Card image cap
Card image cap

No 33 - 2019

The Body Politic of the Child: Modes of Research and Intervention
Directed by Nicoletta Diasio, Régine Sirota, Louise Hamelin Brabant

The Personal and the Political. The Child’s Body: Scientific Research and Public Policy
Nicoletta Diasio, Régine Sirota, Louise Hamelin Brabant

Research Framework: This article examines the significance of the child’s body in contemporary societies and its influence on apparatus of scientific research and public intervention.

Objectives: The objective is to show the politics of children’s bodies, health and lives, their historical manifestations between the late 18th and early 21st century and the way in which science, societal debates, and institutional and public policy contexts intersect.

Methodology: This introduction is based on a multidisciplinary literature review that draws on sources in the fields of sociology, anthropology, history, and educational sciences. It is also the result of many years of research by the authors in collective research programs focused on children’s bodies and health.

Results: Interest in the child’s body is not a recent phenomenon. It developed first in the crucible of the struggle against infant mortality, then in a biopolitics aimed at establishing or strengthening nation-states, and lastly in the medicalization of society and in changes in education and the family that put childhood at the heart of many public policies. The evolution of the status of the child, of being recognized as an actor and treated as sacred, combined with the concerns and uncertainties resulting from evolving family norms, have given rise to numerous programs of research and intervention.

Conclusions: The politico-administrative and scientific spheres engage in dialogue on the subject of the child’s body, sometimes ignoring and sometimes reinforcing one other, drawing their legitimacy from different registers of normativity.

Contribution: We show the specific forms of the “body politic” when it refers to children: its relationship to time; the practices of defining its entry into existence and its stages through life; the importance of transitions; the competition and normative conflicts between various actors; conditions of existence and power relations that segment childhoods and produce unequal lives. Knowledge and expertise have become a means of legitimizing the implementation of public actions with regard to childhood, although their flow between the scientific world and political arenas is not always linear or easy.


The Child as an Individual, A Space of Legal Confrontation and a Stake of Scientific and Political Powers
Gérard Neyrand

Research Framework : The article describes how the child, as an individual, is taken into account in the development of the population management policy in France. This article is based on the author’s research itinerary on this topic for thirty years.

Objectives : The objective of this article is to describe the growing place of the child in the political management, starting from the experience of the author since his first postdoctoral research in 1982 until the contemporary period.

Methodology : The author uses a large part of his research work by contextualizing it with the variation of the problematics presented during the invitations for tenders depending on the periods and governments in place.

Results : This article presents the growing importance of this concern for politics and its growing formalization through the development of research, in parallel with the evolution of knowledge of the political management mainly aroused by research in human and social sciences and the renewal of legal standards.

Conclusions : The author shows the complexity and the evolution of research problematics concerning childhood in the human and social sciences field, at the crossroads of social change and traditions, of the breakdown of political positioning in relation with the changes of government, of the evolution of research problematics related to the epistemological context, of the intellectual trends that come with them and of the control of the social evolution by the renewal of laws.

Contribution : Contribution to Edgar Morin’s analysis called “the complexity”, which has a privileged expression in the domain of childhood policies.


A Debate that Lasts : The Body of the Child in the French Day Nursery from the 19th Century to Today
Catherine Bouve

Research Framework : This article is part of a historical and sociological research on the genesis of the French day nursery in the 19th century. Based on postdoctoral research on the history of the day nursery, the approach is to extend this sociohistory, to the present day.

Objectives : The article aims to analyze the evolution of the discourse on practices, representations and policies of childcare, through a flagship institution, from which arises the diversity of childcare today : the day nursery. More specifically, the way to think about the political, social and educational body of children in the day nursery is at the centre of the analysis.

Methodology : The results are based on an original corpus and a documentary analysis of diverse primary and secondary sources (books, reports, articles, etc.).

Results : We believe we can say that the normalizing discourse in the French day nursery from their creation in the 19th century to the present day continues. Besides the renewal of practices, linked to technological and scientific advances, to the evolution of social, political and economic contexts, representations and policies always aim to guide practices for better adaptability of children and their parents. The debate on the aims of the day nursery is a renewed society debate, but one whose fundamental tensions persist, between emancipation and subjugation.

Conclusions : To understand the political orientations and pedagogical practices, from today to the past, seems essential to the genealogical construction of this institution of early childhood, which is the day nursery. The evolution of the day nursery curriculum since the 1970s, briefly mentioned in the second part of this article, invites further socio-historical analysis of this institution created in the mid-19th century.

Contribution : This article is an original contribution to sociology and history of childhood and childhood institutions in France.


Protected children : from an "acted" to an "acting" body
Céline Jung

Research framework : The place of children, more and more a public priority, is part of a political transformation framed by the duality between the public and the private spheres. The production of knowledge is contributing to this reshaping of the status of childhood.

Objectives : This paper intends to look at those trends through the lens of child protection, focusing on its non-judicial part. The French program Aide sociale à l’enfance (ASE) was established little by little, revealing the evolution of scientific and political ways of looking at children.

Methodology : This paper is based on a socio-historical analysis of this child protection policy and 190 administrative files of the ASE of two French counties, from the 1950s to now. These data are discussed with research focusing on childhood, family transformations and political issues of public governance.

Results : Our results reveal the discourse around children body was shaped by the government and administration according to social transformations and scientific developments, from that of an « acted » body to that of an « acting » body. Today, the necessity to empower the child in planning his own protection leads to revise the childhood definition : the sacralization of the little child’s body emphasizes its vulnerability, whereas the adolescent body, in its similarity of adults, is marked by a risque accountability.

Conclusion : Public child protection follows the process of modern family transformation and reveals how family and government connections are reshaping the edges of intimacy and collective life through the child body seen by science. Specialization and individualization of infantile experience, highlighted by child sociology, are to be questioned under new norms, between vulnerability and capacity, which depend on the social environment of life.

Contribution : Focused on the position given to children in child protection, this paper highlights the way in which the body of children is framed by politics in the contemporary world.


Between denial and recognition: the child's body in judicial infanticide proceedings
Natacha Vellut

Research framework: A retrospective research conducted in France on the suspicious deaths of children under 12 months of age enabled to create two databases: one of judicial data, the other of press articles. The analysis of those data led to several publications specifying the psychosocial factors of infanticide and characterizing how the police, justice and media deal with those homicides.

Objectives: The study focuses on the place given to the body of the deceased child in the infanticide judicial process to identify the concepts of child which underlie the testimonies and practices of the various protagonists (parents, accusation, witnesses, police and justice agents).

Methodology: The analysis is based on textual data extracted from judicial files and press articles. It draws a comparison between infanticide cases that are similar in regard to incriminated acts yet different in the way they were dealt with by the police or the media thus presenting heterogeneous judicial conclusions.

Results: The body of the deceased child is considered a body object as opposed to a body subject. This body object is used by the various protagonists/participants in the procedure, with a view, conscious or not, to influence the judicial decision. He is then a political body subject to the rivalry of different legitimacy.

Conclusions: Various factors contribute to the objectification and instrumentalization of the body: death (which facilitates the conception of a body/corpse as an object), the lack of social recognition of the child due to their young age, the idea that a child belongs to their parents. The concept of child as a person in their own right remains undefined.

Contribution: Those infanticide cases lead to question the concept of child as a person. It appears that both conceptions coexist: a child is a person from birth or it is not quite a person before it has been named, developed social relationships and not had a public and social existence.


“Healthy children, healthy nations.” For who’s health to discipline reproductive bodies?
Julie Jarty, Tristan Fournier

Research Framework: Based on a sociological and gender-analysis theoretical and conceptual framework, this article studies the promotion of a recent international health program dedicated to women and children whose scientific arguments rely on the domain of epigenetics. It would be now possible, through early intervention on the (nutritional) environment of individuals during conceptional and periconceptional periods (pregnancy and the first two years of life), to prevent the emergence of chronic pathologies in adult life.

Objectives: The aim is to provide a history of this biopolitics (Foucault, 2004) and to describe its process of legitimization, so as to question consecutive social stakes related to new norms and injunctions on (healthy) children production.

Methodology: To that end, we implement a methodology combining scientific and grey literature review, ethnography of the 1,000 Days US ONG and semi-structured interviews with international experts (WHO, USAID, Unicef, Sun).

Results: We show that this program contributes to the building of a deeply unequal morality firstly drawing on a medical promise but also basically leaning on an economic promise : a healthier body would both guarantee the productivity of children (then perceived as adults to become) and sound finances of (global north) Nations.

Conclusions: Besides its focus on the health of both young children and Nations, the program also leads to the training of gestating bodies, and especially subaltern women’s bodies : obese, racialized, sick or poor.

Contribution: This article demonstrates the scientific contribution of social sciences and gender studies to medical research on children’s health as well as their transformations into politics.


Children’s weight control and physical activity in a popular neighborhood of Strasbourg : family models and public health recommendations
Marine Grassler, Sandrine Knobé, William Gasparini

Research Framework : By becoming a priority of public health policies in France, the prevention of childhood overweight and obesity has given rise to numerous public programs and actions at the local level. This is the case of the city of Strasbourg which, since 2014, has set up a prevention device entitled  » PRise En Charge Coordonnée des enfants Obèses et en Surpoids de Strasbourg  » (PRECCOSS) for children aged 3 to 12 years.

Objectives : Based on a sociological approach that combines an analysis of actors and devices, this article questions how the local policy of fight against overweight was received by children and their families residing in a popular neighborhood. The goal is to better understand the plural relationships to a device aimed at the child’s body and its effects.

Methodology : A qualitative sociological survey, combining semi-structured interviews and observations, was conducted with ten families, whose at least one child was overweight and encouraged to participate in PRECCOSS’s device.

Results : The comparative analysis of families participating or not in the device highlights the conflicts of legitimacy faced by parents, especially mothers, between public health recommendations to combat sedentary and family patterns of exercise, eating behaviours and lifestyle related to cultural backgrounds.

Conclusions : By aiming to reduce the gap between the dominant body model promoted by public health policies and the corporal culture of these families, the device of care for the child in his corporeality directs the family action but also encounters forms of resistance.

Contribution : These results refine and nuance analyses that often present popular classes, in comparison to more privileged classes, as less incline to put into practice the normative prescriptions.


The Adolescent Body in the Face of Psychological Suffering : Individual, Social and Political Issues of Hospitalization in Child Psychiatry.
Cristina Figueiredo

Research Framework : In child psychiatric hospitalization services, the bodies of adolescents are suddenly extracted from the public sphere in which they should normally be. The middle school, the high school, the streets between home and school as well as the meeting places with peers are deserted by these young people hospitalized because of psychological disorders. These are either related to underlying somatic pathologies or caused by mental illness. The physical withdrawal of young people, subject to strict rules imposed by the hospital, including confinement and the impossibility of leaving without breaks supervised by staff, raises many questions for both patients and their families.

Objectives : This research aims to answer several of these questions : how to accept to put this body at rest, to remove it from the eyes of others ? How can it be restarted after this absence, find new landmarks, let it wander again in the public space and in contact with the bodies of those who circulate there without having left it ? The survey questions the place of the body in the process of learning individuality and the construction of their difference for hospitalized adolescents. The idea is that the hospital stay can be seen as a rite of passage for young people to return to the public world with a new self-image.

Methodology : Thanks to the field work carried out over two school years, adolescents, their parents and staff are given the opportunity to speak out. The investigation ended with a dive into the daily life of a hospital. Ethnographic observation and interviews were used by the author.

Results : It was possible to measure part of what is at stake between work on the body and mind, between the private and the public spaces, the social and the political in a place dedicated to suffering adolescents.

Conclusions : There is a double movement in the study of the withdrawal of adolescent bodies : first, that of invisibility. After a more or less long process of dialogue between professionals, adolescents and families, the socialization of bodies and minds allows a new visibility of these young bodies brought up to the standards of society. The relationships developed show how adolescents are placed at the centre of this dynamic, presenting them as thinking and acting subjects.

Contribution : This study contributes to the reflection on the adolescent situation, specifically by raising the question of physical and psychological norms that are dependent on professional and family perceptions. These norms also constantly reworked by adolescents even when they are suffering and under duress.


Child Well-Being: Evolution of a Notion, Ambiguities of Dimensions and Measures
Claude Martin, Zoé Perron, Julia Buzaud

Research Framework: This article is reviewing the international literature on determinants and measures of child well-being and secondary analysis of some of the main international database in order to identify some unexplained mechanisms.

Objectives: It formulates hypotheses to explain the gaps between the level of public and social investment in policies addressed to children and the level of their subjective well-being.

Methodology: This research is based on a literature review and secondary analysis of international databases.

Results: The article insists on the quality of communication between parents and adolescents in the level of subjective well-being

Conclusions: More qualitative research is needed to understand the mechanisms in cause.

Contribution: This paper is based on the activities of the chair CNAF-EHESP “Childhood, well-being and parenting” which question the current focus on well-being and happiness in order to better appreciate and understand its conditions by social scientists.


Research, Intervention and Collective Action Method: What Reciprocal Influences in Childhood Protection?
Pierrine Robin

Research Framework: This article is part of a participatory research in child protection, resulting in the collaboration of university and peer researchers in a process of inquiry, political consultation and collective mobilization.

Objectives: It questions the reciprocal links of influence between research, interventions and collective action in childhood protection in France.

Methodology: This article is based on data from the research journal and an analysis of the research process.

Results: In this article, we argue that the participative research contribute to developing new forms of knowledge, by establishing new relationship between theory and practice, and new models of interactions between researchers, decision makers and users. We also underline the risk that this innovative analytical device will lose its critical purpose in its relationship with institutions seeking to incorporate criticism while reducing its scope.

Conclusions: However, this work shows that research devices are modelled by support systems in a context where the participation of users becomes the cornerstone of legitimizing the utility of social work. In return, research can contribute to influencing support systems by developing new processes of knowledge co-production and recognition of places and roles of researchers, decision makers, children and young people concerned, making possible the emergence collective actions.

Contribution: In the line of research interventions and research « with », this article contributes to reflection on the links between research and public action.


The unborn child : control devices as soon as life appears
Raymonde Gagnon

Research Framework : The article highlights the influence of technology and medicalization from the beginning of uterine life on women with “normal” pregnancies.

Objectives : The objective is to show how policies, institutions and society implement devices that ensure control of the fetus within mother’s body and how they modify the perception of pregnancy and the development of antenatal relationship.

Methodology : Qualitative research with a contextualized phenomenological approach was conducted using interviews with twenty-five first-time mothers from Quebec on their experiences both during pregnancy and after the birth of their child. The analysis was based on a socio-anthropological viewpoint.

Results : Inevitably, the testimonies gathered converged on the control devices surrounding reproduction and the unborn child. Pregnant women are thus invited to comply with new social and medical standards through government programs and standardized pregnancy care. Power is exercised in a diffuse way by calling on the woman’s sense of responsibility in making the right decisions in order to produce a healthy child. The anticipation of risk and technology occupy a significant place in the parents’ experience and it is difficult to ignore.

Conclusions : Antenatal life supervision and control devices are continually increasing and development of technology with the range of new genetic screening tool points to significant future consequences on the meaning of “normalcy” and the acceptability of non-standard births.

Contribution : This article contributes to showing the effects of new technology on the anticipation of the child and the beginning of pregnancy and understanding the progression of antenatal temporality incited by the precociousness of pregnancy tests.