Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures

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Heather Snell

Associate Professor

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Heather Snell
Department of English
University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Ave.
Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9
Canada

Phone: (204) 786-9954

Fax: (204) 774-4134

Heather Snell

Biography

While my primary field of interest is postcolonial cultural studies, my fascination with postcolonial representations of children has increasingly led me toward research in young people’s texts and cultures. As evidenced by the popularity of the postcolonial Bildungsroman or novel of development, among other forms, representations of children, adolescents, teens, and youth generally are abundant in postcolonial literatures, films, and other media. For a number of cultural producers who hail from former European colonies in regions such as South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, the figure of the child and childhood itself represent highly contested sites of discipline, control, and negotiation. Throughout the period of British colonialism, the Victorian notion of childhood as a "primitive" state of becoming was mapped onto Britain’s colonies, discursively transforming colonial subjects into "children of the empire." This particular construction of colonial subjects persists in official and popular representations of many postcolonial subjects, especially when they are situated in the so-called "developing world." The very notion of development, as it is applied to certain postcolonies, suggests that postcolonial subjects have not yet come fully into being or advanced to a mature state. Africa is still overwhelmingly represented as just such a "backward" place, while nations such as India and cities such as Rio de Janeiro are almost always associated with abject poverty—the result, presumably, of their failure to successfully negotiate modernity. Postcolonial constructions of the child interrogate and sometimes transform normative or oppressive notions of childhood in their attempts to reclaim the child and childhood as symbolic sites of resistance and transformation. They may also point to the possible limitations of using the child and the child’s point of view as political devices. My research and teaching straddle the fields of postcolonial cultural studies and research in young people’s texts and cultures to examine postcolonial representations of youth and local engagements with notions of "the global child" and "global citizenship" in texts for and about young people.

Degrees Received:

1998 B.A. English (Honours) (Guelph)
2001 M.A. Theory & Criticism (Western Ontario)
2007 Ph.D. English (Western Ontario)

Ph.D. Thesis - Exotic Places to Read: Desire, Resistance, and the Postcolonial

My dissertation investigated the diverse deployment of exoticist tropes in select postcolonial texts written in, from, or toward Australia, India, the Caribbean, and Canada between 1962 and 2003. I argued that postcolonial writing necessarily locates itself in a space of ambivalence toward discursive containments of difference. Building on theories of the exotic, I attended to the reciprocal relations that frequently motivate the inclusion of exotifiable elements in the works of Rodney Hall, Ardashir Vakil, V.S. Naipaul, and André Alexis. I concluded that by drawing attention to the libidinal, subversive, and political registers of perception, postcolonial texts often encourage readers to become aware of how peoples, cultures, and texts perceived to be foreign are aesthetically decontextualized when subjected to an exotifying gaze.

Current Projects

Reading the Postcolonial City: Complicities, Contradictions, Constellations

This book-length project explores the unique parameters of postcolonial cities as they are represented in fictional and non-fictional texts produced and/or set in regions where colonialism, neocolonialism, and globalization have contributed to the proliferation of new, often transnational, identities, cultures, economies, and social formations. It explores the contradictions, complicities and constellations that necessarily inform postcolonial "imagineerings" and attendant re-configurations of cities. Through readings of texts that are rooted in and engage with cities in postcolonial contexts, Reading the Postcolonial City: Complicities, Contradictions, Constellations explores how contradictory codes of postcolonial representation trouble seemingly clear cut boundaries between the rural and the urban, and between centre and periphery, giving rise to a diverse constellation of real and imagined urban geographies. Two chapters in this project attend to adolescence as a significant focal point through which postcolonial cultural producers explore the unique parameters of postcolonial cities: Chapter Four draws on research in young people’s texts and cultures to consider how specific sites within postcolonial cities constitute highly gendered spaces that profoundly impact the lives of girls, while Chapter Five explores the ubiquity of so-called "slum narratives," which, like Slumdog Millionaire (2008), tend to figure boys or young men as protagonists.

Home and Away in Narratives by and about Child Soldiers

I presented this paper at the 2011 Congress of the International Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) in Brisbane, Australia, and have since been in the process of extending and revising it for publication as a much longer piece. I draw on theories of lifewriting, autobiography, children’s literature, and postcolonialism to explore the home/away/home structure that seems to underpin child soldier memoirs and YA and adult novels about child soldiers. I argue that narratives both by and about (former) child soldiers, including Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Emmanuel Jal’s War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story, and Sharon E. McKay’s War Brothers raise important questions about posited relationships between children "here" and children "over there" and the registers of fear and safety to which these binaries give rise.

Through the Child, for the Child: The Politics of Cultural Memory in Canadian and American Children’s Literatures about the 'Lost Boys of Sudan'

I first presented this paper at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) in Claremont, California. It assesses the politics of cultural memory in relation to a number of recently published Canadian and American children’s literatures about the "Lost Boys of Sudan." Drawing on theorists and critics of children’s literature, as well as theories of diaspora and postcolonialism, I consider the extent to which retellings of Sudanese children’s individual testimonies—-and the weaving of such into coherent narratives targeted at North American youth--generate a selective loss that ultimately serves national agendas in Canada and the United States. My paper concludes by situating these narratives with respect to a much larger body of recently published children’s literatures that aim to transform young, North American people into "global citizens."

Recent Publications

Courses 2016-2017

FILMS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE: AFFECTING REPRESENTATIONS

ENGL-3169/3-001 (F)

3 credit hours

2016:

F 1:30 – 5:15

This course explores narrative films for young people, arguably the principal form through which contemporary North American young people encounter narrative. As well as looking at the history of the Hollywood system, particularly in the way in which it has tended to privilege a sentimentalized and profoundly raced, sexed, gendered, and classed representation of the child and childhood, we also look at the films for and about young people produced by international and independent filmmakers and those films produced by young people. To anchor our analyses in this short, half-year course, this year we focus on "Affecting Representations," drawing on notions of affect to examine how the aesthetic, the ethical, and the political play across the cinematically rendered bodies of children and adolescents in films from Canada, the U.S., the UK, South Africa, and France. What kinds of feelings or emotions does the figure of the child or adolescent produce in films by, for, and about young people? What are the implications for how we understand young people and the future they are made to symbolize? Attention is paid to developing strategies and a vocabulary for reading film, as well as the filmic forms and genres typically privileged in young people’s films: e.g. animation, allegory, horror, comedy, and the musical.



ADVANCED STUDIES IN YOUNG PEOPLE'S TEXTS AND CULTURES: Children, Affect, and Postcolonialism

ENGL-4160/3-001 (W)

3 credit hours

2017:

Tu 10:00 – 12:45

This course offers a focused study of an area of young people’s texts and cultures, such as narrative fiction and film, digital or material culture. This year the course considers the ways in which the circulation of the figure of “the child” signals its status as a screen onto which is projected the desires and fantasies of an increasingly neoliberal world order. Drawing on affect theory, an interdisciplinary body of work interested in considering the entanglement of the aesthetic, the ethical, and the political as these “play across” the thoughts and actions of bodies, we examine precisely the kind of affect that the child figure produces. “Postcolonialism,” a body of critical work that engages colonialism and its legacies, supplements our examination of this figure through the lens of affect theory. The texts we use to anchor our analyses throughout the course variously re-inscribe and/or challenge the postcolonial trafficking in images of romanticized and sentimentalized childhood. One half of the course uses texts designed for and marketed to children as particularly salient examples of affectively charged child figures, while the other draws on texts about children. This course should be of interest to students interested in affect theory and/or postcolonial theory in addition to students of children’s literary and cultural studies.



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