Karen Malone, Marek Tesar and Sonja Arndt

Book Overview

The past decades have witnessed an explosion of ideas, research and performances that link the everyday lives of children in their communities with both the local and global world. At the same time research is increasingly diversifying to move beyond Euro-Western-White-Male centric thinking, theories and examples.  Even so, there are very few texts for researchers and students that track the trajectory towards the integration of posthuman and new materialist studies in relation to children and their childhoods. Our search for such texts, that provide a foundation for recent shifts in understandings of agency, thinking, being and becoming at both global and local levels, in which established and new, exciting theories speak to the changing climate and global discourses about children and childhoods, led us to write this book.

This book is a genealogical foregrounding and performance of conceptions of children and their childhoods over time. We acknowledge that children’s lives are embedded in worlds both inside and outside of structured schooling or institutional settings, and that this relationality informs how we think about what it means to be a child living through childhood. This book maps the field, by taking up a cross-disciplinary, genealogical niche, offering both an introduction to theoretical underpinnings of currently emerging theories and conceptions, and offering examples of how they might play out. It positions children and their everyday lived childhoods in the Anthropocene and focuses on the interface of children’s being in the everyday spaces and places of contemporary communities and societies. In particular the book examines how the shift towards posthuman and new materialist perspectives continues to challenge dominant developmental, social constructivist and structuralist theoretical approaches in diverse ways, to influence contemporary understandings and constructions of childhood. It recognises that while such dominant approaches have long been shown to limit the complexity of what it means to be a child living in the contemporary world, the traditions of many Eurocentric theories have not addressed the diversity of children’s lives in the majority world countries and countries in the Global South.

In this book, we develop the foundations for and explore the lived, embodied everyday experiences and encounters of children through theoretical lenses that elevate life as entangled with tangible objects and materials. These might include artefacts, toys, homes, educational settings, landscapes, animals, food, and the broader intangible materiality of representational concepts and objects, such as popular culture, air, weather, relations, identities and sexualities. The book is attentive to the mundane everyday relationships, in-between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’, with matters and materials. To address earlier omissions in Eurocentric theoretical conceptions, the book draws, amongst others, Māori, Pasifika, Australasian and Global South views of children, childhood and growing up. It provokes thinking beyond historically dominant and colonising views in contemporary Western and non-Western realities.

The aim of this book is to combine and perform theories and philosophy that build understandings through everyday anecdotes of children’s lives. In doing so, we draw on both text and digital media accounts of children, and analyse artefacts constructed by and about children in contemporary societies. Through these cross-disciplinary theoretical insights our intention is to elevate insights into the complexity of children’s everyday lives from a variety of perspectives, to encourage diverse understandings of research about children and how it constructs and positions children in certain ways. We contest universalizing views of children’s lives by exploring differences as well as similarities. Overall, we position the question of what it means to be a child within the bigger story of the planet and the impending implications of the Anthropocene and the contemporary human and more-than-human world.

This book is intended to support both those new to the field of childhood studies and posthuman studies of childhoods, and established researchers in the study of children and childhoods. In 1998 James, Jenks and Prout offered their text Theorizing Childhood as a quintessential ‘go to’ immersion for theorizing children and childhoods through a new sociological lens. This book also serves a pedagogical function in education within and about a posthuman response to contemporary theorisations of childhoods, as they arise from James, Jenks and Prout’s positioning. Like Theorizing Childhood, this book continues to demonstrate “the centrality of childhoods in sociological theory and contemporary debates”. Rather than rejecting sociology and the human, it builds on, re-articulates and offers new formulations of the anthropocentric and post-anthropocentric contexts of children’s lives and experiences with and beyond human-centric ways of knowing and being. In doing so, we position this book as a critical bridge, that connects historical studies and philosophies of children and their childhoods with contemporary scholarship and research. This positioning  acknowledges the important and ongoing contributions to the field, in areas such as children’s geographies and environments (for instance by Kraftl, 2018, 2020), agency and nature (for instance by Taylor, 2013; and Taylor & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019) and other scholars in the CommonWorlds network, and many others to whom we refer in the book. We hope that scholars at all levels will both benefit and gain inspiration from this book, as a foundational text that offers new insights into the field and its evolution, it continually evolves in new and previously unimaginable ways.

The book is presented in nine chapters and concludes with a glossary. Each chapter complements the others, as they develop a posthuman narrative mapping the terrain from one chapter to the next.

Chapter 1 traces the application of philosophical perspectives in historical conceptions of child subjects as they are shaped by discursive and material aspects of this world. In this chapter we argue for re-reading philosophical texts with a focus on childhood studies and children’s education, and suggest that such a reading offers an insight into aspects of the classic texts that serve as a useful genealogical foundation on which to build our engagement and understanding of thinking with/on posthuman childhoods.

Chapter 2 maps the conceptual turn to the new sociology of childhood as a precursor to posthuman childhoods. It lays the groundwork for the evolutions in and through sociological thought and children’s rights and agency, that lead towards the uncertainties and multiplicities in conceptualising children and childhoods both as and beyond the human world.

Chapter 3 introduces multiplicities of theoretical perspectives to portray developments of thinking with theory through a cartography of materialities. It introduces the Anthropocene and its impact as a contemporary discursive and material context of childhood. In these first three chapters, we argue that new philosophies are needed to theorize children and childhoods in contemporary times. We outline ways in which theoretical constructs can help to disrupt dominant or limiting constructions of children and their childhoods in order to make way for and deal in more nuanced ways with the complexities of children’s lives. The first three chapters provide a necessary foregrounding of the state of the art of current thinking and scholarship.

Chapter 4 focuses on rethinking agentic childhoods situated in the Anthropocene and in uncertain times. This chapter disrupts conventional ontological views of childhoods where agency is held by humans, and often exclusively by adults, highlighting shifts from historical and sociological conceptions of agency from a rights-based perspective, and complicating conceptions with temporal, and material complexities. Agency is theorized through a posthuman lens, as intra-relational, involving multiple human and nonhuman beings or forces. Recognising that children’s agentic relations with the world are not new, but are always already there, the chapter offers a grounding for rethinking children’s agency within the posthuman turn.

Chapter 5, on relational Childhoodnatures, explores alternative pedagogies that support posthuman paradigms at this time of the Anthropocene, where we seek to expand our sense of the human with nature rather than outside of nature. The chapter tracks a range of ways to think about humans and their encounters, relations and response-ability with the nonhuman world, and how they underlie different ways of considering children, childhoods and pedagogies. This chapter continues to encourage the reader to make connections and ask questions, about the human/nonhuman relations as open enough to create new conceptual spaces that cater for children’s contemporary experiences, whilst grounded in and moving on from the theoretical and philosophical foundations outlined in earlier chapters. 

Chapter 6, on entangling materials, curriculum and objects, takes further the notion of children’s agency by re-reading New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki through a posthuman lens. This chapter situates the concept of curriculum and other regulatory or policy documents within the discourses that are being elevated in this book, in terms of ongoing reconceptualizations of sociological perspectives on childhoods. It applies the concept of curriculum as a useful tool for rethinking childhoods through the materialities of people, places and things.

Chapter 7 further develops the openings created in Chapter 6, by placing a posthuman lens on children’s learning environments. In conceptualizing children’s learning environments through this lens the chapter questions linear expectations and hierarchies of learning environments, promoting a sense of openness to the multiple relationalities at work in children’s everyday situations and places. By reworking, re-thinking, re-turning diverse conceptualisations of children’s learning environments, the chapter offers ways of seeing learning environments as always affected and complicated by the powers of things and forces in and beyond the human.

In Chapter 8 we build on Chapter 7’s focus on children’s entangled realities with and in the world. It places a posthuman lens on children’s lives and their affective relationships with human and nonhuman entities and things. The chapter provokes thinking beyond language, discourse and culture to reconsider the affective nature and influences of matter and materialities in children’s lives. Highlighting the still dominant focus on language illustrates the reliance on social constructivist views, and drives the chapter’s aim to blur boundaries, and turn our thinking towards children’s performances of their lives in multifaceted, more-than-linguistic, more-than-discursive, and more-than-cultural ways.

Chapter 9 maps how the posthuman and new materialist philosophical and methodological shifts and framings developed throughout this book have changed engagements with researching the child and contemporary childhoods. This final chapter reconnects to the early chapters in the book, by re-emphasising the importance of philosophy as a method of inquiry, to take us into the kinds of complications that adding a posthuman lens to researching children and childhoods might entail. The chapter offers a range of perspectives on what this could mean, affirming the value of philosophical thought as a crucial foundation of posthuman research paradigms. Following the trajectories of researching on, about and with children and their childhoods, this chapter revisits some of the earlier conceptions of children as immature, to build up to contemporary thought on researching with and by the child, through a posthuman lens.

The book concludes with an Annotated Glossary which outlines the (sometimes contested) ways in which particular words or concepts have been used in this book. The glossary thus gives insights into particular meanings applied in our collective approach to and performance of thinking through children and childhoods using a posthuman and new materialist lens. We hope that this book will serve as a useful framing of key histories and shifts that have shaped and continue to inform contemporary conceptions of childhoods. We also hope that the genealogical approach taken will provoke lively engagements, discussions and conversations by those new to the field and well-established scholars, whose work we humbly honour and draw on, with colleagues, with us and with children.

Finally, and by way of an opening, we lead into the book with a poem, to illustrate the thingness and the materiality of objects that draw us in. Emerging from an encounter with an oyster shell, this poem shapes our thinking in co-relational ways such as those elevated throughout this book. The shell was located in a midden site, possibly used by Aboriginal people for cutting, or that is what it felt like, in this sensorial encounter. The shell, like this book, is a bridge between historical and present ways of being.

Fingertips running along edges

Wanting for penetrating skin, drawing blood

Teatree smells playing on an ocean breeze

Sand and shell grit between toes

Thumb knows its place

Slipping effortlessly into a worn groove

Cutting through the air

Tracing a ghostly shadow

Lost tracks and traces

Buried deep beneath the earth

Revealing secrets

Troubled in unruly graves

Wind swept cliffs

Moving towards the future

Straight ahead

Don’t look back to the past

Promises of modernity

Languish in spiralling ecologies

Who were you?

What have you become?

Author Karen Malone 2018

Taking up a posthumanist lens not only shifts how we experience the world and our relationships with/in it, but it deeply implicates us all in the ethical imperative of being and becoming. It is a speculation in many ways, as it is ongoing, uncertain and always in process.

May 2020

Karen Malone, Melbourne

Marek Tesar, Auckland

Sonja Arndt, Melbourne


Kraftl, P. (2018). A double-bind? Taking new materialisms elsewhere in studies of education and childhood. Research in Education, 10(1), 30–38.

Kraftl, P. (2020). After childhood: Re-thinking environment, materiality and media in children’s lives. London, UK: Routledge.

Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. London, UK: Routledge.

Taylor, A. & Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2019). The common worlds of children and animals: Relational ethics for entangled lives. London, UK: Routledge

This is an incredibly well-written, thoughtful, scholarly and timely book. In my reading, the book is kind of split in two: the first few chapters offer a genealogy of ‘how we got to posthuman theorizing in childhood studies’, with the latter offering more empirically-informed accounts of what those studies could and should look like. The latter couple of chapters also offer a very welcome series of nuanced and important reflections on methods, ethics and, as the authors put it, ‘performing’ posthuman childhood studies (and I really endorse and found value in the ways in which children themselves as performers are carefully brought into the equation here). The book also offers an important analysis of how an attention to the posthuman could be entangled with critical questions of social difference – especially, but not only indigeneity – Professor Peter Kraftl, Chair in Human Geography,  School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK.