potential to harm themselves and others are unfounded, and that, except in the earliest years, the right to vote for minors would promote the full and just functioning of democracies.” (see here)
Warming, Hanne. 2011. “Inclusive Discourses in Early Childhood Education,” International Journal of Inclusive Education 15(2):233-47. “This article explores the discursive formation of inclusion in early childhood education and after‐school (recreation) centres in a Danish municipality.” (see here)
Warming, Hanne. 2011. “Getting under their skins? Accessing young children’s perspectives through ethnographic fieldwork.” Childhood 18 (1): 39-53. “[I]n order to represent young children’s perspectives in an ethically sound manner, it is necessary to combine the ‘voice approach’ with ethnomethodological insights and critical sociological analysis, which together enable ‘critical sociological empathy’.” (see here)
Warming, Hanne. 2018. “Children’s Citizenship in Globalised Societies.” In Theorising Childhood: Citizenship, Rights and Participation. Baraldi, C. & Cockburn, T. (eds.). Palgrave Macmillan, p. 29-52 24 p. “I argue that the main medium in a theoretical prism enabling a context-sensitive analysis of children’s citizenship in globalised societies is the suggested spatially aware, lived citizenship approach that pays special attention to the preconditions for recognition and trust.” (see here)
Warming, Hanne. 2020. “Childhood prism research: an approach for enabling unique childhood studies contributions within the wider scholarly field.” Children’s Geographies “This article outlines a childhood prism research program with a view to encouraging unique childhood research contributions to the wider scholarly field… making use of the fact that childhood can constitute an extreme or paradigmatic case and can therefore potentially offer a diffractive sociological microscope on certain issues.” (see here)
Zehavi, Ohad. 2010. “Minoracy,” Mafte’akh: Lexical Review of Political Thought 1e pp. 37-49 (translated from Hebrew). “Minoracy is political action aimed at undermining the forces of oppression, resisting the powers of authority, escaping the inevitability of violence. Minorians seek to relieve themselves of the aggression they exert on others and to neutralize, as much as possible, the violence exercised on themselves and on others through society’s dominant norms. ” (see here)