Conference theme: Childhood and Time

The theme of the 2021 conference, Childhood and Time, is deliberately broad and designed to invite scholars to discuss timely perspectives on childhood across a broad spectrum. We hope to inspire lively debates from different disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives about many aspects of how childhood and time interweave.

In 1986, Judith Ennew raised the importance of facilitating a wider and more critical thinking about time and childhood, suggesting that “the social construction of time may be crucial to the study of childhood … as a social institution and about the lives of children themselves” (p. 21). So far, however, we saw minimal concerted scholarship on this theme.

Time, as continuity and change, is crucial to our understanding of the social spaces of childhood in different eras and societies, including conceptions and ideals of childhood and children as a social category. “Through modernity time itself was measured and contained, it became expressed in minutes, days weeks, years and in categories such as generations” (Jenks, 1996, p. 105). Time marks out personal ability, responsibility, expectations, it connects unconnected events through the notion of linear progress, although expectations of appropriate chronological advancement are continuously altered. Colonial expansion and capitalism intensified the spread and power of this modern construction of time, demanding the peripheries to catch up and regulate their societies according to it. Children thus were relegated to the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time, confirming the position of school and other key normative institutions as organizing children and childhood in dominating societies.

Yet newer conceptualizations of time trouble linear time and challenge the idea of time as causation, the logic of cause and effect captured in the notion: given ‘time’ the child will change. For example, time understood as “a river with many eddies, whirlpools, patches of white water and currents, all running and changing at different speeds” erases linearity (Serres, 1992 in Lee, 2001, p. 137). Growing up, according to this alternative approach, is a matter of incorporating more and more elements into an assemblage or network where with more elements one can be more agentic.

From the outset, a key agenda of childhood studies was the deliberate shift away from the futurity of childhood, as captured in the notion of ‘becoming’, to recognise children as human beings and active participants in the present of social life. This shift mapped the field against developmental trajectories, including individual, societal, political, and economic concerns related to adult agendas. The focus on children’s everyday life opened also spaces for engaging with how time operates in children’s familial, institutional, public and natural environments. This included how clock time and calendar time organise shared life-forming rhythms and temporal patterns such as schedules, routines, circularity or celebrations. Habitual practices are time-space routines producing a feeling of belonging within the rhythm of life in place. Thus time and temporality have a central importance in understanding contemporary child welfare and schooling both as ‘ordering’ professionals’ work and as artefacts of professionals’ ordering practices in assigning time for certain practices.

Amid current claims of accelerating societies characterized by time-space compression, nevertheless societal and children times and rhythms may differ. Children may feel hurried, ‘out of time’, or in need of carving some space and time for themselves. While children’s time is often seen as not ‘real time’ by adults, children may also experience time differently, when the world can happen (Rautio, 2013). As Wyness (206: 108) notes, the notion of childhood as a period of play and “‘irresponsibility’ cannot be equated with the time adult time is measured”.

More information on possible topics can be seen on Call for Papers.