Queer Theory and Childhood

Diederik Janssen

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
Queer Theory and Childhood

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Emergent interfacing between queer studies and childhood studies has amounted to a playing field simultaneously scandalous and undeniably compelling. An early 1990s theoretical response to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and feminist politicizations of sexual and gender identity, queer theory loosely refers to criticism of normative, essentialist, and otherwise regulatory underpinnings of such formulations. Queer studies loosely refers to the consolidation of an academic commitment to the intellectual and ethical space opened up by engagement with queer theory. Stringent demarcations of queer studies within culture studies or within critical theory are unproductive, however: distinctions among LBGT liberalism, queer theory, recent calls for post-queer theory, and critical theory not specified as queer, centrally animate the ontologically delicate and tactically intricate rubric of “queer.” Childhood has been recognized as a crucial emblematic function in neoliberal sexual politics, and has been duly regularized as a central queer concern: an arguable crucible or ground zero of all sexual politics. This especially pertains to the child’s implication in regimes of categorization that are to govern complex coordinations of subjectivity across class, race, gender, maturational, and sexual fault lines (coordinations often related to what anthropologists used to call the incest taboo). At the same time, the child may be considered to harbor potential for resilience in the face of these overarching forms of containment. Whether and how this potential may translate to children’s agency, or instead remain redemptive on a strictly intellectual level, is one of the cardinal questions posed in the works cited in this article. The specific imaginary of the “queer child” has benefited from a variable tutelage in the more expansive theoretical vistas of queer temporalities, queer pedagogy, and, to a lesser degree, queer kinship. Major questions revolve around the child’s legibility as a position within age-stratified socialities, particularly the family and (primary) school. The “queering” and “queerness” of the child are accordingly tied in with that of the family, adult, parent, teacher, and “pedophile.” The pertinence of queer theory to childhood studies, furthermore, opens out on the questioning of any instance of normalization pertaining to childhood—indeed, how the child is “queer” in a very generic sense—and of the instrumentality of the trope of the “normal” or “innocent" child across social, cultural, legal, and increasingly global domains. Most of queer theoretical commentary pertains to the 1990s to early 21st-century US or Anglophone West more broadly, but a recent and growing number of texts deal with broader postcolonial and “human rights” concerns (see Nation, Colony, and Citizenship). On the theme of the child, queer theory has been importantly prefaced by a small French forum working in the proximity of Foucault, as cited in Early, Radical, and Proto-Queer Theory. While queer theory is noted for unpacking rubrifications, for the purposes of this bibliography, “child” loosely coincides with the period before or early in “adolescence.” Theoretical commentary addressing adolescence and youth often readily allows extension to childhood studies, however.

Article.  8634 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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