Gillian Cross interview

Saturday saw award-winning children’s author Gillian Cross interviewed by Prof. Barbara Graziosi from the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham. The interview was part of a wider public engagement day on the theme of ‘Who Was Homer?’, led by the Living Poets project:, and organised by PhD student Francesca Richards. It explored issues regarding Gillian’s adaptations of the Odyssey and the Iliad, but was also a wide-ranging discussion of the issues raised by writing for children.

On the weighty issue of authorial responsibility when writing for children, Gillian argued that a book written to preach good morals will generally be a badly written book. She discussed the advantages and challenges of writing an illustrated book, and offered some insights into the process of collaboration between author and illustrator on such projects. Gillian also discussed how she adapted a structurally complex (and violent) text for children without ‘dumbing down’. She described the changes in children’s publishing that have occurred throughout her career, and celebrated the volume of quality fiction now available specifically for children. However, she pointed to the problems this creates for children; choosing what to read, and accessing books, are both becoming more difficult in view of the recent cuts to library budgets.

As the insightful contributions from children in the audience indicated, Gillian’s Odyssey is accessible, stylistically, structurally, and thematically, to a child-audience; the enjoyment child and adult readers shared demonstrates that this can be achieved without compromising the artistic integrity either of the original text or of the author. Gillian’s comments throughout the interview suggest that it may be only through such integrity that a good book, for children as for adults, can be written at all.

For more information on the interview, or about the Living Poets project, get in touch with Prof. Graziozi via twitter at @BarbaraGraziosi, or with PhD student Francesca Richards at @cescarichards

Interview with a prize-winning children’s author

The award-winning children’s author Gillian Cross will be interviewed about her recent adaptation of the Odyssey, here in Durham on 28th June. Follow the link for more information.

Childhood Ethics: Graduate Student Funding

An exciting project which might be of interest to some:

Childhood Ethics Graduate Student Funding Posting

Russian Child Science

For more information on Dr. Byford’s research, please follow the link to the project’s website:

Dr. Byford’s talk: Imperfect Children

Dr. Byford’s talk yesterday offered an in-depth account of the development of Child Science in late-Tsarist and Soviet Russia. He discussed theoretical models of normality and pathology, and the normative effects of positivist diagnostics. The child population, as an ‘unknown population’, became a subject ‘to know’, a subject for normative modelling.

The role of mental testing in particular was discussed as a method through which the ‘subnormal’ child became a medically and educationally determined category. (Sub-)normality thereby constituted a disciplinarian model; Dr. Byford concluded with an examination of its implications, and the continuities and contrasts in its effects, in Tsarist and Soviet Russia.

As usual, the talk was followed by questions. The breadth of the questions it prompted testify to the multi-disciplinary appeal of specific research projects in the area of childhood studies.


Our Next Meeting

Our next meeting will be held on Thursday 8th May, 4-6pm, in the Seminar Room of the Institute of Advanced Study on Palace Green.

Dr. Andy Byford will present his talk, Imperfect Children: The Subnormal and the Pathological in Early-20th– Century Russian Child Science.

Everyone is welcome to join what promises to be a fascinating insight into how ‘child science’ and child pathology contribute to our ideas about normality, and to processes of normalisation.


During the early twentieth century, the child population became a major focus of public, professional and scientific interest across the modern world, including late tsarist and early Soviet Russia. Scientific and professional work that claimed the child as a subject of study and expertise was spread across a heterogeneous, and largely only emergent, disciplinary and occupational network, associated principally with psychology, education and medicine. Essential to the rise of this field were particular understandings of “imperfection” in the child population, which, as such, became a dominant focus of inquiry and intervention. This paper will examine the role that the diagnostics of child “imperfection” played in the rise and fall of Russian “child science” between the 1900s and the 1930s.

Drawing on Georges Canguilhem’s ideas on “the normal” and “the pathological”, I will analyse practices centred on diagnosing subnormality and pathology in the Russian child population in the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. I will first examine mutually competing normative regimes that framed categorisations of “imperfection” among Russia’s children in the context of the Empire’s accelerated, yet ambivalent modernisation during the 1900s-1910s. I will then chart the expansion of this diagnostics in the first decade or so of the Soviet regime, following its shift in focus from the early-1920s “delinquent child” to the late-1920s “mass child”. I will conclude with a discussion of the emergence, in this same era, of the Russian field of medicalised special education known as “defectology”. I will explain how and why defectology’s disciplinary specificity crystallised in 1936 around a purposely restrictive concept of “imperfection”, understood as individualised and clinically-established pathological “impairment”. The latter conceptualisation became fixed at the height of Stalinism as a strategic counter to the expansive flux that the diagnostics of child “imperfection” had otherwise been in over the first three decades of the twentieth century, as part of the remarkable rise of “child science” in Russia of this era.

Dr. Kallio’s talk

Dr. Kallio’s fascinating talk differentiated the abstract right to political presence from its reality in specific situations: the classroom and the dinner table were two familiar scenes which highlight the difficulties of implementing political presence as a practise in children’s lives.

Dr. Kallio focused in particular on (non-)recognised and (non-) authorised political presence, and on children’s position in this model.

For most adults, political presence is fixed; although, for example, illegal immigrants are neither recognised nor authorised as political agents, that status, however problematic, does not change while their status as illegal immigrants remains stable.

Dr Kallio argued that, by contrast, the status of children’s presence is in constant flux. In schools for example, children can be (and, according to many theorists, should be) both recognised as political agents, and authorised to act with political agency; however, there are many instances in which both their ability to act, and even the recognition of their right to act, can be removed. The discussion following Dr Kallio’s talk focused in particular on children’s sexual rights and vulnerabilities as a particularly difficult issue in which to negotiate children’s political presence.

Dr. Kallio’s talk and the discussion that followed engaged with fundamental questions about how to engage with others as autonomous subjects, and about the relationship between autonomy and responsibility. Children’s autonomy was recognised as a problematically deployed validation for adult political ideologies, adult authority was described as an intrusive violation of children’s privacy and independence. These issues, clearly, resonate beyond the specific (and problematic) categories of ‘adult’ and ‘child’, and beyond the equally problematic limits of any one academic discipline.