Researcher Unveils Pioneering Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies

By Tom McLaughlin

About five years ago, Dan Cook recalls, he began leading an editorial team on a mission to create the premiere reference work for the burgeoning, global field of childhood studies.

The major, field-defining work – The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies – is due out this May.

Fast forward to the present day, as the Rutgers University–Camden researcher announces the publication of the major, field-defining work – The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies – due out this May. The four-volume, 1.1 million-word international and interdisciplinary reference work includes nearly 600 entries curated to navigate the ever-unfolding historical, political, social, and cultural dimensions of children and childhood.

“I don’t believe that it’s the first encyclopedia in the field of childhood studies, but without question, it’s the largest and most comprehensive one ever created,” says Cook, a professor and chair of the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers–Camden. “We are really excited to bring together so many different people, perspectives, and fields to produce a resource for a discipline that has been developing for the past 30 years and is now pivoting into many different areas.”

According to Cook, the team’s primary focus was to amass a resource that brought together many key concepts, methodologies, and figures focused on understanding children and childhood in a variety of contexts from a wide range of converging fields of study.

“The task was a considerable undertaking,” he says. “The idea of it was not only to make ideas readily accessible for people teaching about and researching children and their lives, but to help solidify childhood studies as a field of study.”

Cook notes that the comprehensive resource further solidifies childhood studies as a field of study.

The encyclopedia features a series of main “anchor entries” – substantive, 5,000-word entries on the major concepts and areas of study written by key scholars in the field. The remaining entries – ranging from 2,500 to 1,000 words and written by an array of experts from Rutgers University and around the world – consist of accessible texts on countless interrelated topics. When read in a digital format, the entries include links to cross-references and suggested readings that encourage seeing childhood studies as composed of various webs of knowledge.

“People arrive at this resource not as a last resort, but as a first one,” says Cook. “Each entry points in many directions to navigate an area of study.”

The Rutgers–Camden researcher notes that the format can be especially useful in the classroom, enabling educators and students to begin with an issue or topic and allow the pursuit of a question or problem to evolve organically. He adds that many institutions around the world lack the available resources to compile a full library of childhood studies books, so the encyclopedia can serve as a one-stop guide and starting point to explore the discipline.

According to Cook, the 13-person international editorial board pooled its collective knowledge and understanding of the field in order to cast a wide net and secure a vast array of participating experts from a variety of academic disciplines across the globe. The board performed the crucial function of brainstorming topics, suggesting possible authors, and of reading and editing the hundreds of entries.

The team effort included members of the Rutgers community, with Sarada Balagopalan, a professor of childhood studies at Rutgers–Camden, serving as an associate editor for the project. Additionally, numerous Rutgers–Camden faculty, Ph.D. students in childhood studies and graduates of the program, as well as scholars from Rutgers–New Brunswick, authored entries on their various areas of expertise.

“The project is a recognition of and testament to our interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at Rutgers–Camden,” says Cook, expressing pride in having executed such a “large, successful, collaborative effort.”

This four-volume encyclopedia covers a range of themes and topics, including Social Constructions of Childhood, Children’s Rights, Politics/Representations/Geographies, Child-Specific Research Methods, Histories of Childhood/Transnational Childhoods, Sociology/Anthropology of Childhood, Theories and Theorists, and Key Concepts.

The interdisciplinary encyclopedia will be of interest to students and researchers in sociology, anthropology, psychology, education, social welfare, cultural studies, gender studies, and disability studies, among others.

“The encyclopedia takes on different hues and manifestations depending on how people make use of childhood studies within their different programs,” says Cook.

The Rutgers–Camden researcher affirms that the book is not an endpoint, but rather a stepping off point, for the discipline.

“This isn’t the last word,” he says. “It’s where we are now and about where we move from here.”

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