Seminar – Childhood and the Postcolonial: An Ethnographic Exploration

Please join us for a lunchtime seminar hosted by the Childhood and Gender Stream, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education:

Childhood and the Postcolonial: An Ethnographic Exploration

Sarada Balagopalan (Rutgers University)

Discussant: Kirrily Pells (UCL Institute of Education)

Monday, 18th January 2016, 12.30-14.00
Room 736, UCL IOE, 20 Bedford Way, London

Normative constructions of ‘childhood’ often tend to rehash well-known debates on modernity – a majority of childhoods in the global South are usually found to be ‘lacking’/lagging and all solutions/transformations are a re-enactment of shifts that have already taken place in children’s lives in the modern west.  In contrast to this reading, my book Inhabiting ‘Childhood’: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India employed a ‘postcolonial’ lens to critically rethink the ‘difference’ that laboring children signify.  In my talk I will draw upon this ethnography with street children in Kolkata, India to discuss two separate, though interconnected, ways in which a postcolonial lens opens up our current understandings of marginal children’s lives.  The first is by locating these contemporary lives within a longer history of colonial modernity and postcolonial development, and thereby re-reading the ‘child’ as a critical and productive site in the working out of a different modernity.  The second is through using postcolonial theory to critically discuss the circulation of liberal categories – like rights, protection, agency – which are increasingly deployed around these categories of children.  By focusing on the postcolony as a conceptual, rather than a descriptive, lens through which to read the lives of children, I hope to discuss the potential in theorizing childhoods ethnographically.

Sarada Balagopalan is an Associate Professor at the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers University, Camden, New Jersey, USA. Her book Inhabiting ‘Childhood’: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

Kirrily Pells is a Lecturer in Childhood at UCL Institute of Education. Her research focuses on the social study of childhoods globally especially in relation to poverty, rights and violence.

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