Children’s Liberation: Autonomy and Control

Instructor: Sophie Lewis
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

A concerted assault on transgender children is underway in America, waged by an alliance of right-wing, anti-feminist, and Christian-nationalist forces. New state laws require schools to report transgender children, whose parents can in some cases be charged with child abuse. And while anti-trans legislation often meets with liberal outrage, it successfully exploits a lacuna in standard liberal theory: children are not autonomous. Below “the age of reason,” they’re unable, for all legal intents and purposes, to freely self-determine, without interference, their bodies and activities. Not so long ago, radical movements in America around Black power, “Crip” (or disability) liberation, domestic violence, abuse, sexuality, transgender freedom, and socialism, all related to children to some extent as political actors in their own right. Why did the horizon of children’s bodily autonomy largely vanish from the Left?

This course is an exploration of theory and politics of children’s liberation. What, we will ask, is the difference between children’s rights and children’s liberation? What might children today want to liberate themselves from? And when and why, historically, did feminists and queer people want to “liberate children”? We will begin with a study of the material histories of transgender childhood since the nineteenth century, denaturalizing the modern ideal of the fertile, cissexual Child. We’ll then consider the deployment of abstract and concrete Child figures in reproductive and natalist politics, as well as in queer theory of the sort epitomized by Lee Edelman’s No Future. We will focus, however, on how actual, real-life children’s needs, desires, and interests are served by the crusades and utopias erected either against them or in their name. To this end, we will read documents from the 1960s and 1970s experiments in “kids’ lib,” and selections from the writings of historians and theorists of queer and trans childhood including Jules Gill-Peterson, Rebekah Sheldon, Jacob Breslow, Jose Esteban Munoz, Kathryn Bond Stockton, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. And throughout, we will ask: How can we understand children’s liberation, and how does it figure in any revolutionary and emancipatory politics?

Course Schedule

Sunday, 3:00-6:00pm ET
July 17 — August 07, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Closed

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