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Imagining Children Otherwise: Theoretical and Critical Perspectives on Childhood Subjectivity.

IMAGINING CHILDREN OTHERWISE: Theoretical and Critical Perspectives on Childhood Subjectivity. M. O'Loughlin & R. T. Johnson, Eds. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2010. 228pp. Paperback, $32.95. This book is not for those who dislike difficult theory. Each chapter suggests different ways of seeing and imagining children--and the work we do with children. Although the focus remains consistent across the book, the way the authors address childhood subjectivity varies widely.

For instance, I began reading the book with chapter 10, written by coeditor Michael O'Loughlin, who grew up poor in rural Ireland of the 1950s and '60s. The chapter, titled "The Curious Subject of the Child," was the perfect place to begin for me as O'Loughlin outlines how he has come to understand his own subjectivity in three ways: theoretically, practically/ performatively, and autobiographically. Through his own life experiences, O'Loughlin then demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of subjectivity. He traces his early years at home and at school, where children do their apprenticeship in subjectivity, as O'Loughlin contends, and where he was torn between two worlds: that of hands-on work vs. mental labor; working class vs. middle-class existence; shame vs. pride; and the past vs. the present. He ends with an invitation to "engage in dialogue around the expansive possibilities of subjectivity." Because his writing is clear and compelling, I became engaged in just such dialogue, albeit with the text, despite the difficulty of the theory.

The other chapters also use a persuasive narrative to both ground and reveal theoretical and critical perspectives. Some of the chapters even directly addressed pedagogical concerns, most notably Silin's "Reading, Writing, and the Wrath of My Father," O'Loughlin's "Ghostly Presences in Children's Lives," and Salvio and Boldt's "Who Let the Dogs Out?" In these three pieces, the authors argue for a "livable and evocative" pedagogy and regenerative curriculum as they attend to perceived needs: teachers' need to make space for children's imagination and creativity, children's need to play with words and ideas, and children's need to integrate their own subjective meanings and understandings with those of the wider world. Given the constraints most teachers are working under in the profit-driven and outcomes-obsessed world of education today, this call. is much-needed if children are to be agents of their own lives, if they are to "come to voice" and make the curriculum their own.

Unfortunately, I did not find all the chapters to be as worthwhile. Some of this may be due to my own preference, as a teacher educator, for "usable" theory, and some may be because I am not as familiar with some of the theoretical perspectives (e.g., psychoanalytic theory). I found myself struggling to read and care about chapters that focused largely on the theoretical level. At times, I found myself in agreement with those who critique academic writing for being unnecessarily abstruse. That said, other readers may find these chapters to be rich with meaning and import. This could be a perfect text for a doctoral seminar focused on alternative conceptions of childhood, pedagogy, curriculum, and education, for instance. The wide array of theoretical frameworks used might assist in digging deeply into the complexity of self and subjectivity, the other, and the role of the conscious and unconscious.

As a whole, the book does what Mimi Bloch, in the Foreword, says it does: It pushes the reader to question education as an objective good--as existing separate from identities, emotions, and the self. It asks us to imagine things otherwise and to consider a "questioning" pedagogy that appeals to the unconscious and that "invites the child to enter the room." Ultimately, it gives one hope for a "reconsideration of childhood and a re-thinking [of] how we might enhance each child's journey toward becoming." And, as seems appropriate, given the book's focus, the reader is left with more questions than answers; those questions have the potential to enrich our perspectives and widen our approaches to our current and future work with children. Reviewed by Leigh M. O'Brien, Professor of Education, State University of New York at Geneseo.
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Author:O'Brien, Leigh M.
Publication:Childhood Education
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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