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Systemic oppression in contemporary children's fantastika literature

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posted on 2023-08-30, 16:42 authored by Christopher Owen
This dissertation investigates the representation and narratological function of systemic oppression in the fictional worlds of contemporary middle-grade fantastika novels. This project aims to add further insights to current discussions regarding diversity and social justice literature for young readers. In order to distinguish between the forms of oppression a text critiques and those it accepts as natural and normal, this thesis offers a method for identifying and critiquing the representation of systemic oppression in fictional contexts. This research deploys Black Feminist criticism in the analysis of over one hundred Anglophone middle-grade fantastika novels published in the first twenty years of the twenty-first century (2000-2019) from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia. Patricia Hill Collins’ theory of the matrix of domination, a theoretical approach to the differing domains of power in a system of oppression, is the foundational framework that informs this project. This thesis’s findings include the ways in which defamiliarization may be used to improve understandings of systemic oppression. A fictional world’s ability to construct familiar social structures in new and innovative ways offers scholars the opportunity to analyze and understand the organization, management, justification and experiences of oppression in different contexts. This allows for an understanding of oppression outside of the examples found in the scholar’s own particular context. From here, narratological and rhetorical studies of literature can better develop nuanced arguments regarding oppression and oppressed characters. The conclusion of this project argues the significant necessity of intersectionality theory, both in the writing and reading of literature. Ostensible narratives of social justice risk contributing to systemic oppression when they do not emphasize the harms of oppression in all its intersecting forms. By employing an intersectional approach, this research distinguishes between diverse and progressive texts that still maintain the status quo, and those that promote liberating, systemic upheaval.



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