On 11th April 2015, three of NCRCL’s PhD students — Anne Malewski, Sinead Moriarty, and Sarah Pyke — along with Dr Jane Carroll presented their current projects at the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature (ISSCL) conference 2015 in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin.
The setting for the conference was the brand new Dún Laoghaire Lexicon, a cultural centre and library set on the seafront in the Dublin suburb. The NCRCL delegates were made to feel incredibly welcome by the ISSCL team and were even given a tour of the new library facilities before the end of the weekend! This two-day event brought together a dynamic range of academics, graduate students and writers of children’s literature, not only from Ireland and the UK, but Europe and Latin America as well.
The theme of the 2015 ISSCL Conference was ‘Constructing childhoods and texts for children’. The broad nature of this theme resulted in a wide range of interesting papers focusing on topics such as the construction of the image of the child in the work of bell hooks in texts such as Happy to be Nappy to an examination of Beckett’s Godot for children in Sesame Street! The first day of the conference culminated in a fascinating key note speech by Maria Nikolajeva who focused on the importance of fantasy literature in the cognitive development of the child.
Anne, Sinead, and Sarah have written brief reports from their presentations and experiences from the conference…
Which Way Is Up: Representations of Growth in This Is England
By Anne Malewski
My doctoral research investigates the shifting boundaries between childhood and adulthood in twenty-first century Britain. One way of exploring these shifting boundaries is through growth. If defined as physical, intellectual and emotional development, growth is a process whereby children become adults and, thus, the boundaries between childhood and adulthood are traversed.
In my paper at the ISSCL conference, I analysed representations of growth in Shane Meadow’s film This Is England (2006) and its TV series sequels This Is England ‘86 (2010) and This Is England ‘88 (2011) to examine how the cycle taps into existing discourses of growth and creates its own alternative discourse. The idea that children must grow up into adults, that growth is inevitable, desirable and upwards, has been identified as a pervasive grand narrative (Trites (2014); 19-20, 148). Following an age-diverse gang over several years in the 1980s, the This Is England cycle challenges this grand narrative. Through depicting rites of passage as uneasy rather than inevitably leading to linear and permanent growth, encoding conventional definitions of growing up as value-negative and introducing growing sideways as an alternative, the This Is England cycle depicts growth as incongruous, ambiguous and multi-directional. Moreover, the cycle’s representations of youth subcultures and Thatcherism indicate that that the authority of adults can be challenged by the young, that youth subcultures are powerful and, furthermore, accessible to protagonists well beyond their teenage years.
I shared the panel with Kate Harvey (NUI Galway) who presented on participatory theatre and Karl Peters (TCD) who presented on the adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in Sesame Street. As all our presentations analysed non-print media with an interest in the disruptions of child-adult power relationships, the panel concluded with a fruitful discussion of, for example, narrative agency, double address, the significance of positive adult role models, the possibility of extended liminality in rites of passage, the link between personal and economic growth as well as the viewer’s interaction with how narratives are framed, for instance, in trailers.
Physical suffering and child development in Antarctic whaling literature
By Sinead Moriarty
My presentation examined the connection between child development and violence in Antarctic whaling narratives for children. The seas around the Antarctic were the landscape in which the whaling trade reached its zenith and its end. In seeking to exploit the dwindling whale populations around the Antarctic, whalers created sophisticated systems involving chaser ships which tracked and killed whales, factory ships which could strip the gigantic bodies of skin, blubber and meat and process the blubber to create valuable whale oil. Some operations even included small aircraft which acted as spotters tracking the movement of whale packs and signalling the ships below. At its peak in the 1950s, thousands of men and boys were engaged in the industry of whaling in the Antarctic. Antarctic whaling literature depicts this bustling industry which was based in one of the most inaccessible environments in the world.
This presentation focused on three narratives for children written over the course nearly sixty years. These were Frank Bullen’s The Bitter South (1909), Allan Villiers Whalers of the Midnight Sun (1934) and James Vance Marshall’s My Boy John that Went to Sea (1966). Despite the very different eras in which these texts were published, they each depicted whaling as a rite of passage in the coming of age process for their young male protagonists. I argue that these texts present both enduring and inflicting violence as essential parts of the coming of age process for the young men. In the texts the young protagonists do not learn to love violence, or to gain satisfaction from inflicting suffering on the wild animals they hunt, instead they learn that violence is an essential part of adult masculinity and in order to make the transition to adulthood and successfully complete their rite of passage they must become accustomed to habitual violence. I concluded my presentation by asserting that these texts can be seen to perpetuate problematic constructions of masculinity in connection to violence.
The conference at the end of the rainbow
By Sarah Pyke
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my first year of doctoral research is that attending a conference at which you are giving a paper is a very different experience to going along merely to listen, eat tiny triangular sandwiches and chicken out of asking questions.
One of the first things to grapple with is: what kind of presenter are you? To borrow from the helpful taxonomy created by Princeton academic Dr Christy Wampole, in a recent New York Times blog, are you a monotone droner? A speed-reading gabbler? Do you even have a central argument?
Consider too your habits as an audience member. Are you a doodler? An email-checker? A snoozer?
For the fledgling graduate student, it’s a minefield, made all the more intimidating in the knowledge that for the first time, it’s your own research that needs to hold the attention of the room.
Speaking in a parallel session with Ciara Gallagher (TCD), who was exploring gender and childhood in the work of nineteenth century Irish writer Elizabeth Lysaght, and colleague Sinead Moriarty, I was there to talk about my research, which uses oral history as a method to gather LGBTQ adults’ memories of reading in childhood and adolescence.
I shared some preliminary findings from my pilot project, in which I interviewed a lesbian woman and a gay man about their memories of books and reading, looking specifically at the ways in these readers, as children and teenagers, found themselves within or ‘hailed’ by texts, to use Louis Althusser’s term, identifying with certain characters, or rejecting whole genres out of hand.
Through reading, I found that my two narrators were able not only to involve themselves in new texts and worlds and to identify with characters across age and gender boundaries, but to access aspects of themselves that they hadn’t been able to access before. Through reading, they were able to make crucial discoveries about themselves and, as Wolfgang Iser suggests in The Implied Reader (1978), to “formulate the unformulated”.
(And for the record, I’m a read-it-verbatim speaker, with possibly too much text in my PowerPoint, and a video that played out of sync. But I really did try to look up and to make eye contact. And it was, weirdly, pretty fun.)
So, even if you’re speaking last, in the last session, on the last day (so much time to get nervous in!), even if you are more than mildly intimidated by the calibre of some of the big name professors scholars in the room, even if you feel that you less ‘answered the questions put to you’ than ‘opened your mouth while some random sentences fell out of it’, know this: you too can give a paper. You might even enjoy it.
Now give yourself a pat on the back and help yourself to another improbably small sandwich. You’ve earned it.
Anne Malewski is a PhD student at the NCRCL researching the shifting boundaries between childhood and adulthood in twenty-first century Britain. She is curious about children’s culture, identity constructions, tree climbing, illustration and music. Anne was awarded the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship 2014.
Sinead Moriarty is a PhD candidate with the NCRCL. Her current research is on wilderness in English and Irish children’s literature, specifically looking at Arctic and Antarctic literature. She was awarded a Vice Chancellor’s Studentship for her research in 2012.
Sarah Pyke is a PhD student currently researching LGBTQ adults’ memories of childhood reading as part of the AHRC-funded project, Memories of Fiction: An Oral History of Readers’ Life Stories. She is based within the NCRCL at the University of Roehampton. She blogs here and you can also find her on Twitter.
Photos by Sinead and Sarah.