Childhood, Law, and the State

This reading group will meet roughly every other week to explore the historical and present-day relationship between law, the state, and the social category of childhood. Special emphasis will be devoted to examining how notions of innocence and dependence have regulated—and continue to regulate—structures of citizenship, racial and sexual difference, carcerality, and liberal political economy. From child labor reform in Victorian England to moral panics over daycares in the Reagan-era United States, how has the child functioned as a key symbolic and experiential referent in the development of family law, the welfare state, and systems of involuntary confinement? How can we approach childhood as a site in which the practices of everyday life and legal abstraction have converged over time?

In order to answer such questions, we plan to survey a range of texts, both historical and theoretical, that concern the juridical construction of childhood and its role in modern state formation in different geographic contexts, from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government to Emmanuelle Saada’s investigation of mixed-race families and citizenship law in the French Empire. Other potential readings include work by Friedrich Engels, Donald Winnicott, Susan Moller Okin, Viviana Zelizer, Lauren Berlant, Nara Milanich, Camille Robcis, and Laura Briggs, but our list can evolve based on the input of group participants. We welcome all students with interests in gender and sexuality, racial formation, psychology and psychoanalysis, the history of childhood and the family, legal and political theory, and intellectual history. If possible, we will invite outside speakers or Princeton faculty members who work on relevant topics to present their work and contribute to our discussions.