Powerful at all ages

The link between age and power has been studied from various perspectives in children’s literature. While some scholars mainly focus on the adult’s power, others discuss power on the child’s part, like Clémentine Beauvais, who argues that a child’s ‘might’ lies in the future that lies ahead of them. In his broader research project, Leander Duthoy explores how the reader’s age affects their understanding of age in children’s literature. With this chapter in Children’s Cultures after Childhood, he adds to the age-power debate by analysing readers’ reflections on age in the Dutch children’s book Iep! (Eep!; Joke van Leeuwen, 1996), which he gathered through 29 individual interviews and two focus-group conversations with twenty participants aged 9 to 75. In addition, Leander moves away from a strictly age-based analysis and considers some of the different ways in which the discussion of power – the ability to bring about or prevent change – involves a more dynamic and interconnected understanding of people’s individual experiences.

The interviews took place online during the COVID-19 lockdown, resulting in disempowerment on the part of some of the older participants, who needed help with the technology used. The child participants were dependent on their parents, who corresponded with Leander in their child’s name to arrange the interview. Some parents impacted the situation by attending their child’s interview. In turn, a few young participants also exerted a form of power in showing resistance, saying they only partook in the study because their parents obligated them or because they had to read a book for school anyway. In all cases, instead of looking at someone receiving help as ‘powerlessness’, it could be seen as an intergenerational entanglement that is both empowering and an inherent part of how age is constructed in a broader social and material context. In short, Leander explores how the participants’ individual experiences of Iep! are influenced by many different factors other than age alone. In other words, power is something both adults and children possess and often (re)negotiate together, as power is relational; power is influenced by the connections between different people, things, ideas and situations. 

Duthoy, Leander. ‘Chapter 7: The Dynamics of Age and Power in a Children’s Literature Research Assemblage’.

Children’s Cultures after Childhood, edited by Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak and Macarena García-González, John Benjamins, 2023, pp. 102–121.

doi: 10.1075/clcc.16.07dut