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Back to where we came from: evolutionary psychology and children’s literature and media

Lesnik-Oberstein, K. ORCID: and Cocks, N. (2017) Back to where we came from: evolutionary psychology and children’s literature and media. In: Wesseling, E. (ed.) Reinventing Childhood Nostalgia: Books, Toys, and Contemporary Media Culture. Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the present. Routledge, London, pp. 318-336. ISBN 9781472474124

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In 2010, The New York Times ran an article which announced that ‘the next big thing in English [Studies]’ was ‘using evolutionary theory to explain fiction’. This announcement may be considered somewhat belated, given that the interest in the potential relevance of evolutionary psychology to literary studies might be traced back to a considerably earlier date than 2010. Joseph Carroll first published on the subject as far back as 1995, and by 2002 Steven Pinker could claim that ‘within the academy, a growing number of mavericks are looking to Evolutionary psychology and cognitive science in an effort to re-establish human nature as the center of any understanding of the arts’. Nevertheless, The New York Times’s announcement may be taken as a measure of an increasingly visible trend in both popular and academic thinking. We argue in this chapter that this trend is motivated specifically by nostalgia, or the longing for a past which seems forever lost. A second aspect of this nostalgia will also be discussed to do with the way that we argue that this supposedly ‘new’ area of research repeats exactly a long history of prior claims of many eminent children’s literature critics with respect to ideas of childhood, language and children’s literature and media. Despite the repeated, insistent claims of several of the Literary Darwinists, including, for instance, Joseph Carroll, one of the founders of this way of thinking, that they are working in heroic opposition to a dominant, obscurantist and anti-science ‘literary theory’, we argue here that in fact there is a high degree of convergence between the claims made about childhood, language and children’s literature in Literary Darwinism and much children’s literature criticism. We therefore see Literary Darwinism and (children’s) literature studies as not being in any sense about an opposition or separation between science and literary or humanist studies, but about a convergence underpinned and driven by the same nostalgia for a singular, stable, uniform and universal past, leading to a singular, stable, uniform and universal present. Finally, we suggest that it is not just in these two fields in which this nostalgia operates, but that this can currently be seen in sub-streams within many disciplines – in both in arts, sciences and humanities -- as a founding, powerfully political, driver.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:69362


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