Shallwani, S. (June, 2008). Racism and imperialism in the child development discourse. Paper presented at the Biennial Convention of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Chicago.
Abstract: Knowledge in the human sciences in general, and in the study of the child in particular, is racialized. In this presentation, I argue that the knowledge base on ‘child development’ reflects and reproduces the White (modern imperial Western) subject. The three main aspects of my argument are as follows: (1) the dominant discourse on child development, dominated by the discipline of developmental psychology, is rooted in and carries out the goals of the modern Enlightenment project, which include the regulation of individual and multiple bodies (Foucault, 1975-76/2003, p. 242-243); (2) the dominant discourse on child development depends on colonial implications of ‘development’ to privilege imagined White civility (Coleman, 2006, p. 10) and produce the Western imperial subject; and (3) the dominant discourse on child development rests on particular imagined notions of a ‘We’ – the (inter)national subject who, even in the rhetoric of inclusion, has the power to locate difference in and exclude the racialized ‘Other’ (Ahmed, 2000, p. 97).
The text I use as an empirical example is the official position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 1997), found in the guidebook entitled: Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (S. Bredekamp & C. Copple, 1997). This text is a typical example of the dominant child development discourse, and is highly influential in the design, development, and evaluation of programs, curricula, and pedagogical practices with young children, both in North America and around the world. Through the deconstruction of this text, I argue that the dominant discourse on child development reflects and furthers the goals of the modern Enlightenment project including social regulation, privileges imagined White civility and aims to reproduce the Western imperial subject, and rests on particular imagined notions of ‘We’ and the ‘Other’.