Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

New Social Orders: Reconceptualising Family and Community in Utopian Fiction

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

New Social Orders: Reconceptualising Family and Community in Utopian Fiction

Article excerpt

   The family is the cradle into which the future is born; it is the
   nursery in which the new social order is nourished and reared during
   its early and most plastic period.
   (Sidney Goldstein, Marriage and Family Living, 1946) (1)

When Goldstein conceived the metaphor of the American family as the cradle of the future he was writing at a specific historical moment, 'one to which the stresses of war, the uncertainties of the ensuing peace, and the emerging relationship between ideologies of the family and American national identity together lent an unparalleled ambiguity and anxiety about family life' (Levey 2001, p. 125). Nearly 60 years on, the same conditions seem still to apply not only to the United States, but also to many other countries across the globe. The linking of family to the social well-being of a nation and its individual citizens is a familiar rhetoric employed by politicians, religious leaders, social commentators, and scholars, who rely on the interplay between an actual social unit and its metaphorical extensions to produce an illusion of 'the truth'. In a similar way, the notion of a 'new social order' offers the utopian promise of a better life than that which current or past social orders have provided. Again the force of the metaphor resides in its capacity to appeal to both the intellect and the emotions.

Anew social order conjures a social imaginary, an idea first promoted in the late 1960s (see Castoriadis 1987), whereby a people can imagine and act as world-making collective agents. This new world possibility with its new social, moral, and political orders was given a fresh lease of life by the cataclysmic events of 1989 and their aftermath. With the end of the Cold War and the breakdown of the Soviet Union, a radically different intellectual and political world appeared possible. In the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. totalitarian regimes were collapsing and the idea of a global civil society seemed to offer an alternative to the usual Cold War anticommunist rhetoric (Gaonkar 2002, p.2). However, the new millennium has seen this early optimism undercut by the rise of a new world disorder characterised by global terror, ethnic warfare and militarism. This sense of disorder is both real and unreal, depending on location. Many children living in countries such as Australia are spectators to televised accounts of war and social upheaval. For many other children, the ongoing dramas of violence, poverty, dislocation, and family destruction are part of their daily realities. The utopian promise of a new social order needs to take into account that 'Each society is created differently, subsists differently, and transforms itself differently' (Gaonkar 2002, p. 7). Therefore, the hope of a 'new world order' incorporating a universal acceptance of a Western-styled social, moral, and political order is not only a pipedream, but a dangerous one.

Against this backdrop of global politics and history, our discussion takes as its focus family and community as they are represented in seven utopian/dystopian fictions written for children and young adults and published between 1997 and 2004 by Australian, American, Canadian, and British writers. Because ideas about family structures can be used to model forms of cultural hegemony, we consider the tenuous and changing nature of 'family' as a social and political construct as it is both represented in the novels and promoted as a contemporary societal reality. The selected novels offer telling reflections of how various notions of new social orders have impacted on children's literature since 1990, and how this affects the utopian/dystopian strain which has long been present in children's literature. Because 'New World Order' is seldom articulated as an overt theme in children's literature, we are principally concerned with identifying versions of a mentality, a cast of thought, which might seem to be a product of the post Cold War era, or to be nuanced in a particular way attributable to the ideas and ideologies of that era. …

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