AnthropoChildren, the little newcomer

In February 2012, the inaugural issue of the electronic journal AnthropoChildren, the latest little newcomer to the University of Liège’s academic research portal, was placed online on Open Access. Biannual, the publication – which backs a certain approach to the anthropology of childhood – has been designed as a space for reflection and debate and whose deliberately free access is dedicated to dialogue amongst researchers, teachers, students and professionals the world over on questions linked to childhood and children. Elodie Razy, an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Human and Social Sciences (Social and Cultural Anthropology Laboratory, ULg), whose initiative the journal is, along with Charles-Edouard de Suremain, Research Fellow in anthropology (UMR 208 PaLoc ‘Patrimoines Locaux’, IRD-MNHN, France).

AnthropoChildren2If the child is today becoming, in the field of anthropology research, the subject of ever greater attention, it was already present as an object of study at the beginning of the discipline’s development. The renowned anthropologists Arnold Van Gennep, Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Bronislaw Malinowski, Marcel Griaule amongst others, were the first to take an interest. Their work nevertheless tackled the social and symbolic construction of childhood, as well as the rites of passage which are linked to it, essentially on the basis of adult discourse on children. And it did not in addition consider the child as a genuine social and cultural actor – a treatment which was, at a certain epoch, also reserved for women, for similar reasons of male domination. The child was thus considered as an adult of the future, a kind of passive receptacle in which one lays down  as one goes along the elements necessary to its construction as a fully fledged member of society. We had to wait until the 1990s, and the emergence of ‘childhood studies,’ which had its roots principally in sociology, in the wake of feminist studies, to see established a perspective recognising in children the role of an actor, a point of view which became stamped into numerous works in sociology and anthropology. ‘This research broke with the conception of the child which saw it as an ‘future adult’, and was inscribed in the recognition of the child as an active and creative subject,’  explains Elodie Razy, co-editor of AnthropoChildren. ‘It took a lot of time before it was realised that children, beyond the fact that they construct themselves socially and culturally, participate in the construction of adults and society. Certainly the policies put into practice by adults construct children. But the process is not in one direction only: parental reconfigurations – if we take this example – are as much activated by the children as by the adults and legislators involved.’

A ‘little’ subject

Publishing on childhood and children was moreover for long decades a relatively difficult undertaking for researchers. For a long time they ran up against the commonplaces which clung to the child and childhood, wrongly considered in anthropology as a ‘little subject,’ as Suzanne Lallemand said, without great value. In 2003, in an article published in the journal Terrain, the American anthropologist Lawrence Hirschfeld moreover asked himself the following question: ‘why do anthropologists not like children?’ ‘Because the child is often associated with an immature being, incapable of having its own thoughts,’ hurls Elodie Razy. ‘A being whose thinking is considered as a pre-logical thinking comparable to those of savages, and would subsequently be worthy only of minor interest. The socio-cultural backdrop of our adult centred society and the deep structure of anthropology have much to do with this conception of the child as an immature being, which they have contributed to forging. Also because the worlds of childhood, the interior worlds, remain an enigma for adults; they are attractive but alarming at the same time.’

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