Home / Dr. Jennifer Light, Constructing the Sheltered Childhood


***Please note the day and location change***

Thursday April 20, 2:00 pm, Victoria College Chapel, 2nd floor, Victoria College

Dr. Jennifer Light, MIT

Scholars in STS, architecture and urban studies, and the history of childhood have written widely about the changing life experiences of Western youth with the shift from “family economy” to “sheltered childhood” that occurred at the turn of the last century. Scientifically-designed environments including schools, playgrounds, and boys clubs are central in stories of how young people departed the labor force and public life for adult-supervised activities. This presentation explores the history of a lesser-known set of US youth-serving institutions, junior republics, to argue for an alternative understanding of the scientific and technological theories and practices that persuaded young people to conform to new social expectations and helped to get so many youth-oriented programs off the ground. I document how, in these and other environments, simulations of adult occupations and activities adjusted young people from norms of working and playing alongside their elders to more docile social roles. Such changes occurred not only because these environments actually removed young people from the workforce and public life, but equally because interpretations of youth activities as mere “reproductions,” “models” and “miniatures” of their adult counterparts obscured young peoples’ contributions to building and operating the public and private institutions that “sheltered” them. These findings point to a deep history of the science and technology of simulation as tools for education and socialization — as well as to how young peoples’ hidden labor helped to construct the “sheltered childhood” and in turn the American state.

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