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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.