University Academic Leads New International Research Network

Lucy Arnold
Dr Lucy Arnold

Lecturer in English Literature, Dr Lucy Arnold, is the co-founder of the new research network, which is tasked with looking at how ghostly, absent or missing children are depicted in popular culture and what that says about how society views childhood and certain groups of children.

'Haunting Issues: Children, Spectrality and Culture', as the network will be known, was made possible with funding from the Art and Humanities Research Council. Starting in April, the project is co-led by Professor Katy Shaw at the University of Northumbria. It is hoped the network’s findings can feed into policy making and practice.

Dr Arnold is a specialist in contemporary literature, with particular research interests in contemporary gothic, narratives of haunting and contemporary women’s writing. She said: “In my previous research into haunting and spectrality in contemporary literature I noticed that the figure of the child ghost - whether literal or metaphorical - kept re-occurring with increasing frequency. However, there wasn't any sustained scholarship on this development in contemporary culture, particularly in literature. Ghost stories are frequently used as vehicles to think about individuals, events, voices or even communities who are marginalised, forgotten or ignored. Therefore, it was important to me to think about what these narratives of child ghosts might be telling us about how we think about the figure of the child and the experience of childhood in our present moment. I’m also keen to see how that might help to shape practices and policies which effect young people.”

Dr Arnold and Professor Shaw will work with academics from 15 different universities in the UK, the EU, North America and Australia. The network will initially focus on literature and film, looking at work from the likes of authors Sarah Waters, Jesmyn Ward, George Saunders and Martina Enríquez, and directors Guillermo del Toro and J.A. Bayona.

“The exciting thing about the network is that it is bringing together scholars from a range of backgrounds who will have an opportunity to contribute to our areas of focus,” said Dr Arnold. “One of our tasks as a network will be to look at where else we might find this important recurring use of the ghost child that it hasn't been identified before. This will allow us to think about what contributions these new examples make to our understanding of the child, childhood, nationhood, medicine - all kinds of topics and debates.”

The network's activities will centre on three international workshops with discussion and academic presentations. This is alongside work with the public involving partners in the charity, culture and heritage, and arts sectors. It includes a visual art project with refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people in the West Midlands, a film festival in collaboration with the Hyde Park Picture House in West Yorkshire and a creative writing project in collaboration with the Newcastle-based arts organisation New Writing North. “We are hoping both to expand opportunities to engage with the arts and to expand what engaging with the arts might mean through discussion, analysis and thinking about the wider implications of cultural works, especially those considered to be popular culture,” said Dr Arnold.

Professor Katy Shaw, Director of Cultural Partnerships at Northumbria University, Director of AHRC Creative Communities and Professor of Contemporary Writing, said: “I am delighted to be co-leading this timely new network that will unite the world’s leading scholars across this exciting and emergent cultural field. Northumbria has an established reputation for research-informed innovative teaching and research in contemporary writing and genre studies. We look forward to sharing this with the wider network nationally and internationally.”