The Languages of Childhood: The Discursive Construction of Childhood and Colonial Policy in French West Africa


  • Lisa McNee


In spite of the deceptive familiarity of the terrain, childhood, that stage of life that we are all supposed to experience, resists easy definition. Our fascination with childhood experiences has created an international boom in autobiographies and children’s literature, as well as in self-help manuals and in discourses, programs and policies concerning child abuse and child crime. The images of children as “victims,” “rebels” or “the hope of the future” that appear and reappear in these discourses suggest that we actually construct childhood as an object of concern, and that these constructions are products of a particular period and a particular cultural framework. These “languages of childhood,” however, are usually foreign to children and to childhood taken as a phenomenological experience, for they are produced by adults attempting to understand their own or others’ childhood. The difficulties involved in attempting to understand children and their history have also become a source of debate about the social sciences as disciplines.