This week I’ll be sharing my doctoral research at the Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood II conference in Lethbridge, Alberta. One of the conference themes asks whether play is the opposite of work and how the distinction between the two has contributed to how we define healthy, normal or adequate childhood–both of these are important questions underlying my research project.
Because play is commonly understood to be the opposite of work and freedom from work is taken to be one of the basic tenants of proper childhood (fostering the view that play is the child’s ‘work’), the child who works is then at best viewed as deprived of a proper childhood and at worst subject to potentially unhelpful forms of intervention that risk further limiting the autonomy of the child. This view of work and play depends on a predominantly western view of childhood as a period of innocence, dependence and vulnerability, a view that scholars have argued is essentialist and dismissive of the globally diverse number of childhood experiences. It isn’t hard to see then how binary thinking about childhood as a period of play vs. work helps to sustain an unfortunately narrow view of what ‘healthy’ childhood is or ought to be. This means that challenging the false division of work from play is an important project on the path to fully recognizing the multiplicity of childhoods both locally and globally.
My doctoral work fits into this project; but, rather than focus on issues of child labour, my investigation focuses specifically on the ways that a taken-for-granted definition of play as not only ‘not work’ but as what children ‘need to do’ (ie. the child’s ‘work’) delimits our understanding of childhood, and subsequently contributes to techniques of child government, surveillance, risk management, as well as methods for the optimization and remediation of children across numerous settings. I’m looking forward to sharing more about these ideas here soon.