This essay proceeds from two assumptions: first, that “reproduction” is a persistent but insufficiently recognized concept in scholarship in the field of childhood studies, and second, that “non-reproduction” is the repository of reproduction’s negativity, which deserves its own conceptual development in the field. Both reproduction and non-reproduction are necessary concepts for childhood studies: the first must be recognized as such, rather than taken for granted, while the second must be advocated as a viable site of thought. In the pages that follow, my goal is to offer some preliminary theses on non-reproduction as a concept for opening up our thinking about childhood. These theses appear in the final section of the essay. Along the way to that concluding section, I sketch some of the ways in which reproduction and non-reproduction structure our thinking already within and beyond childhood studies. Ultimately, I suggest that we position non-reproduction not simply against but also within and beside reproduction in an effort to map new avenues of thought and new sites of inquiry for the field.
The organizers of this panel invited participants to “question and interrogate familiar keywords used in the study of cultures of childhood and youth, and propose new terms and definitions to capture and understand the complexities and contradictions that define young peoples’ cultures and texts” (“Congress”). Each of us was asked to bring a familiar word that is used often in studies of youth, cultures, and texts and a new keyword that is not found in current keywords collections and that the presenter thought crucial to include. Coming from the field of queer studies (which has spent the better part of a decade debating Lee Edelman’s concept of “reproductive futurity,” a concept I will discuss shortly), I decided to suggest “reproduction” as my familiar word and “non-reproduction” as my new keyword. In the spirit of Raymond Williams’s [End Page 148] interest in the ways in which the “beginnings and endings” of ideas “are incorrigibly wayward” (2), I would follow the panel organizers’ advice and take an approach to “keywords in cultures of young people” that acknowledges that language is erratic and unpredictable.
My first stop on the “incorrigibly wayward” road was at the recent keyword collections that seemed most relevant to childhood studies. There, I discovered (much to my chagrin) that “reproduction” has never really been a keyword at all. Despite my conviction that the very concept of childhood was underwritten by thinking about reproduction, I was surprised to discover that “reproduction” does not make a single appearance in any of the published keyword texts. Philip Nel and Lissa Paul do not feature it in their Keywords for Children’s Literature, nor does it show up in Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s broader Keywords for American Cultural Studies. Williams himself did not include it in his Keywords book. I found myself foiled in my very effort to frame my intervention precisely in terms of the “keywords” books. This is not to negate the significance of “reproduction” for the field altogether—“social reproduction,” in particular, has been enormously important for many scholars in childhood studies.1 In fact, I began to think that perhaps this is not a keyword precisely because this term is so taken as given within a field defined by the biological results of sexual reproduction: the child.
Such, essentially, was the argument that Edelman made about the figure of the child in his 2004 polemic, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. In defining “reproductive futurism,” he argues that “[t]he fantasy subtending the images of the Child invariably shapes the logic within which the political itself must be thought” (2). He then proceeds to uncover this reproductive logic, highlighting the extent to which it preserves “the absolute privilege of heteronormativity by rendering unthinkable, by casting outside the political domain, the possibility of a queer resistance to this organizing principle of communal relations” (2–3). The logic of reproduction, for Edelman, naturalizes and normalizes itself precisely through the figure and the fantasy of the child. No wonder it hides itself in plain sight so successfully, especially in...