Childhood and Pethood: Representation, Subjectivity, and the Cultural Politics of Power
Abstracts (500 words) due November 1, 2014
Articles (7,000 words) due July 1, 2015
While scholars of children’s literature and childhood studies frequently discuss representations of animals in children’s texts, there is little discussion of the often parallel ways in which these texts construct animal and child subjectivity. At the same time, while critics in the field of animal studies have remarked upon the cultural tendency to think of pets as children, there is little scholarly work on the larger implications of understanding pets as children and vice versa. Even though children and pets are similarly constructed, represented, and dominated in Western culture and society, scholars have largely neglected to interrogate childhood and pethood together.
This collection of essays will investigate the political implications of understanding pets as children and children as pets, specifically in the ideological construction of both as subordinate to and dependent on adults, and examine the cultural connections between domesticated animals and children. We further aim to use the frequent social and cultural alignment between children and pets as an opportunity to analyze institutions that create pet and child subjectivity, from education and training to putting children and pets on display and using them for entertainment purposes. Current constructions of childhood and pethood have developed alongside the emergence of the modern nation-state, relegating children and pets to marginalized spaces in contemporary Western society. In what ways, then, have the modern concepts of “the child” and “the pet” emerged together, and how have these concepts been linked to the project of nation-building? How much institutionalized power should adults have over children and domesticated animals, and how is their lack of rights justified rhetorically? How does understanding pets as children illuminate unequal power relations, and what do such relations look like? What kinds of connections between childhood and pethood do we see historically and today, and what are their implications?
We will draw on recent work in childhood studies, animal studies, and cultural studies to examine how together these disciplines can productively interrogate the cultural politics of power over subjects society collectively views as needing to be trained and schooled in order to become “proper” members of society and the nation. We hope to gather a diverse range of essays that examine cultural and historical constructions and alignments of the child and the pet, theoretical understandings of childhood and pethood, and literary representations of children and pets.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
- The exploitation of children and pets through cultural constructions of childhood and pethood, as well as through the connections between them
- The commercialization of children and animals: pet products, children’s toys, advertising
- Tricks and Talents: putting children and animals on display, zoos, pet shows, child beauty pageants
- Cuteness and the politics of affection
- Fear of wildness, the instinctual, the uncivilized; containing wildness in children and pets
- Training pets and schooling children
- The biopolitics of childhood and pethood
- Disney’s portrayal of pets and children
- How much agency do children and pets have? How much do we pretend they have?
- The Internet and online videos: funny pet and child videos; pet- and child-shaming online
- Child/pet, child/adult, and pet/adult relationships in literature
- Subject construction and nation-building
- Child-pet relationships vs. adult-pet relationships: Are pets “children” for children? Does pet keeping help turn children into adults by teaching them responsibility and caretaking?
- Pets and education: how do pets in schools and pets as vehicles of education contribute to a child’s learning, and what lessons are being taught?
- Children and pets in philosophy; philosophies of childhood and pethood
- Animals and children across cultures; non-Western conceptions of pets and children; what connections do non-Western cultures draw between pets and children?
- The perceived (and forced) asexuality of children and pets: containing sexuality in children and pets
- Depictions of the slave figure and the “noble savage” as analogous to the pet/child
- Baby voices: talking babies and talking animals; projecting voices onto babies and animals; communicating with pets and children
- Infantilizing pets; breastfeeding pets; dressing up pets as children; throwing birthday parties for pets
- Children and pets in visual culture
Please send abstracts of up to 500 words, or any questions, to Anna Feuerstein and Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo at [email protected] by November 1, 2014. Full essays (5,000-7,000 words) will be due July 1, 2015.