Considering the fact that you first studied literature and later on children’s literature, why does the thesis focus on the performing arts?

Ylva Lorentzson, Department of Child and Youth Studies
Ylva Lorentzson, Department of Child and Youth Studies. Foto: Ylva Carlsdotter, Stockholms universitet.

- I started with literary studies, and it was through it that I found a serious interest in children and the youth in a broader perspective. The intended reader taking such a large space woke an interest in me. My road to the performing arts has a lot to do with how the Centre for the Studies of Children’s Culture works; it is a very interdisciplinary environment. There, I met Karin Helander, a professor in the performing arts who is an important figure in the establishment of children’s culture as a research area. She provided a proximity to the performing arts. It is also the fact that CSCC has a clear interest in the third task. As a student at CSCC, you are close to the children’s culture that is being produced right now out there, which is a determining factor to why I chose to study the performing arts.

Children’s culture as a subject also opened up for the societal engagement that I had, which did not receive an outlet while I was studying literature. It allowed me to explore a different angle: to think about art in society with regards to the relationship between children and adults.

Can you summarize what your research is about?

- It is about children’s culture as an artistic field, about how it faces its perceived low status and how you relate to that when you work with culture for children and the youth. Cultural politics has developed significantly in recent years. For example, we now have a goal that specifically concerns children and the youth. This made me want to explore whether the status of child and youth culture is prevalent in the societal processes between the people who produce for them. That is why I have created an ethnography and tried to make sense of how these things show in productions.

Was there anything that surprised you in your research?

- One thing that surprised me was how unsorted the day-to-day work is, compared to our organized presentations of our work. If I had asked the informants what they do, I would have received a good and concrete answer: the fact that they produce performing arts for children and the youth while at the same time doing pedagogical work, for example. However, when you try to understand what people do by observing them in their day-to-day activities, many more things appear. For example, how people socially cooperate with each other - everyday things such as who should make coffee and how you greet each other in the corridors. It may seem far from cultural politics and the products of the business, but the offices and the people that are close to you and your desk and whom you agree with are the people you probably choose to work with. These personal relationships and the sometimes-coincidental ways of, for example, how information travels in an organization, has significance in what is created and how it is created. Who is formally responsible for what matter less. That was something for which I was completely unprepared.

Another thing that surprised me in relation to earlier research around cultural politics and work within theater and the performing arts is that there is a significant concern. Art is threatened by goal and result based governance, where measurements are based on financial rather than artistic values. This is something that has been revealed in research results through interviews and textual analyses. In my research, I have seen that faith in the power of art and its autonomy is tangible in everyday life, where goal and result based governance takes a rather small role in creating businesses and productions. It does exist, but the faith and assessment of the artistic has a pronounced status and is prioritized in the work. I did not expect anything specific, but I think that these results stand out compared to earlier research.

Ylva Lorentzson, Department of Child and Youth Studies
Ylva Lorentzson, Department of Child and Youth Studies.

Any lessons from or progress in the research?

- Partly, perspective on this concern that the autonomy of art is threatened. It is important and interesting, and something I want to continue doing research in. Partly an insight, regarding children’s culture in particular, of how much more versatile the relationship between it and pedagogy is. It has been a clear position in children’s culture to state that it is artistic, by for example role models such as Lennart Hellsing and Susanne Osten, who have resisted all types of child-rearing lectures and want to take children’s experiences of art seriously. Simultaneously, there is also something pedagogical in children’s culture itself, precisely because it is created by adults for children. It does not need to be moralizing or didactic, but compared to other cultures, there is a different conditioning in children’s culture - something that I understand many artists who create for children and the youth consciously enter and let themselves be challenged by and explore. There is huge artistic potential in this lopsided relationship, that adult artists create for a public that consists of children, owning all of the ideas of how children are different from adults. An embracing of it would however, mean a different way of resisting the lower status that child culture has to deal with. That child culture, in its power of being unique, has a sting that adult culture has to work with in a different way to reach. That does not mean that all child culture is fantastic, but that there is an innovating potential in it.

How does the future look for you and your research?

- Right now, I am happy over having finished the dissertation. I am also glad to see that the readers are from so many different areas - it provides many interesting conversations. The fact that this research can be interesting for so many more people than one’s own small empirical sphere of children’s culture and performance art research is great. I am overwhelmed by it. Perhaps, because of the dissertation being interdisciplinary, I may be able to find interesting research collaborations.

I will carry with me both the performing arts, the relationship between children and adults, and children’s culture, which are all areas I hope to be able to continue doing research in. Organization is also fun to ponder on and study. I will furthermore carry with me my societal engagements – a theme that is always at the back of my head. It is also my duty as a researcher, as I am sitting here thanks to tax revenues. I have been able to spend five years in order to become a researcher. Society has given me this and it is my duty to try to give back. I am privileged as a researcher, who has both been able to find a research area with a topic that I personally am passionate about, and which engages me as a fellow being.

What are your best advices or suggestions to aspiring PhD-students?

  1. You should not do doctoral studies unless you really want to. It takes an enormous amount of commitment and time, and it is an acid test. The fact that I enjoy it so very much is what has helped me. It is a process that consumes a lot. You have to feel that it is something you really want to do.
  2. If you are lucky enough to have a whole staff of PhD-students – use it! Talk to other PhD-students about how they have done things and about their thought processes. The support of not being alone in this strange situation of being a PhD-student has been priceless for me. Find support in your colleagues.
  3. Learn to both do research, teach, and read courses at the same time. It is very hard. The brain works in different ways in the different instances. You may need to create a plan in order to find a good balance. Find support in structuring your time. You have to be your own project leader all year.

And a project leader is what I have to be now as well, as I come out on the other side.