By Nina Christensen

About Nina Christensen

Nina Christensen is Professor in Children’s Literature and Head of the Centre for Children’s Literature and Media at Aarhus University. She is the author of three books on children’s literature (in Danish) and a number of articles, especially on picture books, the history of children’s literature, and children’s literature and concepts of childhood. Recent articles in English include “Follow the Child, Follow the Book” (2017; with Charlotte Appel) and “Picturebooks and Representations of Childhood” (2018).

Agency

“But he doesn’t have anything on!” (Andersen 2004, 94). With these words, a child opposes adults’ hypocritical admiration of the naked sovereign proudly parading in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “Kejserens nye Klæder” (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”; 1837). Enacting agency, this child character makes an independent statement in opposition to the established adult order. Though the term can be traced back to the seventeenth century, its use within children’s literature studies is a recent phenomenon.

Agency derives from the Latin verb agere, “to act,” an origin reflected in a contemporary definition: “Ability or capacity to act or exert power” (OED). More specifically, sociologists describe agency as “the power of actors to operate independently of the determining constraints of social structure” and “the volitional, purposive nature of human activity as opposed to its constrained, determined aspects” (Jary and Jary 1995, 10). During the last decade of the twentieth

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