AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 433

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Session 433: Youth Publics across Asia: Circuits of Representation and Consumption

Organizer and Chair: Raminder Kaur Kahlon, Independent Scholar, United Kingdom

Discussant: Filippo Osella, University of Sussex, United Kingdom

This border-crossing panel is one of two that address the theme of “youth publics,” that is, the focus on youth in the formation and navigation of spaces of debate, interaction, mediation and circulation. This panel builds onto the rich material on publics regarding class, gender, and multiple counter-publics following Habermas’s work on the transformation of the public sphere by focusing on a previously underrepresented category of analysis: youth as a culturally constructed sociopolitical category linked to notions of modernities and future-making. To look at the relationship between nation-building and education with the production and consumption of art, media and literatures is of interest, where contradictory discourses circulate around citizenship and ideology. In this part of the double panel, we particularly focus on youth as either representations and/or audiences; hence historical projects of nation-building reveal anxieties around childhood in both North India in the early 20th century and in Japan in the late 19th. These anxieties around youth and national identity hold commonality with contemporary comic books for young people in notions of superheroism and citizenship in nuclear India and the commodification of youth in coming-of-age literature in Shanghai. These papers demonstrate the multiplicity of ways youth, nationalism, and citizenship are intersecting sites that get mapped onto representations in media: either produced for youth publics, or of publics producing images of youth.

Atomic Comics: The 'Nuclear State', Citizenship and the Graphic Fictions of Science in India
Raminder Kaur Kahlon, Independent Scholar, United Kingdom

In this paper, I consider the emergence of superhero comic books in the context of a post-liberal and nuclearised India with a focus on the comic book series, Parmanu, ‘the atomic wonder man of India’. The superhero comics form a significant media through which discourses about the state, citizenship, science and gender are rearticulated through the lens of fantastic fiction for a young audience. They constitute literature which educationalists and many parents frown upon, firstly, due to their view that they do not promote ‘Indian culture’ but where young readers recognise the updating of ancient tales, principles and themes filtered through the dynamic urban setting of modern India; and secondly, for their reliance on what conservative adults would describe as ‘violence’, but young readers would refer to as ‘action’. Violence is a morally loaded term that connotes disapproval with aggressive conduct and the use of lethal weapons that leads to casualties, destruction and/or death. In comparison, action connotes revelry in the choreography of competitive conflicts with villains and the ingenuity of gadgetry and quick-thinking, an arena which young readers with whom I discussed the comics found most compelling. As such, the superhero comics constitute an alternative public sphere, not in terms of counter publics in critique of the status quo, but simply as an alternative, and often undisclosed, realm in which media orientated to young people is consumed.

In Search of Utopia: Coming-of-Age in Guo Jingming’s Young Adult Literature
Petra Thiel, University of Heidelberg, Germany

One of the most successful celebrity authors belonging to the “post-80's” generation of young Chinese writers, Guo Jingming (1983–), has made a strong impression on the coming-of-age literature created and set in China in recent years. His career began early, as an active blogger. The virtual space offered him and his peers not only a new means of publication but also a platform for new voices, popular discussion, and critical reflection – thus shaping their biographies and body of work. In Guo’s disillusioned, post-utopian, post-modern world, “youth” and being young have become a value in itself which pervades media, events and spaces. Guo's heroes are materialistic, pragmatic members of China's urban youth in whose lives consumption plays an integral role. Trendy products and brand names shape attitudes. Events and adventures eclipse the search for individual identity– a central theme in traditional and modern coming-of-age literature. This paper challenges the relevance of classic patterns of adolescence and coming-of-age literature for the “post-80's” generation of writers, exemplified in a comparative and contextualized reading of Guo Jingming's most recent novels Tiny times 1.0 and Tiny times 2.0. It questions the common notion of historical context, culture, and space as determinants of the coming-of-age experience and its literary reflection. Rather, it offers the new and shared experience of the virtual space as an influencing factor that puts these determinants into perspective giving rise to a more unified global sphere of post-modern adolescent literature.

The "Child Political" in North India (1920-50)
Nandini Chandra, University of Delhi, India

The proposed paper will look at the impact of the new ideology of childhood in the nationalist political field of late colonial North India. The new pedagogy and segregation attendant on English education were at once creating a potentially threatening critical mass and disciplining them. This disciplining was at the heart of the separation of public and private spheres and concomitantly, the production of class and gender identities, whereby the debate about revolutionary participation was displaced on to a bourgeois political agenda. The children's periodicals that were at the centre of the childhood debates emerged as the containers of the radical potential of children's political self-determination, preferring to engage their subversive energies in the discursive field of literary field instead. Nevertheless, the threat of children participating in the Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movements was an existing reality. The valorization of disobedience in the civil political space mobilized children and youth in an unprecedented way. The British government’s aggrieved response to their political activities, for instance, their inability to justify their imprisonment and torture in the face of the colonial logic of the civilizing/pedagogic mission, the appellation “child political” in police records in turn, provoked the indigenous Hindi literati and publicists to tie themselves into knots over the role and definition of children.

Raising subjects: The representation of children and childhood in Meiji Japan
Rhiannon Paget, University of Sydney, Australia

Two mutually dependent ideologies emerged during the first few decades of the Meiji period (1868-1912): universal education and nation. Both ideologies sought to redefine existing perceptions of childhood as a period of life subordinate to status, to a unifying experience for all subjects of the nation state. This paper examines coloured woodblock prints (nishikie) of ethical themes produced by the studio of Utagawa Kuniteru and the newly formed Ministry of Education, and Inoue Yasuji between 1873 and 1887, and the new notions of children and childhood the prints espoused. The means by which these images were distributed, their subjects, and the visual and design devices that they employed contrived to identify children with education and a new repertoire of civic duties, which bound them to the state and subjected them to new kinds of disciplinary power.