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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.