The Politics of Childhood

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy


A long tradition, stretching from Aristotle, through Kant, to Rousseau, entices us into a way of thinking about childhood that centres children’s vulnerability, dependence and general lack with respect to adults. My thesis rests on the thought that this endows childhood as a social institution with considerable, and yet largely untheorised political significance, not least by constraining the agency of those deemed too young to participate in certain kinds of discourse, limiting the flow of ideas they are in a better position to produce and develop, and shaping the mechanisms of socialisation that underlie the possibility of social reproduction. Taking my cue from Shulamith Firestone, who recognised that thinking carefully and radically about children must have a place in feminism—a movement that imagines and musters faith in a world that is wholly unlike ours—, I articulate an original account of childhood intended to bring its political baggage to view. In Part I, I develop a response to calls for “abolishing” childhood and “emancipating” children—glimpses of an opposing twin tradition to vulnerability-based views—, asking how they can be squared with children’s undeniable immaturity and dependence on adults. In the course of doing so, I arrive at a way of conceptualising childhood that reveals the limitations of the vulnerability/emancipation dialectic, shifting focus to epistemological considerations and children’s collective existence as a class. In Part II, I develop this new-found approach into a proposal for how to think about the place of childhood in emancipatory struggles, identifying its epistemological significance—an upshot, in essence, of seeing the world anew—in terms of the constraint on our capacity to think outside and against what is an inherently conservative epistemology that fixes our thinking in what Walter Benjamin called “empty time.”
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSarah Fine (Supervisor), John Callanan (Supervisor) & Sarah Fine (Supervisor)

Cite this