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Pedagogy 5.3 (2005) 500-509
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Collapsing the Disciplines:
Children's Literature, Children's Culture, and Andrew O'Malley's The Making of the Modern Child
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Scholars from such diverse fields as English literature, library science, education, psychology, history, folklore, and cultural studies (among others) have all explored the body of work termed children's literature, a field of study that has been defined primarily by its intended audience. Since the earliest days of the discipline, this academic diversity has resulted in the designation of what John Rowe Townsend (1969) first called "book people" and "child people," terms that were meant to distinguish the seemingly unavoidable disciplinary divisions inherent in such divergent interests. According to Townsend, authors, publishers, and critics are those who "are professionally involved with books and [who] are bound to look first at the book, because that is their job" (407). Teachers and parents, on the other hand, are concerned with the role that books play in the total development of the child, and thus child people judge books according to "nonliterary standards," considering instead the social, moral, psychological, or educational impact of a book and why children specifically might like it (Townsend 1977: 70). Over time others have refined this distinction or proposed new descriptions for these terms,1but for the most part those interested in studying children's literature have accepted what Nicholas Tucker (1995: 221) (echoing Townsend three decades later) has called a "division of labor" between "literary critic" and "expert [End Page 500] commentator," with the only potential source of conflict arising from a failure to recognize these divisions.
While Townsend was commenting on the state of children's literature studies at a time when "no university English department [would] look at it" (1969: 417), his book people/child people division signaled the development of children's literature as a field of study that stretched across established disciplines, rather than belonging to a single category.2 The divisions exist within the teaching as well as the scholarship concerning children's literature, with courses scattered throughout these various departments. Yet this "division of labor" has become increasingly problematic. In his essay on "Ideology and the Children's Book," Peter Hollindale (1992: 20–21) characterizes (or "caricaturizes") Townsend's terms as the "somewhat one-sided emphasis on remarks about adult judgments and their importance (book people); about children's judgments and their importance (child people); about differences of literary merit (book people) and about the influence of a book's social and political values (child people)." While Hollindale exaggerates the differences between these two groups, he nonetheless draws attention to Townsend's implicit assumption that the "adult judgments" of literary critics have little to do with the "social and political values" that would seem to be a practitioner's concern.
The rise of cultural studies has demonstrated that aesthetic and sociopolitical concerns are not nearly as exclusive as scholars such as Townsend or Tucker would have once implied. Broader questions concerning the cultural importance of children's literature and indeed the idea of childhood itself have led to increasingly interdisciplinary approaches to the study of children's literature, and the distinction that Townsend identified almost forty years ago has begun to collapse as Departments of Children's Studies, which bring together scholars from various fields who are concerned with the study of children and childhood, are beginning to appear in universities.3 Within them the study of children's literature is contextualized according to larger cultural themes and questions, especially with regard to the construction of childhood. And although at present such departments consist mainly of cross-appointed faculty, it seems imminent that children's literature scholars and instructors will eventually become hybrids of the topics and methods traditionally divided according to the "book" and "child" disciplines. Like women's studies before it, children's studies is assuming an independent interdisciplinary status.
The possibility for interdisciplinary children's literature courses, courses that would consider the connection between the...