The image of the child has long been deployed in literature, illustration, film and other media to represent ideas of national identity, societal norms and societal anxieties. Yet, this deployment is often at its most insistent, and potentially subversive, when the child in question is displaced, missing or in a multitude of ways, absent or spectralized. Jacques Derrida, in his work Spectres de Marx (1993), positions the figure of such spectres as worthy of enquiry due to its characteristic liminality; representing that which is neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive but which must be attended to as an intrusion that challenges the assumed self-sufficiency and knowability of the living present.
The displaced, lost, or ‘disappeared’ child is figured again and again in cultural and social narrative, an insistent emblem of the amputating of potentiality. From the vanished white child central to ideas of an Australian gothic, to forced adoptions carried out in mother and baby homes across the British Isles, to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, still agitating for knowledge of the fates of their children disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship, to the children lost through miscarriage, sudden infant death or acts of familial or social violence, the displaced child as ghostly presence inserts itself into the present to remind the subject of a past that cannot be re-visited but also, as a melancholy signifier indicates a lost future that can never be realised.
This interdisciplinary one-day conference at the University of Worcester, 7th April 2020, will explore contemporary social, historical and cultural manifestations of the displaced child as such a figure ‘worthy of enquiry’ to show that concerns regarding lost or uncertain futures haunt the subject as a defining feature of the present.
Topics may include but are not limited to:
- The migrant child, evacuees, refugees and child victims of war/colonisation
- The orphaned, fostered or adopted child
- The spectral child
- Children in poverty and issues of social class/distribution of wealth
- Representations of the displaced child using social/digital media
- Ecocritical representations including, for example, wild or feral children, non-humans, eco-savvy survivors or the child as victim of androcentric positioning.
- The disenfranchised child (e.g. did not vote for Brexit, Trump etc.) living with the consequences of adult decisions.