Aarhus University Seal

Keynote Abstracts

Gather ‘round the table: reflections on interdisciplinary research about children’s mediatized worlds

Rebekah Willett, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Library and Information Studies

Researchers interested in mediatization call for interdisciplinary research in which everyone is bringing something to the table. In conceptualizing mediatization, researchers ask about processes of change, the nature of transformations in culture and society, and media’s modus operandi as connected with these changes. Media are seen as co-constitutive in a variety of arenas: children’s play, literacy practices, and parenting, for example. By way of illustration, to study mediatization of children’s play, we need expertise on the history of and current thinking about play, childhood, media, folklore, and developmental psychology (to name a few disciplines). While researchers have provided convincing evidence that children are living in a mediated world, mediatization theory raises questions about how children’s cultures are being structured differently and are changing over time as a result of living in an increasingly mediatized world. These are big questions that require vast amounts of expertise. Where better to start locating, developing, and sharing expertise than at a conference?  In this talk, I reflect on what I bring to the table as a researcher in the fields of childhood studies, cultural and media studies, and education; what I might be looking for at a table of interdisciplinary researchers; and what new insights might result in such an endeavor. In doing so, I ask audience members to think about ways their participation in this conference might contribute to an interdisciplinary table of researchers aiming to investigate children’s mediatized worlds.


Work in Progress – Transmedia Storytelling in Children's and Youth Literature and Media

Ute Dettmar, professor, Goethe-Universität, Institut für Jugendbuchforschung.

In my lecture I will focus on the phenomenon of serial and in particular transmedia storytelling in the field of children’s and young adult literature and media. In the first part of my considerations I will draft the theoretical and cultural context, in which I will discuss the literary and medial phenomena. Notably referring to theories of popular seriality, I will discuss these aspects in relation to recent changes in media, for example digitalisation. In the second part of my lecture I will present and discuss different considerations of media science that focus on the narrative structures of storytelling and worldbuilding, in order to evaluate the multiple forms of transmedial storytelling from a conceptual and theoretical point of view. In this context I will refer to selected examples, discussing individual characteristics of transmedia storytelling in the field of children’s and young adult literature.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Nostalgia: Technology, Racial Erasures, and William Joyce’s Fantastic Flying Books

Philip Nel, University Distinguished Professor, director of the English Department's Program in Children's Literature, Kansas State University.

While contemporary childhood may be more mediatized than ours was, that media’s assumptions about its audience are similar. The media and the degree of its convergence may be new, but its de facto Whiteness is old. When new storytelling media emerge, the critical focus on technological or aesthetic achievement often neglects the work’s engagement (or lack thereof) with other social facts — notably, race. This keynote examines this problem via the works of William Joyce.

Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore — an Oscar-winning animated short (2011) that became an electronic book app (2011) and a picture book (2012) — is an aesthetic marvel. Thanks to careful adaptations that recognize the possibilities and limitations of each medium, it may be the only children’s story that works equally brilliantly as book, app, and film. The New York Times called the app “visually stunning.” The London Times thought it would be “regarded as one of the most influential titles of the early 21st century.” The film won 14 awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Visually, all three versions are beautiful, artistically effective and emotionally affective. However, this deserved acclaim overlooks Morris Lessmore’s erasure of race. Hurricane Katrina, a main inspiration for the story, killed nearly 2000 people, most of them African Americans. With the exception of a portrait of Duke Ellington hanging on the wall and glimpsed briefly near the end of both app and film, there are otherwise no characters of color in app, film, or book.

A case study in racial erasures, Joyce’s work exemplifies mainstream children’s culture’s tendency to treat Whiteness as the “neutral” color of all humankind. Morris Lessmore represents technological innovation’s propensity for distracting us from the unexamined racial assumptions that underwrite its success. Unacknowledged Whiteness is the midwife to all ostensibly transcendent, timeless stories: culturally unmarked White characters read as “universal” characters. The acclaim of Morris Lessmore as both film and app depends, in part, upon the way that it makes race disappear beneath Whiteness’ invisibility cloak. To remove that cloak, this talk situates Morris Lessmore in the contexts of Joyce’s larger body of work and children’s culture about Hurricane Katrina. In so doing, it considers how technology may not invite all children to participate in the creation of meaning, nor explore new forms of agency, but instead tacitly segregate literary and literate experience, excluding non-White readers from some neighborhoods of our new mediatized world.

Watching players: Video-mediated computer gaming in children’s everyday lives

Björn Sjöblom, lecturer at the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Stockholm University and a researcher at the National Museum of Science and Technology.

Digital games are a fundamental part of a children’s media landscapes, played on a multitude of platforms and situations. Increasingly, digital games are also being consumed through streaming video services such as Youtube and Twitch.tv. This represents a development where children can engage in gaming cultures while not directly playing the games themselves. Instead, in video-mediated gaming, viewers watch other players playing games, across a wide variety of contexts and genres. Such spectatorship has historical roots, but is nevertheless a dramatic change in the ways games are part of children’s everyday life.

Video-mediated gaming places both spectatorship and performance front and center Gaming videos require cultural skills and competencies, both as a viewer and as someone creating the videos. Also, while viewers do not engage directly with the games, they are nevertheless often engaged in interaction with the players, through comments or build in chat-interfaces in live-streamed games.

This talk will give an overview of these emerging forms of gaming culture, and of ways in which children take part in and produce them. There is an enormous variety and creativity in these forms of media, and great differences in the conditions under which they are produced. The talk will draw on examples of several genres of video-mediated gaming, from professional e-sports to children’s amateur production of Let’s Play videos. The ways in which games are increasingly consumed and produced as spectator media means new challenges for research into children’s everyday lives and the media ecologies that are part of them.