Innocents and oracles

The child as a figure of knowledge and critique in the middle-class philosophical imagination

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This paper argues that the figure of the child performs a critical function for the middle-class social imaginary, representing both an essential "innocence" of the liberal individual, and an excluded, unconscious remainder of its project of control through the management of knowledge. While childhood is invested with affect and value, children's agency and opportunities for social participation are restricted insofar as they are seen both to represent an elementary humanity and to fall short of full rationality, citizenship and identity. The diverse permutations of this figure, as it develops in the middle-class imagination, are traced from the writings of John Locke to the films of Michael Haneke (via Charles Dickens and Henry James), to interrogate what this ambivalence regarding childhood reflects about middle-class, adult identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-346
JournalCritical Horizons
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes



  • childhood
  • modernity
  • Locke
  • James
  • Haneke
  • unconscious

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