Beyond “Children’s Agency” and “Children’s Cultures”: Insights from Anthropological Research in Argentina on Mapuche Childhood

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:18
Oral Presentation
Andrea SZULC, National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET)- Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Childhood has been increasingly addressed as a sociocultural construction, with an emphasis on children’s active participation in social life, especially among scholars from the core countries who have spread the concept of childhood agency. In my research with Mapuche indigenous communities, this concept is valuable, though it entails a risk: that of overestimating children’s capacity for social action because it is tied to Western modernity’s concept of the individual—a concept that merits reconsideration (Rabello de Castro 2001). In this presentation, I will argue in favor of a concept of agency that situates children’s social actions within intergenerational and interethnic power relations, and those of class and gender (Szulc, 2004).

Along these lines, I will also present a critical perspective of the concept of “children’s cultures” which—replicating to a certain degree the interest in youth cultures of the 1970s—stems from the idea that children inhabit a world with distinctive social meanings (Caputo, 1995) and constitute an “ontology” by their own right (Jenks, 1996).

Though children’s social agency and their capacity for cultural production are important, I have noticed a problematic use of the notion of culture in works such as these. Perhaps inadvertently, they replicate the isolationist component of the classic notion, where culture was bound to colonialism and attempted to establish discrete, internally coherent units, sealed off and isolated from one another (Wright, 1998). Under these terms, the idea of children’s culture reifies and “exoticizes” children. Drawing on both anthropological tradition and on the Mapuche’s conceptualization of childhood, I instead propose analyzing children’s cultural productions in conjunction with the myriad institutions and social discourses that condition the social space of childhood. From the periphery, perspectives like these can contribute to the debate on ways of theorizing childhood.