Gabrielle Owen, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, spoke Friday via Zoom about the first chapter of her book “A Queer History of Adolescence: Developmental Pasts, Relational Futures,” which came out last year.
Philip Nel, distinguished professor of English at the university and organizer of events, said Owen’s book “challenges us to rethink our own notions of identity and relationship in the present.”
Owen said she became interested in the concept of adolescence because of the negative and dismissive stereotypes attached to adolescence. Owen said those stereotypes have changed over time, in part because of the awareness of homosexuality.
“A significant change occurs around 1870, where we start to see some of the earliest humiliating and disparaging references to adolescence,” Owen said.
Owen said that adolescence and childhood cut across different social concepts, and Owen asked who these societal constructs include and exclude.
“The practices of developmental psychology construct childhood as white, rich, and masculine as the standard for what childhood is,” Owen said. “It skews researchers and considers girls, non-Western and non-white children to be deficient. ”
Owen challenged the audience not to be harsh on children and teens.
“Biological changes are often used to dismiss the experiences and perspectives of children and adolescents as if they cannot know themselves in the midst of such physical instability,” Owen said, “but if these changes rather served to remind us of our ethical opportunity to see young people in the immediacy of who they are?
The Kansas State Cultural Studies Symposium is part of the English Department’s Cultural Studies program. The symposium brings together academics each year and has hosted speakers from all over the world.
“This is an opportunity for faculty and students to dive together to study something they might not have time to do otherwise,” said Naomi Wood, director of undergraduate studies for the English.