1st Edition

Querying Childhood Feminist Reframings

Edited By Mary E. John, Barbara Lotz, Elisabeth Schömbucher Copyright 2025
    284 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    284 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    This book critically examines assumptions about age, women, and gender. Amidst all the attention that has been granted to difference and inequality, however uneven and unsatisfactory in terms of class and caste, race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender, disability, religion, and nation, questions of age and its importance for feminism have been less well defined.

    Drawing on recent literature on childhood, the essays in this volume cover a range of fresh perspectives. These include:

    •  What kinds of biological, legal, chronological histories do age have and the fundamental ways in which these links are being recast;

    • How gender differences occupy a prominent place in historical constructions of identities, especially the frequent infantilisation of women, who are never seen as adults in the full sense of the term nor equally allowed to be children beyond the first years of life;

    • Ways in which class, caste, gender and ethnicity shaped classrooms and opportunities for education in the colonial period and the 20th century to produce new ideas of childhood;

    • Gendered outcomes for children in the context of a long entanglement of law with labour, transformations in practices of parenting over time and how the concept of care emerged in both western and non-western societies.

    An incisive study on how childhoods have come to be understood, this book will be of great interest to scholars and researchers of gender studies, childhood studies, family studies, modern history, legal history, social policy, social psychology, education, and sociology. This volume will also interest parents, paediatricians, family health providers, teachers and educators, and anyone who works with children.



    Mary E. John, Barbara Lotz, and Elisabeth Schömbucher-Kusterer


    I: Histories of Childhood

    1. Chronological Age and the Uneven Development of Modern Childhood in the United States

    Nicholas L. Syrett and Corinne T. Field

    2. ‘Is She a Child?’ Emergence of Chronological Age in Early Colonial Bengal

    Tanika Sarkar

    3. Age and Marriage: Problems of Girlhood in Colonial and Post-colonial Bengal

    Samita Sen

    4. Reflections on the History of Childhood and the State in Kerala

    J. Devika

    5. The Travels and Appeal of the ‘Girl Child’

    Ashwini Tambe


    II: Education and Labour

    6. Gender, Education, and Child Labour: Reflections on Ontological Issues

    Rekha Pappu

    7. The Classroom as Sensorium in Mysore, 1840-1930

    Janaki Nair

    8. Juvenile Labour in the Beedi Industry of Central India, 1960s-80s

    Megha Sharma

    9. ‘Learning to Service’: Vocational Training for Marginalised Youth, Aspirations, Consumption, and Social Reproduction

    R Maithreyi


    III: Practices of Parenting

    10. Disciplining Girls in German Families: Gendered Childhood Experiences of Violent and Authoritarian Parenting in Germany from the 1890s to the 1940s

    Christina von Hodenberg

    11. Narrating Childhood: Difficult Memories in Trans Autobiography

    Barbara Lotz

    12. ‘I Lost My Son Whom I Raised for Twelve Years.’ Anxieties Among Parents of Trans Children

    Elisabeth Schömbucher

    13.  Contested Equality: Co-Parenting, Child Welfare, and Gender Politics in Contemporary History

    Jana Tschurenev



    Mary E John was formerly Professor and Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. She was Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Women’s Studies Programme at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, from 2001 to 2006.

    Barbara Lotz studied Indology in Heidelberg and New Delhi, focusing on modern Hindi literature, literary history, and translation studies. She has been coordinating Indo-German academic partnerships under the DAAD format: A New Passage to India since 2010 and is part of the M.S. Merian – R. Tagore ICAS:MP as a module member of TM 5, The Challenge of Gender (University of Wuerzburg).

    Elisabeth Schömbucher is a former Professor of Anthropology. She has been teaching at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg and joined the Department of Indology at Würzburg University in 2006. Besides teaching Anthropology of South Asia, she has conceptualised the teaching programme Global Systems and Intercultural Competence (GSiK).

    “With her characteristic brilliance and perspicacity, Mary E. John makes a signal contribution to feminist scholarship in this book. Her genealogy of child marriage draws upon historical, comparative, and intersecting analytical frameworks. This deep and nuanced contextualization compels us to consider afresh what we had long assumed we knew about a familiar subject. Her argument about "compulsory marriage," which she introduces to reframe the discussion of child marriage, offers an important conceptual advance that will likely become a valuable new resource in the feminist toolkit. This is one of the most original and exciting feminist interventions to come along in a while.” — Mrinalini Sinha, Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History, University of Michigan, USA

    This elegantly incisive book by Mary E. John, one of India’s leading feminist scholars, challenges us to interrogate some of the myths of reason and progress that we complacently live by. Her object of study is public discourse and social policy on the issue of child marriage, a ‘social problem’ which, for close on two centuries, has been an object of attention by Indian social reformers, women’s movement activists, and latterly, in a global context, by international development agencies.  In a tour de force,  John decodes the intricacies of various data sets and the assumptions that drive them, to suggest that  it is not child-marriage that is the problem for Indian women, but rather the ‘compulsory’ nature of marriage itself which must be the frame of reference for genuine change.” — Patricia Uberoi, Retired Professor, Institute of Economic Growth & Chairperson, Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi, India