What (else) can a kiss do? Theorizing the power plays in young children’s sexual cultures

Holford, Naomi; Renold, Emma and Huuki, Tuija (2013). What (else) can a kiss do? Theorizing the power plays in young children’s sexual cultures. Sexualities, 16(5-6) pp. 710–729.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460713487300


This paper draws on school-based ethnographic research in two elementary schools (South Wales, UK and north Finland) to explore the ‘ordinary affects’ (Stewart 2009) of gendered/sexual power in young children's (age 5-6) negotiation of their own and others’ bodies in playground and classroom spaces. We apply queer and feminist appropriations of Deleuze and Guattari’s key concepts of ‘assemblage’, ‘becomings’ and ‘territorialisations’, not to pin down what a kiss is, but to explore the kiss as always more than itself, and thus what (else) a kiss can do. To explore the affective journey of the kiss as an always-relational social-material event, we sketch a range of kissing assemblages across four vignettes – ‘the kissing hut’, ‘the classroom kiss’, ‘the kissing line’ and ‘the dinosaur kiss’ – mapping the enabling/restriction of a range of gendered and sexual becomings. Each vignette foregrounds the complex, contradictory nature of children’s gendered and sexual cultures which we argue are vital to map in a socio-political terrain where discourses of denial, silence and (over)protection dominate accounts of how young children are doing, being and becoming ‘sexual’.

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