The theme of the 20th annual Cultural Studies Conference is "Child Matters." Why the child matters now and how that mattering becomes variegated across transnational, class, and racial contexts will serve as the framing questions for this conference. That it takes until the 21st-century for the child to emerge as a key figure in queer and feminist cultural studies is an interesting problem in its own right and the background against which our framing question comes into relief. In many ways, the child was central to the conceptual architecture of gender and queer theory from the outset. In History of Sexuality, 1 (1978), the child is one of Foucault’s four key figures of the modern episteme alongside “the hysterical woman …the Malthusian couple, and the perverse adult” (105). From these figures unfurls biopolitical governance, but it is the child that secures each of its termini. The child is the promise made to the hysterical woman and the issue tracked in the Malthusian couple, the unresolved psychic source of perversion and the subject most in need of protection from the pervert. Origin and telos, a natural-born alien, the child offers a paradox that is really a kind of narrative device to distinguish cause from effect. Through the child, the future is marshaled under the jurisdiction of the present which, in Edelman’s landmark formulation, is then made to endlessly serve the future. For Edelman, the child is primarily conservative. Promising the future, the child instead generates perpetual sameness. Yet the child is a queer thing, as Kathryn Bond Stockton reminds us. Even as Edelman was writing, the child was changing, jolting into new configurations by the apprehension of an insurgent future.
This conference asks what the child now can tell us about the unexpected future in which we find ourselves. Six invited speakers drawn from the special issues and an interdisciplinary roster of Indiana University faculty and graduate students will come together for a two-day conference. Combining the longstanding focus of cultural analysis on subjectivity with emergent transdisciplinary paradigms that shift to the ecological, embodied, and affective, contributors will attend to questions that include: Over what narrative sequence does the child preside after the announcement of the Anthropocene? In this age of somatechnics, what becomes of “proper” childhood development? How does homonationalism contour the presumed heteronormativity of reproductive futurism? In what racialized and securitized circuits of labor and death does the child’s body appreciate as valuable or expendable life? Coming from a variety of perspectives, participants at this conference will have the opportunity to build an account of the child’s continued centrality to the new techniques of power in the 21st-century from within which the child is made to speak and the queer, sideways deformations the child always also enacts.
Child Matters, has its genesis in the coincident production of special issues from two leading cultural studies journals—Women’s Studies Quarterly and Gay and Lesbian Quarterly (co-edited by conference organizer Rebekah Sheldon)—to be released in the spring of 2016. Building on and diverging from Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004), and Kathryn Bond Stockton’s The Queer Child: Or, Growing Sideways in the Twentieth-Century (2009), as well as the 2007 special issue of GLQ “Theorizing Queer Temporalities,” these dual publications mark the full emergence of the child as a topic of interest beyond the field of childhood studies. Despite the characterization of the 20th-century as “The Century of the Child”, both “The Child Now” (GLQ) and “Child” (WSQ) focalize the contemporary moment as particularly rich and urgent.
To be announced