Tu-Whit and Wisdom

By Debbie

Back in April, when our little party of PhD students set off for the Child and the Book 2011 in Norway, we little suspected that we would be returning as the newly appointed organisers of the 2012 conference. On our last day in Oslo, having accepted the invitation to take it on, we spent the afternoon installed at a harbourside café and mulled over the possibilities. What theme? What keynote speakers? What format? “Well”, said Maria, with her usual wisdom, “What sort of conference would you like to attend?” It was exactly the right question. For indeed, we had found ourselves in the wonderfully privileged position of being able to plan what we considered to be the ideal conference. After an afternoon of playing Fantasy Conference (a new recreational activity for academics?) we knew what we wanted. Of course, there are always constraints of budgets, availability of speakers, and so on, but having a sense of purpose has been all important.

That purpose is, if you will, a sort ‘back to basics’ one . As the inter-discipline of children’s literature has matured, there has been an inevitable and not unhealthy multiplication and divergence of approaches. But perhaps, we thought, there might be some benefit in thinking quite explicitly about the foundations, to reconsider our definitions, and to work towards a more coherent framework. To this end, our conference theme is:

Towards Common Ground: Philosophical Approaches to Children’s Literature

On the face of it, this might look a bit niche, but we’d really like to argue that’s it’s quite the opposite.

In the introduction to – a book co-edited by one of our keynote speakers, Nigel Warburton – there is a compilation of philosopher’s answers to the question “What is philosophy?” The answers are astonishingly and delightfully varied. Philosophy might be seen, for example, as “a process of reflection on the deepest concepts, that is structures of thought that make up the way we think about the world" (Simon Blackburn); the "study of certain costs and benefits that accrue when you take a certain position" (Peter Adamson); “the name for that deep and important group of questions where there is no simple experimental way of answering them” or simply “conceptual engineering” (Luciano Floridi). But if there’s a detectable theme running through, it’s perhaps that philosophy is not so much a what but a how. Thus, our call for papers is really not so concerned with theme as with approach. It’s an invitation to ourselves: not so much to sift through our work and see if we can stump up a topic that fits, as to adopt a particular mode of enquiry, to think afresh and metacritically about our research and our position.

So, after a relatively short but frantic period of deliberating, doodling, invitation-writing, spreadsheeting, and coffee-drinking in Waterstones café, we are delighted that today sees the grand unveiling of the Child and the Book 2012. We hope that many of you will be as excited as we are. And we hope you like our philosophical owl. Hoot if you like The Child and the Book!