Childhood Studies in the Anthropocene

Lisa Procter and Abi Hackett presented at the conference, Childhood Studies in the Anthropocene. Their paper was entitled: Playing with Place, Childhood and the Anthropocene: An analysis of dark emotion and materiality in children’s play

Here is an overview of what we talked about. The article that this presentation is based on is currently in press and will be published shortly.

In this paper we bring together the cultural studies of emotion with post-humanist and new materialist theories that foreground the agency of place and objects in order to analyse the entanglement of place, children and emotion (particularly fear) in children’s play encounters. When children, objects and places come into play with each other, intensities and emotions emerge. Through an analysis of examples from two ethnographic studies in which play encounters between children and place seem to evoke fear, we explore the potentialities of what is evoked. Fear is bounded in place (Ahmed, 2014) and experienced materially and bodily. As fear becomes entangled in the materiality of place and bodies, emotions work to characterise and categorise bodies (human and non human), in ways that connect to anthropocentric and colonial meta-narratives of animal / human and victim / aggressor. We make the case that the cultural studies of emotion can offer a means through which it is possible to connect the micro and the macro, working at these different scales in order to consider the political implications of re-conceptualising play encounters in the anthropocene through new materialism.

You can access our PowerPoint presentation here.

Questions and discussions following our talk were really productive in extending our thinking about play, fear, children, objects and things.

One of the questions has left us thinking about the uncategorisability of emotion. While we identified moments of ‘fearful’ play in our paper, whether this be because children articulated their fear (i.e. ‘it’s scary’), or because the children were enacting fearful encounters through impromptu play (i.e. getting beaten up), it is also possible to say that these play encounters were textured by a whole range of feelings, which could be name as excitement, anticipation, a sense of power, for example. We realised how slippery emotions are, how they unfold into one another in the moment and over time. We have also reflected on the role of the human sciences in exploring the physiological dimensions of heightened emotional experiences in children, allowing us to ask what comes to life in children’s brains/bodies as they engage in these encounters of entanglement.

We have also been reflecting on the role that performance plays in childhood emotion. Again, we were posed a question that made us stammer for a while, and we have been pondering upon it since. While we talked about how children do learn ways in which to communicate emotion in ways that keep them out of trouble (whether in school, home or other contexts), through gesture, facial responses, talk, for example, we also recognise that a performance narrative is not sufficient for understanding the complex emotional knowledges that children acquire. Some of these knowledges are socially constructed and in learning these constructions children also learn to manage and talk about their feelings in particular ways. Other knowledges are learnt through affect and embodiment, where children will develop physical repertoires for responding to inner felt sensations that often cannot be self-regulated. In additions, knowledges of emotion are also emplaced, emotions are lived in and with the world, places, children, objects and things come together as emotions are lived out.

We also discussed the ways in which fear is lived by children in different kinds of places. Not all children will find the same places fearful or indeed joyful, we therefore cannot prescribe the ways in which children will encounter different kinds of sites and settings. As one audience member said, some children she has worked with a fearful of wild natural spaces, such as woodlands, despite an adult-imposed notion that all children are nourished by nature. This has led us to reflect upon the importance of spatial diversity in children’s lives, offering opportunities to explore a multiplicity of emotional entanglements as they come to make sense of themselves and others in relation to worlds that they inhabit.

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