Presenter: Joanne Faulkner (University of New South Wales)

While in modernity emotional and intellectual energy was increasingly invested in ‘childhood,’ it also became a site of scrutiny and intervention, so that philosophers, scientists, and humanitarians pursued the improvement of humanity and the human condition through management of ‘the child.’ In the first half of the twentieth century, such attention settled on children deemed to present problems (and opportunities) for the improvement of the race, as eugenics came to dominate discussions of human progress. This paper examines the significance of childhood as a resource for human futures with respect to two cases that fall within the scope of ‘eugenics’: the stolen generations in Australia, and involuntary sterilization in North America. In both of these events, childhood appears as a reserve of human potential governments attempt to regulate in order to ‘build a better future.’ The paper also considers the perspective of survivors of these practices who experienced their childhood and future possibilities as having been expropriated from them by the state. By considering these governmental and personal registers side by side, the paper attempts to shed light on the perceived social utility of childhood, as well as the particular character of loss experienced by those whose childhoods were subject to state intervention.


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