Volume 5 Issue 2 - December 23, 2011
Special Issue on Re-Exploring Childhood Studies
‘Little Children are Constructed of Malleable Material’: Conceptions of Children and Childhood in Anna Chapin Ray’s Playground Books
Beginning in the 1880s, some American ‘child-savers’ began advocating for, creating, and supervising playgrounds for poor children living in crowded urban neighborhoods. In 1901 and 1903 respectively, author and playground advocate Anna Chapin Ray published two children’s books set on such a playground. Published prior to the nationalization of the play movement in the form of the Playgrounds Association of America in 1906, these books provide an unused lens through which to view the history of a movement that has had a wide-ranging impact on American children. Comparing the historical record with conceptions of children and childhood presented in these two fictional works, I found understandings of children, childhood and the importance of play that contrast with those expressed by later national play movement leaders. These differences suggest that significant changes in play movement leadership and rationales accompanied nationalization. Both the reasons for these changes and their impact on children warrant further research.
This study examines how American children negotiate the unwritten social rules that guide their interactions with peers during play. Using video recorded data of play from summer camp and school recess free time, I analysed children’s talk and action to show how they sustain play with peers. Studying children interacting with each other highlights an aspect of children’s culture that is changing as their lives become more closely governed by adults because of changing beliefs about parenting and the reduction of play opportunities at school. Because of these cultural changes, children have fewer occasions to work on the important developmental task of negotiating unwritten social rules. Although children may engage in negotiations of unwritten social rules in interactions outside of play, such as within classroom activities, play provides a context in which children interact for extended time periods within contexts that are somewhat outside the immediate influence of adults.
Recreation Centers and Programmes have historically been designed by adults for adolescents as places of refuge, rehabilitation, and recreation. However, today’s virtual play spaces, such as Teen Second Life, differ in that the play environment is co-constructed by children. Yet, similar to traditionally adult constructed play spaces, an adult presence within Second Life protects young users from adult and sexual content. This duality creates a unique virtual space in which the benefits of both free and constructed play are present. In addition, the offline anonymity of virtual interactions offers another level of safety and freedom that promotes identity exploration and experimentation. This paper will discuss the relation and interaction between virtual space and the creation of technologized cultural tools, the similarities and differences of virtual and physical play, the value and benefits of virtual play, as well as the possible detriments of children’s play becoming exclusively confined to virtual space.
Designed to Control, Destined to Fail? Disciplinary Practices at an Inner-City Elementary School in the United States
Disciplinary systems are designed to control. At School James, an inner-city elementary school in the Midwestern United States, a highly detailed system of rules and punishments is supposed to control students. Various rules minutely regulate almost every conceivable aspect of students' appearance, conduct, interactions, and movement. Drawing on my fieldwork at School James, and Michel Foucault’s theory of discipline, this article argues that the meticulous attention to detail that is designed to ensure the effectiveness of rules and punishments creates various inconsistencies that undermine the disciplinary system in practice. These inconsistencies arise out of the structure of the disciplinary system itself, and the interplay of teachers’ and students’ agency in handling rules and punishments. As a result, the disciplinary system not only falls short of achieving the desired levels of control, it also creates tensions between students and teachers who are subjected to its constraints in their daily interactions.
Tourists have increasingly been traveling to Cusco to volunteer in programmes that offer assistance to local poor children. This paper analyses volunteer tourism as a moral economy, exploring how tangled circulations of money, people, labour, and emotions create opportunities for connection and disillusion. Children and volunteers forge intense relationships, often based on physical attachment, dreams of sustained interaction, and idealistic goals of ‘making a difference’. I propose that the actors in this industry negotiate disparate perspectives on the relationship between affective and economic forms of care. Foreigners base their aid interventions on assumptions about childhood, poverty, and development, yet children challenge tourists’ constructions as they appropriate volunteer emotional and economic resources to fit their own needs. Situating the mechanics of this industry alongside narratives of diverse participants, I emphasise that connection and disillusion influence the possibilities for children’s assistance, volunteering, and tourism in Peru.