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About this book

Bringing together leading and emerging scholars, this book argues for the significance of theory for reading texts written and produced for young people. Integrating perspectives from across feminism, ecocriticism, postcolonialism and poststructuralism, it demonstrates how these inform approaches to a range of contemporary literature and film.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Bringing Back Theory

In a report in the New York Times about a public symposium on the future of theory held at University of Chicago in 2002, staff writer Emily Eakin suggests that theory appears to have taken a back seat to more pressing current affairs — the Bush Administration, Al Qaeda, Iraq. Further, she reports that the symposium’s panel of high- profile theorists and scholars, including Homi Bhabha, Stanley Fish, Fredric Jameson, seemed reticent to offer their views on what is often touted as the demise or irrelevance of theory. The symposium and other commentaries on the topic of theory have prompted the view that the ‘Golden Age of Theory’ has passed and we are now in a ‘Post- Theory Age’. Given these pronouncements, we need to ask — Does theory matter any longer? Is it time for its obituary? Or are reports of the death of theory greatly exaggerated? The question remains whether to mourn or celebrate the demise of theory, and whether the body has in fact breathed its last. The title of this Introduction — ‘Bringing back theory’ — suggests a resurrection, or perhaps a haunting, as if the funeral has passed and, like Banquo’s ghost, theory returns to unsettle or disturb the celebration. It also suggests an entreaty, or perhaps a return performance. Rather than settle on one meaning, one interpretation, we are happy for all possibilities to coexist. The coexistence of different theories, different approaches, different interpretations also reflects the state of literary and cultural studies generally and children’s literature criticism in particular. No single theory or viewpoint predominates or vies for hegemony. Yet, one further question lingers — what is theory?
Kerry Mallan, Clare Bradford

1. Schemas and Scripts: Cognitive Instruments and the Representation of Cultural Diversity in Children’s Literature

Cognitive poetics over the past couple of decades has suggested some powerful approaches to literature as a form of human cognition and communication with a specific potential for responding to social reality. The theory offers some vital insights into how readers construct mental representations in their minds, and it has the further possibility of forging connections between representations of social ideology and the various reader response theories that remained widespread in children’s literature criticism long after they seemed to have disappeared from general literary theory and practice. To explore a small example of how some basic structures of cognition function in literature, this chapter argues that processes whereby the cognitive instruments of schema and script are textually modified have played a central function in positive representations of cultural diversity, as such modifications are an expression within story worlds of wider transformations of social mentalities. The contexts for these processes have been the various stages of the rise (and decline) of multicultural ideologies over the past four decades since they began to be identifiable in the 1960s — in the USA, for example, the Civil Rights movement was followed by programs in the 1970s to reorganize primary and secondary education to benefit students from minorities. However, as Will Kymlicka has recently pointed out, local processes such as this are part of a much larger process involving the conversion of ‘historic relations of hierarchy or enmity into relations of democratic citizenship’ (2007: p. 88). He points to strategic reasons why groups and states developed some willingness to support or accept multicultural reform, including big issues such as ‘changes in the geopolitical security system of the Western democracies, and changes in the nature of the global economy’ (2007: p. 88).
John Stephens

2. Journeying Subjects: Spatiality and Identity in Children’s Texts

In Maurice Sendak’s celebrated picture book Where the Wild Things Are Max’s emotional and psychological trajectory is plotted by his movement in and through time and space as he embarks on a journey ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’ (1963: unpaged) dreams or imagines a sequence of adventures in the land of the wild things and finally returns to ‘the night of his very own room’. The two places which figure in the narrative are set one against the other. Max’s home is a site of discipline and authority where his mother sends him to his bedroom without any supper because he engages in disorderly behaviour, but this same room is also associated with reconciliation and appeasement between Max and his mother when, on his return, he discovers that his supper awaits him, ‘and it was still hot’ (1963: unpaged). The island is a space of freedom where Max participates in the wild rumpus enjoyed by the island’s inhabitants. It is also the location where Max achieves dominance over the wild things and is enthroned as their king.
Clare Bradford, Raffaella Baccolini

3. Local and Global: Cultural Globalization, Consumerism, and Children’s Fiction

According to Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Modernity (2000), the formerly solid and stable institutions of social life that characterized earlier stages of modernity have become fluid. He sees this as an outcome of the modernist project of progress itself, which in seeking to dismantle oppressive structures failed to reconstruct new roles for society, community, and the individual. The un-tethering of social life from tradition in the latter stages of the twentieth century has produced unprecedented freedoms and unparalleled uncertainties, at least in the West. Although Bauman’s elaboration of some of the features and drivers of liquid modernity — increased mobility, rapid communications technologies, individualism — suggests it to be a neologism for globalization, it is arguably also the context which has allowed this phenomenon to flourish. The qualities of fluidity, leakage, and flow that distinguish uncontained liquids also characterize globalization, which encompasses a range of global trends and processes no longer confined to, or controlled by, the ‘container’ of the nation or state. The concept of liquid modernity helps to explain the conditions under which globalization discourses have found a purchase and, by extension, the world in which contemporary children’s literature, media, and culture are produced. Perhaps more significantly, it points to the fluid conceptions of self and other that inform the ‘liquid’ worldview of the current generation of consumers of texts for children and young adults. This generation is growing up under the phase of globalization we describe in this chapter.
Elizabeth Bullen, Kerry Mallan

4. Monstrous Women: Gothic Misogyny in Monster House

Computer- generated feature films for children, which emerged with Toy Story in 1995, have come to dominate children’s animated cinema in the Western world. Indeed, in 2006 Walt Disney Studios, the dominant force in children’s culture since 1923, bought Pixar, the production company behind Toy Story (1995) and five other hugely successful computer-animated children’s films (A Bug’s Life 1998; Toy Story 2 1999; Monsters Inc. 2001; Finding Nemo 2003; and The Incredibles 2004). John Lasseter, one of the founders of Pixar, was installed as the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Studios, a move indicating that Disney planned to privilege investment in computer animation in future production, a suggestion endorsed by Lasseter himself at the time (Maddox, 2006). Other production companies, such as DreamWorks Animations, Twentieth Century Fox (NewsCorp), Sony, Warner Brothers (Time Warner), and Paramount (Viacom) have also moved into the burgeoning market of computer-animated children’s films.
Maria Takolander

5. Splitting the Difference: Pleasure, Desire, and Intersubjectivity in Children’s Literature and Film

The terms ‘splitting’, ‘difference’, ‘pleasure’, ‘desire’, and ‘intersubjectivity’ are recognized aspects of fields of enquiry in their own right; but in their combination here, they locate this work predictably in the space of psychoanalytic gender criticism. ‘Gender’, however, is noticeably absent from my title and thereby hangs a complex set of questions, interrogations, and, let’s face it, trouble. The trouble with gender — to distort and borrow from Judith Butler’s seminal work (Butler, 1999) that unquestionably opened up the field of possibilities for the reconceptualization of gender in ways that no other work had previously managed to achieve — is that there appears to be little confidence or mutuality in its shared meaning. In this postfeminist, post-structuralist, post-millennial, post-individualist, post-guru period of the discipline’s discursive history (and with no small debt to the gurus themselves), one may wonder what is left to be said that is new or different about gender in children’s literature. Has the subject not already been discussed, analysed, interrogated, argued over, and critiqued to the limits? Are the debates not already exhausted in the welter of excellent works from eminent scholars in and out of the field: about the subject itself, about the subject position within the subject, about who is the subject of the subject and their relations to each other, and, indeed, what is understood, and by whom, about the subject we call gender? (See, for example, ‘infield’ works from Butler, 2008; Mallan, 2009; Flanagan, 2008; Rabinowitz, 2004; Stephens, 2002; Lehr, 2001; Norton, 1999; Kidd, 1998; and Trites, 1997).
Christine Wilkie-Stibbs

6. Children As Ecocitizens: Ecocriticism and Environmental Texts

Children’s environmental texts — that is, texts which thematize contemporary ecological issues — reflect shifting global agendas and predict future possibilities. One of their primary functions is to socialize young people into becoming the responsible and empathetic adults of tomorrow by positioning readers as ecocitizens, dedicated both to sustainable development in the local sphere and also to global responsibility. This chapter focuses on the intersections between environmental discourses and the ways environmental texts seek to position children. We draw on the field of ecocriticism to develop a transdisciplinary framework for investigating a selection of contemporary texts. Our overview demonstrates the paradigmatic shifts which have characterized the development of ecocriticism.
Geraldine Massey, Clare Bradford

7. From ‘Wizard’ to ‘Wicked’: Adaptation Theory and Young Adult Fiction

There is a word game, to which the title of this chapter partly alludes, in which the participants are required, by changing only one letter in each move, to transform an original word into a new, predetermined one of the same number of characters. Setting aside the question of whether it is indeed possible thus to transform ‘wizard’ into ‘wicked’ (and if so, in how many moves), this game serves as a useful metaphor when considering the nature of textual adaptation, since the continuing transformations (for which, read ‘adaptations’) of the word require one to bear in mind its prior transformations as well as the initiating word that functioned as the starting point. Without such recollection, each word in the process becomes simply an independent lexical item — with its own meaning, to be sure. However, what is lost is the sense not only of transformation but also of the transmission of elements in a series which in itself constitutes part of the meaning of each word. We may call this the principle of antecedent seriality.
David Buchbinder

8. All That Matters: Technoscience, Critical Theory, and Children’s Fiction

There has long been an uneasy relationship between the Western discourse of science and critical theory. The differences have centred on the questionable authority and legitimacy of science’s perceived inherent attributes of truth, rationality, and value- free methodologies. Critical theory questions such attributes as given or inherent to any discipline or epistemological approach, especially with respect to gender, sexuality, class, race, and ethnicity — concerns that have been at the heart of critical theory. Since the last stages of the twentieth century, critical theory has arguably been moving in some respects beyond these concerns, enquiring into questions of what matters in a world characterized by rapid changes in political economy (globalization), wide- ranging social and cultural shifts, the collapse of distinctions between public and private, environmental crises, and continuous advances in technoscience and nanotechnology.
Kerry Mallan
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