Feeling through practice: subjectivity and emotion in children’s writing

Barron, Hester and Langhamer, Claire (2016) Feeling through practice: subjectivity and emotion in children’s writing. Journal of Social History, 51 (1). ISSN 0022-4529

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Abstract

This article analyzes how children in 1930s’ Britain narrated their everyday behavior, feelings and fantasies when asked to do so by their teachers. It is based upon a study of over one thousand essays that were written by children in 1937 and 1938, which were collected by the British social investigative organization, Mass Observation, as part of its Worktown Project. The argument is situated within the history of emotions and we interrogate the utility of recent conceptual frameworks for the better understanding of children’s subjectivities. The essays show that children were able to juggle contradictory demands and expectations, learn emotional codes and match emotional style to spatial context when moving between school, home and leisure arenas. To some extent, then, children adapted and shaped their behavior to comply with specific emotional communities. However, we argue that this model offers only a partial account of children’s emotional practices. In the second part of the article we suggest a move away from thinking about emotional communities or emotional styles as pre-dominantly value-based and spatially-defined (by the school, home, street – spaces which children inhabited and might have influenced but which were conceived and built by adults) and argue instead for increased attention to be paid to the material context and, particularly, the relationships that operated within and across these spaces. Ultimately, we argue, children’s emotional experiences were less about “learning to feel” than feeling through practice.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Children, Mass observation, 1930s, Britain, Emotions, Subjectivity
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: D History General and Old World
D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain > DA020 England
Depositing User: Hester Barron
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2016 09:54
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2017 04:58
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/61361

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