Tony Watkins Lectures

Graduate Centre for international Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media

The world-famous MA, run by CIRCL, is the oldest accredited degree in the field in Britain, and is taught by specialists in Children’s Literature, whose research is published internationally.

The Annual Tony Watkins Lectures

The Thirteenth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture:  this lecture series has been running since 2003 and commemorates the life and academic contributions of Tony Watkins, who sadly died on the 23rd December 2017 (please see for a tribute: ). This year, the lecture was by given by the eminent critical psychologist Dr Jan De Vos on Thursday May 3rd 2018 on ‘Digitalizing childhood: leading the child via its synapses to a psychologized virtuality’.Dr De Vos argued in his lecture that there is a substantial overlap between the discourses and the practices of neuro-education (attempting to ground education/parenting in neuroscience) and the digitalisation of education (schooling or parenting). An illustrative example is IBM’s “learning analytics” and its, mainly, metaphoric, recourse to neuro-terms, speaking of “neuromorphic hardware”, “brain-inspired algorithms”, “neurosynaptic chip”. One can furthermore observe that “learning platforms” most centrally address psycho-social issues such as empathy and social skills: this is at play on the discernible and visible level (of for example the virtual architecture of the platform) but also on the more hidden level of the algorithms and codes that give form to and direct the interactions. Education and schooling, seemingly, are psychologized via digitalization. Also in the field of the so-called “parenting apps” one can discern how digitalization connects to the (neuro)psychological: the app “Vroom”, for example, advertises with the claim “Vroom turns shared moments into brain building moments”. Or, digital technology turns human interactions into an issue of brain-regions and brain chemistry: the digital app neurologizes childhood and parenting. In the lecture Dr De Vos explored how the child (and its parents and educators), is led to the digital via a rationale which understands childhood from the (psycho)neurological paradigm. Digitalization, thus, as the heir of (neuro)psychologization?

The Twelfth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture was given by Assistant Professor Helle Strandgaard Jensen from the Department of History, University of Aarhus in Denmark, on Thursday November 24th 2016. Professor Jensen spoke on: ‘Always Shiny and New? Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Children’s Media Consumption’. Professor Jensen is an expert on children’s media, particularly in Scandinavia, and for this lecture she spoke about her transcultural research on the reception of ‘Sesame Street’ in Europe, including theoretical issues concerning how children’s media is thought of in terms of reception and what is considered ‘suitable’ for children and why.

The Eleventh Tony Watkins Annual Lecture was given by Dr Jenny Bavidge of the University of Cambridge on Thursday, November 26th 2015. Dr Bavidge is an eminent children’s literature critic and historian and one of the founders of thinking about children’s geographies and she spoke about ‘”A Peep into London”: Guides to London for Children from 1800 to the present day’, exploring how ideas of childhood and the urban shift historically and express political and ideological concerns around childhood and the state.

The Tenth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture was held on October 30th 2014. Dr Simon Bailey then of the University of Manchester spoke on ‘ADHD Mythology’. Dr Bailey analysed how claims both about the ‘reality’ of ADHD and about ADHD as ‘myth’ are made and argued that both are discourses relying in turn on ideas about identity, perception and consciousness. Dr Bailey critiqued, for instance, ideas of brain-imaging, through examining claims that greater detail necessarily equates to greater understanding, but also critiqued ideas that ADHD is a ‘myth’ through considering how these claims themselves include acknowledgement of difficulties in behaviour or experience that need to be addressed or coped with somehow.
Dr Bailey is the author of the recent book Exploring ADHD: An Ethnography of Disorder in Early Childhood (Routledge, 2013).

The Ninth Tony Watkins Annual Lecturewas held on Tuesday March 4th 2014. Professor Erica Burman of Manchester University spoke on ‘The child and Fanon: paradigms of subjectification and transformation’. Professor Burman described how little the child has been attended to in the work of even a very widely studied and well-known post-colonial theorist such as Frantz Fanon, and discussed the implications of reading the child for interpretations of his views.
Professor Burman is the author of classic critiques of developmental psychology and wider tropes of development in her books Deconstructing Developmental Psychology (1994) and Developments: Child, Image, Nation (2008), as well as numerous articles and chapters.

Professor Burman’s Tony Watkins lecture also marked especially the Thirtieth Anniversary of the founding by Tony Watkins of the MA in Children’s Literature in 1984 as the first MA in the field to be taught from a Cultural Studies approach in a Department of English Literature!

The Eighth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture was held on Tuesday October 30th 2012. Dr Daniela Caselli, Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester, spoke on “‘Once upon a time and a very good time it was’: The Child in Modernism”, closely considering constructions of childhood in the work of Modernist authors such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Dr Caselli argued that critics often tend to overlook the child in Modernism (as elsewhere), seeing the child either as part of a domesticity and mundanity that Modernism resists, or as part of a Romanticism that Modernism equally is seen to reject. However, Dr Caselli argued that the child is actually very much at the heart of Modernist concerns about perspective, vision and experience, and demonstrated this through her close analyses of sections of texts.

The Seventh Tony Watkins Annual Lecture lecture was held on Tuesday November 22nd 2011. Professor Jonathan Bignell of the Department of Film, Theatre and Television of the University of Reading spoke on ‘Television for children: national specificity and globalisation’, considering how ideas of national identity can be read in relation to the production and viewing of children’s television. Professor Bignell demonstrated through a range of examples how British children’s television both produced television for export markets whilst itself also being shaped by foreign programmes and producers, challenging any narrow ideas of children’s television as either simply ‘national’ or ‘global’.

The Sixth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture lecture was held on Tuesday November 23rd 2010. Dr Maeve Pearson, Lecturer in English, American and Children’s Literature at the University of Exeter, spoke on ‘Henry James for Children’, considering how (American) childhood is constructed politically and ideologically, reading ideas of childhood in novels by Henry James to consider how childhood perspectives can or can not be read as such in James’s novels. Dr Pearson then connected her readings of the James texts with the political and ideological issues she had been analysing earlier, concluding that ideas of childhood knowledge may be more about the fears and hopes of adults than about perceptions of what children do or do not know in and of themselves.

The Fifth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture lecture was held on November 12th 2009. Dr Johanna Motzkau, lecturer in forensic psychology at the Open University, spoke on ‘Speaking up against justice: credibility, suggestibility and children’s memory on trial’. Dr Motzkau trained in law, philosophy and critical psychology in both Britain and Germany and is researching the way children are constructed in courts in England. The lecture also marked the 25th anniversary of the MA in Children’s Literature.

The Fourth Tony Watkins Annual Lecture on Children’s Literature, Culture and Media was given by Professor Kim Reynolds on ‘War Stories: Children’s Literature and the First World War’, on Monday, October 22nd, 2007.

[tony watkins lecture 2003]
on the photo: Mr Tony Watkins with CIRCL MA students at one of the annual lectures

Professor Reynolds is at the University of Newcastle, and author of well known works of children’s literature criticism such as Modern Children’s Literature: An Introduction (ed), Palgrave, 2004; Representations of Childhood Death (ed), Macmillan, 2000; British Children’s Book Publishing since 1945 (ed), Scolar/Ashgate, 1998; Victorian Heroines (with Nicola Humble), Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1993; and Girls Only? Gender and British Juvenile Fiction 1880-1910, Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1990.

The Third Tony Watkins Annual Lecture on Children’s Literature, Culture and Media was on ‘The Risks of Innocence’, and was delivered by Professor Allison James (Professor of Sociology, University of Sheffield) on Tuesday, October 17th, 2006.

Professor James is the author, amongst other works of (with Professor Alan Prout) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood; and (with Professors Alan Prout and Chris Jenks) Theorising Childhood). In the lecture, Professor James explored the effect that ideas about ‘children’s innocence’ and need for protection are having on children’s everyday experiences and also on the changing idea of childhood itself.

The Second Tony Watkins Annual Lecture on Children’s Literature, Culture, and Media was on ‘Happily Ever After, Just For Now’, and was delivered by Dr Peter Hollindale (former Reader in English and Educational Studies, University of York, and author of well-known books on children’s literature such as Ideology and the Children’s Book (1988) and Signs of Childness in Children’s Books (1997)), on Tuesday October 26th 2004.

The Inaugural Tony Watkins Annual Lecture on Children’s Literature, Culture and Media was delivered by Professor Fred Inglis, then from the University of Sheffield, on 19th of June, 2003. The subject was ‘Educational Narratives and the Good Society’.

The lecture was given on the occasion of Tony Watkins‘s retirement in 2003, to mark his great role in the shaping of children’s literature studies, and his founding role in making Reading an international leader in this field through founding in 1984 and running the MA in Children’s Literature (the first accredited MA in this field in the UK), and (in 1996) the Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL)

Professor Inglis is the author, amongst many other books, of a classic text of children’s literature criticism, The Promise of Happiness: Value and Meaning in Children’s Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).