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Feeling through practice: subjectivity and emotion in children’s writing

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 01:33 authored by Hester BarronHester Barron, Claire Langhamer
This article analyzes how children in 1930s’ Britain narrated their everyday behavior, feelings and fantasies when asked to do so by their teachers. It is based upon a study of over one thousand essays that were written by children in 1937 and 1938, which were collected by the British social investigative organization, Mass Observation, as part of its Worktown Project. The argument is situated within the history of emotions and we interrogate the utility of recent conceptual frameworks for the better understanding of children’s subjectivities. The essays show that children were able to juggle contradictory demands and expectations, learn emotional codes and match emotional style to spatial context when moving between school, home and leisure arenas. To some extent, then, children adapted and shaped their behavior to comply with specific emotional communities. However, we argue that this model offers only a partial account of children’s emotional practices. In the second part of the article we suggest a move away from thinking about emotional communities or emotional styles as pre-dominantly value-based and spatially-defined (by the school, home, street – spaces which children inhabited and might have influenced but which were conceived and built by adults) and argue instead for increased attention to be paid to the material context and, particularly, the relationships that operated within and across these spaces. Ultimately, we argue, children’s emotional experiences were less about “learning to feel” than feeling through practice.


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Journal of Social History




Oxford University Press





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