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Postdevelopmental Conceptions of Child and Childhood in Education  

Karin Murris, Kaitlin Smalley, and Bridget Allan

Conceptions of child and childhood have been variously (re)constructed by adults throughout history, and yet systematic questioning of the epistemological, ontological, political, and ethical assumptions informing these conceptions remains a relatively new field of academic inquiry. The concepts of child and childhood are philosophically problematic because, although children can be biologically and physiologically categorized, the normative values attached to these categories matter politically and ethically in educational practices and theory. The philosophy of childhood is therefore concerned with the following: questions about adults’ claims to knowledge of childhood and child subjectivity; the limitations and implications of the notion of “development” structuring theoretical claims about child and childhood; the construction of various alternative and intersecting figurations of child; the examination of the socio-historical, philosophical, and biological bases of these figurations, and their ethico-political implications—particularly for education. Furthermore, more radically, contemporary postcolonial, postdevelopmental, and posthuman theorists deconstruct traditional adult–child binaries by claiming that understanding the logic of childhood is reflected in, and socio-historically situated in relation to, colonialism. This same logic used to justify the silencing and structural oppression of children is applied to Indigenous peoples in settler-colonial states. Postdevelopmental conceptions of childhood problematize the very notion of development on which psycho-social scientific theories of childhood depend. By drawing on disciplines other than academic philosophy, in particular childhood studies and early childhood education, a wide range of conceptions of child and childhood can be mapped that shape educational theories and practices in all phases of education: “developing child,” “scientific child,” “psycho-social child,” “subhuman child,” “superhuman child,” “philosophical child,” “postdevelopmental child,” “savage child,” and “posthuman child.”