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Enter Children, with Childhood

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MuellerAdeline, Mozart and the Mediation of Childhood. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2021. xiii + 287 pp. ISBN 9780226629667 (hard cover); 9780226787299 (ebook).

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2024


Anglo-American musicology is having a childhood moment. The foundation of the American Musicological Society’s Music and Childhood Study Group marked this moment most clearly, together with the launch in 2021 of an accompanying website maintained by Susan Boynton and Ryan Bunch.1 Not that children and childhood are anything new as a topic of enquiry in music studies: since the mid- to late twentieth century, children’s musical cultures have formed a steadily expanding subject for ethnomusicologists, to some extent predating the institutionalization of the study of childhood in anthropology generally.2 Since Boynton and Roe-Min Kok published an early state-of-the-field collection in 2006 (as the outgrowth of an International Musicological Society conference), studies of music and childhood have burgeoned principally at the intersection of ethnomusicology and other fields – notably popular music, as in Kyra D. Gaunt’s The Games Black Girls Play, as well as music education and technology studies, both of which intertwine in Tyler Bickford’s Schooling New Media.3 At present, the relation between popular music, mass media and youth culture forms the most prominent subject of musicological debate about childhood.4 Contrary, then, to the implications of this article’s title, we might say as music scholars that children have always been around, but that large parts of the discipline have not paid them much attention.

Review Article
© The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal Musical Association

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1 <> (accessed 1 October 2022). The website’s bibliography is an invaluable resource for those both new to and familiar with the field.

2 See Campbell, Patricia Shehan and Wiggins, Trevor, ‘Giving Voice to Children’, in The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures, ed. by Campbell, Patricia Shehan and Wiggins, Trevor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 322 Google Scholar (p. 3).

3 Musical Childhoods and the Cultures of Youth, ed. by Susan Boynton and Roe-Min Kok (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006); Kyra D. Gaunt, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop (New York: New York University Press, 2006); Tyler Bickford, Schooling New Media: Music, Language, and Technology in Children’s Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

4 See, among many others, Warwick, Jacqueline, Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s (New York: Routledge, 2007)Google Scholar and Bickford, Tyler, Tween Pop: Children’s Music and Public Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020)Google Scholar. Another emerging discussion point is musical theatre; see Children, Childhood, and Musical Theater, ed. by Donelle Ruwe and James Leve (London: Routledge, 2020).

5 Childhood in the German Democratic Republic, for example, has emerged as a topic of historical-musicological discussion. See Timberlake, Anicia Chung, ‘Brecht for Children: Shaping the Ideal GDR Citizen Through Opera Education’, Representations, 132 (2015), 3060 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Joy H. Calico, ‘“We are Changing the World!”: New German Folk Songs for the Free German Youth (1950)’, in Musical Childhoods, ed. by Boynton and Kok, pp. 145–69.

6 An edited collection that does so is Susan Boynton and Eric Rice, Young Choristers, 650–1700 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2008). This is not to ignore earlier forays into possibilities of a ‘childist’ music history; cf. Cooper, Barry, Child Composers & Their Works: A Historical Survey (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009), p. 73 Google Scholar. Other volumes, of course, contain much that could contribute to debates in childhood studies, including Gjerdingen, Robert O., Child Composers in the Old Conservatories: How Orphans Became Elite Musicians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 This is a common summary of Ariès’s claims in L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (Paris: Seuil, 1960), translated by Robert Baldick as Centuries of Childhood (London: Jonathan Cape, 1962). A more sensitive summary of one of his claims is that, before the seventeenth century, adults did not think of children as having a particular nature that distinguishes them from adults. As Hugh Cunningham observes, much commentary on Ariès relied on a mistranslation of one particular sentence: ‘Histories of Childhood’, The American Historical Review, 103/4 (1998), 1195–1208 (p. 1197). For a critique of Ariès’s argument and approach, see Adrian Wilson, ‘The Infancy of the History of Childhood: An Appraisal of Philippe Ariès’, History and Theory, 19/2 (1980), 132–53.

8 This moment in childhood scholarship was marked by the emergence of the ‘new social study of childhood’, articulated primarily by sociologists, who proposed that ‘childhood’ was a socially and culturally constructed identity (akin, for example, to gender), but emphasized that children were agents shaping the processes of construction. The most frequently cited outlines of this study include Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood, ed. by Allison James and Alan Prout (London: Routledge, 1990), and James, Allison, Jenks, Chris and Prout, Alan, Theorizing Childhood (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998)Google Scholar. For an assessment, see Ryan, Patrick J., ‘How New Is the “New” Social Study of Childhood? The Myth of a Paradigm Shift’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 38/4 (2008), 553–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Duane, Anna Mae, ‘Introduction’, in The Children’s Table: Childhood Studies and the Humanities, ed. by Duane, Anna Mae (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013), pp. 114 CrossRefGoogle Scholar (p. 4). Globally-oriented histories are helpful in illustrating that co-creation, and also in questioning sweeping connections between ‘modernity’ and modern childhood. See Milanich, Nara, ‘Latin American Childhoods and the Concept of Modernity’, in The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World, ed. by Fass, Paula S. (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 491508 Google Scholar.

10 Bickford, Schooling New Media, p. 27. For the classic historical investigation of (part of) this relationship, see Brewer, Holly, By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

11 Duane, ‘Introduction’, p. 5. This development is encapsulated most clearly in debates about that fraught buzzword of childhood studies: ‘agency’. Acknowledging and enabling children’s agency was an essential tenet of the ‘new social study of childhood’, but that notion of agency soon received critique, as a simplistic understanding against which childhood itself is implicitly defined, or even just as the legacy of a Romantic individualism. (For the latter, in particular, see Ryan, ‘How New Is the “New” Social Study of Childhood?’.) This is a longstanding concern especially in sociology-oriented facets of childhood studies, which currently promote children’s agency less as the willed attribute of individual subjects and more as something distributed, emerging relationally through actions. See Spyros Spyrou, Rachel Rosen, and Daniel Thomas Cook, ‘Reimagining Childhood Studies: Connectivities … Relationalities … Linkages’, in Reimagining Childhood Studies, ed. by Spyros Spyrou, Rachel Rosen and Daniel Thomas Cook (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 1–20, and Oswell, David, The Agency of Children: From Family to Global Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)Google Scholar.

12 Duane, ‘Introduction’, p. 1.

13 Joan Wallach Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, in Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). See Grant, Julia, ‘Children versus Childhood: Writing Children into the Historical Record’, History of Education Quarterly, 45/3 (2005), 468–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Sociology-oriented scholarship also consistently stresses the importance of keeping up with broader theoretical developments, noting that the way in which scholarship in the 1990s promoted discovering and amplifying children’s voices often ran counter to a burgeoning methodological emphasis on ‘decentering’ the subject. See Allison James and Alan Prout, ‘Introduction’, in Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood, pp. 1–6; and Spyros Spyrou, Disclosing Childhoods: Research and Knowledge Production for a Critical Childhood Studies (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), especially Chapter 2.

14 Field, Corinne T., ‘Why Little Thinkers Are a Big Deal: The Relevance of Childhood Studies to Intellectual History’, Modern Intellectual History, 14/1 (2017), 269–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar (p. 272). Field is referring specifically to Duane’s volume.

15 Ibid.; my emphasis. Matías Cordero Ace works towards the possibility of a ‘dutiful, interdependently autonomous legal subject’ that could represent both adults and children in ‘Who is (to Be) the Subject of Children’s Rights?’, in Reimagining Childhood Studies, pp. 170–82 (p. 181).

16 See notes 4 and 5.

17 Field, ‘Why Little Thinkers Are a Big Deal’, p. 275.

18 Bernstein, Robin, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York: New York University Press, 2011), p. 22 Google Scholar. This sense of opposition may, of course, characterize some adult–child relations, especially those formed through the social and spatial sequestering of children according to rigid developmental models, which institutionalizes notions of childhood difference. Our methodology for studying childhood should not unwittingly, of course, be an artifact of this contingent phenomenon.

19 Maza, Sarah, ‘The Kids Aren’t All Right: Historians and the Problem of Childhood’, American Historical Review, 125/4 (2020), 1261–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar (p. 1285).

20 Mintz, Steven, ‘Children’s History Matters’, American Historical Review, 125/4 (2020), 1286–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar (p. 1292).

21 Robin Bernstein, ‘Childhood as Performance’, in The Children’s Table, pp. 164–71 (p. 164). (This is a slight re-writing of the end of the introduction in Racial Innocence.) The final chapter of Racial Innocence, in particular, explores examples in which children and adults ‘collaborate’ in their behaviour to change prevailing assumptions about the nature of childhood.

22 Field, ‘Why Little Thinkers Are a Big Deal’, p. 275. The term ‘repertoire’ refers to Diana Taylor’s distinction between ‘archival’ memory – material sources available for sequestering in libraries – and the ‘repertoire’ – the oral practices and corporeal behaviours that survive in different ways. Cf. Taylor, Diana, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003)Google Scholar.

23 Spyrou, Disclosing Childhoods, p. 86. The context of this remark is the practice of research in the social sciences.

24 Bernstein, Racial Innocence, p. 13.

25 Bernstein, ‘Childhood as Performance’, p. 165.

26 See in particular Chapter 2 of Racial Innocence.