School has never been modern

SHAW, Rebecca and RAY, Jo (2021). School has never been modern. In: Childhood and Time: The IX Conference on Childhood Studies, Virtual, 10-12 May 2021. Journal of Childhood Studies. (Unpublished)

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The hauntological, the presence of ‘lost futures’ is a well-developed theme of contemporary criticism, built on Derrida’s ‘Spectres of Marx (2008) and developed by many, particularly the deeply missed, Mark Fisher. Reviewing a collection of images of a UK primary school environment, the presence of different ‘futures’- of different past models and hopes for education- appear hiding in plain sight, generating punctum-like shocks. A scarecrow stands in a playful ‘chill-out space, but its’1980s chintzy brown fabric and gothic signage makes it ‘out of time’- a ghost from 1970s ‘wyrd’ British TV like the Wicker man, or even 1920s Woodcraft Folk. In the science cupboard elongated arial fonts list instruments, a high-contrast 80s-style periodic table unfurls next to an image of Shrek, and a box of Christmas decorations skulks in the corner in a Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro photo. These speak of many times, any time except now, and yet the assemblage is precisely now, evoking different futures that we have moved through and still carry. Amongst the values that inform schools the late 60s progressive and open-plan movement, Thatcher’s 1980s neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism, 90s multiculturalism, 2000s inclusion, Blairite big society-all hum in material vestiges with greater and lesser emphasis in school. If schools seem more haunted than most places, we are keen to explore how this is experienced by children who would not (necessarily) recognise the historical specificity of the ghosts they live with. Interestingly previous work with children and listening instruments found ‘jiin’ or ‘zombies’ under the ground in the playground, and ‘bloody Mary’s’ in the bathroom. Partly this reflects childrens’ shared online media cultures and popular memes but it also reflects how the children sense the bubble of different times and vestigial presences. These were articulated by the children as optimistic entities rather than malevolent, part of the odd richness of the school environment. Svetlana Boym’s concept, the ‘off-modern’ seems particularly useful in capturing the affect of these presences, noting that they generate estrangement and affection (2008). Boym’s view of ‘nostalgia’ (2001) is also hopeful, seeing it as a critical tool where we might reflect critically on the past and from this, find new futures.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Keynote)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Art and Design Research Centre; Department of Art and Design
SWORD Depositor: Symplectic Elements
Depositing User: Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2022 11:07
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2022 13:15

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