Child Welfare and Child Endangerment. A Social and Cultural History of the Political Economy of Care Since 1946

Agnes Arndt

Legal terms that are not clearly defined pose challenges not only for lawyers, as they address ideal concepts that are as vague as they are volatile. The “best interests of the child” is one such concept. It brings together issues as diverse as justice of opportunity and participation, education, and family and social policy, but also asylum and development policy. The central concern of the oscillating concept is the ethically intended yet legally difficult protection of children on a national and global scale. However, the term owes its public impact primarily to how it enables the articulation of diverse and often contradictory interests.

Situated at the intersection of legal, social, and cultural history, the project inquires into the history of legal norms and practices that emerge as the result of powerful cultural negotiations and in turn have an impact on the social, political, and economic order of modern societies. Concepts of child well-being and child vulnerability are thus understood as a historically variable component of a political economy of care and are linked to empirical evidence about the physical and psychological well-being of children. At the same time, politically and economically determined ideas about childhood, motherhood, and fatherhood, and the state's “guardianship,” move into focus.

The types of sources surveyed include court and trial records, expert opinions, and legal texts and commentaries, as well as expert debates in education, sociology, and psychology. The project understands itself as a contribution to the history of childhood as well as to the history of law, and in this respect also aims innovative methodological and theoretical questions about the link between law and emotions. It follows previous work on this subject, which analyzed the role of emotions for the emergence of international criminal justiceto pose.  

Key Reference

Frevert, U., Pahl, K. M., Buscemi, F., Nielsen, P., Arndt, A., Amico, M., Lichau, K., Malone, H., Wambach, J., Brauer, J., & Moine, C. (2022). Feeling political: Emotions and institutions since 1789. Palgrave Macmillan.
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