New Reviews

Feminism and the Politics of Childhood: Friends of foes?

Feminism and the Politics of Childhood: Friends or Foes? Edited by Rachel Rosen and Katherine Twamley. London: University College London, 2018. 260 pages. £40.00 (paperback).

Feminism and the Politics of Childhood: Friends or Foes? was published following a 2015 symposium Feminism and the Politics of Childhood at University College London (UCL), as a collaborative enterprise between the authors of the chapters and the book’s editors. The volume belongs among a growing, yet still considerably scarce body of scholarship that brings together women studies and childhood studies to explore and nuance various aspects of motherhood and childhood in relation to feminism. The book inscribes into a larger debate within feminism and the scholarship of childhood on how to theorise those positioned as mothers and children without either merging them together or antagonistically pitting them again each other. In that, Feminism and the Politics of Childhood seeks to traverse the friends or foes alternative positioned in its title in order to create a conceptual and political space to think of mothers and children not in opposition or as a conglomerate, but as two agents whose subjectivities should both be considered.

Feminism and the Politics of Childhoodis illustrative of a new current in the humanities that adopt a generational focus. The volume contributes to a set of earlier publications that employ such approach, including three pre-2000 publications: Barrie Thorne’s ‘Re-envisioning Women and Social Change: Where are the Children?’ (1987), Leena Alanen’s ‘Gender and Generation: Feminism and the ‘Child Question’’ (1994) and Ann Oakley’s ‘Women and Children First and Last: Parallels and Differences Between Children’s and Women’s Studies’ (1994). More recent publications that recognise the productivity of the generationally-focused approach include Berry Mayall’s Towards a Sociology of Childhood (2002), the special issue of Feminist Theory ‘The Child and Childhood’ (2010), as well Katherine Twamley, Rachel Rosen and Berry Mayall’s 2016 article for Children’s Geographies on the (im-)possibility of dialogue across feminism and childhood studies and activism.* The relevance and up-to-datedness of this type of scholarship is reflected not only in its attempts to shift the current academic discourse, but also in the administrative rearrangements that parallel its agenda. In 2014, the Institute of Education merged with UCL, producing an opportunity for a collaboration with the University’s Gender and Sexuality Studies to open a space for thinking mothers and children without objectifying either.

The profile of the book is both academic and activist. Not overburdened with the academic jargon, the eighteen chapters employ a range of theoretical approaches, among them poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, posthumanism, postcolonial studies, political economy, and the ethics of care. The chapters examine particular case studies and trace the global interconnections in the politics of care. Written both by scholars and by community activists, the chapters address the normalizing processes that aim to privatise and depoliticise childcare and, on the other hand, explore the diverse, empirical experience of the mother-child relation.

The book is divided into three sections that offer diverse entry-points into the subject: across the disciplines of childhood studies and women studies, across the academia and general audience, and across diverse geographical-cultural locations. The first section, ‘Tense Encounters: Gender and Generation,’ maps conceptual and practical difficulties of the woman-child relation on such diverse examples as Grassroots Women in Canada, community homes in Bogota, the Sahrawi Refugee Camps and within the academic discourse. The next section, ‘Life’s work,’ offers case studies of the women and children’s lived experience: in Argentine social programs, the Indigenous Opokaa’sin project, international commercial surrogacy, and through the notions of vulnerability, love, labour, and temporality construed as political levers of social change. Finally, ‘Political Projects and Movement Building,’ looks into the future, exploring the influence of current strategies to shape the social contract using the examples of early childhood education, responses to family violence and joint political programs including women and children. The Introduction, co-authored by Rosen and Twamley, offers a compact, lucid overview of the book’s contents and provides a background of the recent scholarship that anticipated the book’s coming to fruition.

Feminism and the Politics of Childhood is a politically, academically and ethically astute book. It crosses the boundaries of disciplines, critical perspectives, as well as academic and public lives to advance its academic and political agenda. In doing so, the book takes up an ambitious task of presenting them in intellectual, social and political contexts, in order to, as the co-editors put it, overcome the ‘recurring dead ends of elision or antagonism’ (2). As announced in the dedication that opens the book, Feminism and the Politics of Childhood has been published ‘[f]or women and children everywhere, in our struggles for social and economic justice’ The plural form of ‘struggles’ attests to the authors’ and editors’ efforts in staying attuned to the multiplicity of contexts and geographies in which women-children relations take place.

Justyna Wierzchowska University of Warsaw

* See Alanen, Leena. Gender and Generation: Feminism and the ‘Child Question’. In Qvortrup, Jens et al. (eds.) Childhood Matters. Aldershot: Avebury. 1994. 27–42; Burman, Erica, & Stacey, Jackie (eds.) The Child and Childhood [Special Issue]. Feminist Theory 11(3), 2010. 227–339; Mayall, Berry. Towards A Sociology for Childhood: Thinking from Children’s Lives. Buckingham: Open University Press, 2002; Oakley, Ann. Women and Children First and Last: Parallels and Differences Between Children’s and Women’s Studies. In Mayall, Berry (ed.) Children’s Childhoods: Observed and Experienced. London: Falmer Press, 1994. 13–32; Thorne, Barrie. Re-envisioning Women and Social Change: Where Are the Children? Gender & Society 1(1): 1987. 85–109; Twamley, Katherine, Rosen, Rachel & Mayall, Berry. The (Im)possibilities of Dialogue across Feminism and Childhood Scholarship and Activism. Children's Geographies 15(2), 2017. 249-255. DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2016.1227611