Call for Papers
Modern Language Association Convention
January 3 – 6, 2019
Arguably, Western culture has been selling the concept of childhood from its inception. In the eighteenth century, figures like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau persuaded their peers to buy the new idea that childhood constituted a distinct phase of human development.
Selling childhood quickly expanded from the realm of ideological persuasion to the one of consumer capitalism. After all, if childhood constituted its own unique period in the human life cycle, then it had unique material needs. During the nineteenth century, a large and lucrative industry of books, clothes, toys, and household items emerged to cater to the new specialty market of children.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, childhood was being sold in a myriad of ways: as nostalgia, as political rhetoric, and—amidst the rise of postwar youth culture—as coolness.
In the new millennium, the selling of childhood has reached a scale that is unprecedented in human history. Throughout Western culture, young people occupy the vanguards of material, popular, and consumer culture. Furthermore, after centuries of childhood commonly being sold as innocence, it has increasingly been marketed as sexiness.
Of course, during all of these eras, childhood has been sold not simply figuratively, but literally: via child labor, child trafficking, and child exploitation.
This guaranteed panel session examines the long, rich, and complicated history of selling childhood in the West. In so doing, it brings together past and present notions of this concept as an ideological, cultural, and, of course, capitalist commodity. How have Western concepts of childhood been regarded as transactional, from an intellectual, economic, historic, and/or socio-political standpoint? How has childhood been packaged, marketed, and sold over the centuries? Just as importantly, who has been buying it? Finally, how have technological developments—from photography and television to computers and smart phones—both helped to facilitate and provided sites of resistance to this phenomenon?
In considering responses to these and other questions, this panel invites examinations from a wide array of disciplines, including literature, popular culture, education, philosophy, childhood studies, economics, comics studies, media studies, age studies, sociology, cultural studies, political science, and history.
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
- the selling of childhood as a highly raced, classed, gendered, and sexualized construct
- the commodification of children’s literature and childhood culture
- the role that technology has played in the way that childhood has been marketed, commodified, and consumed: photography, film, radio, television, computers, the internet, smart phones, YouTube, etc.
- the use of children and childhood to sell products, ideas, and political agendas
- marketing, advertising, and packaging intended for children
- child trafficking
- the selling of childhood as nostalgia to adults
- modes of resistance to selling childhood—how have individuals, groups, movements, cultures, and even young people themselves questioned, challenged, and even outright rejected this phenomenon
- the hegemonic promotion of specific understandings of childhood in certain time periods, cultures, nations, regions, and communities
- children and consumerism; the child consumer
- the relationship between selling and exploiting childhood
- the longstanding use of child characters in comics as a means to sell newspapers
- the radically different ways that childhood has been intellectually, economically, and culturally sold over the centuries: as innocence, as coolness, as sexy, etc.
- child labor
- shifting ideological understandings of childhood and their battles for ascendency
Send 500-word paper proposals and a 2-page CV by March 1, 2018 to Michelle Ann Abate, firstname.lastname@example.org. Accepted panelists must become members of MLA by April 1, 2018.