Environmental representations and responsibilization in children's books
Dept. of Sociology Göteborg University Göteborg, Sweden
This paper discusses one particular aspect of the cosmopolitanization of childhood by analysing children's books giving advice on how to "save the world" from environmental catastrophe. Its purpose is to analyse how such books articulate and spread "eco-knowledge", encouraging children to become environmentally aware world citizens. The analysis shows that these books urge children not only to become self-disciplined and caring, ethical "ecological selves", but also to partake in producing local eco-knowledge and monitoring eco-discipline in their families, schools, and local communities. The books generally begin with a definition of the causes, consequences, and urgent character of environmental problems. Even if more complex explanations can be found, the general theme is that because "we" have caused the problems, it is "our" individual responsibility to do something. This problematization is followed by an articulation of children's responsibility and potential influence. There is a strong emphasis that children do make a difference, and that they must act now. This leads to more practical advice on what to do at home to put this responsibility into practice. The interconnection of problems, blame, possibilities, responsibilities, commitment, and tactics and techniques articulates a persuasive and potentially mobilizing eco-knowledge, of a kind that is an increasingly manifest feature of late modern societies - although it is not always as strongly articulated as in these "save the world" books. By simultaneously empowering the children, stimulating their cosmopolitical commitment, and suggesting certain techniques and tactics for improving their families' and schools' environmental performances, these books encourage children to identify with a duty of becoming cosmopolitical problem solvers. These books directly target children, although with an implicit purpose to influence family behaviour, "from the inside" and "from below". Thus, they illustrate a kind of "governing at a distance", through the dispersion of knowledge and practices that increases the "subjects'" capacities and objectives to govern themselves and exercise their citizenship reasonably.