When the house is guarded, the street is policed, the shares
are purchased, then we feel safe, defended against the indeterminate
actions of others.
People think they can do whatever they feel like
doing to us.
I hate rich people. I would like to take revenge against them.
If you have money, you have friends. If you have no money, you have
In "Technologies of 'the Child,'" Jo-Ann Wallace argues
importantly that the figure of the child, unequal correlative of
Enlightenment man, is the "repository and projection of all
that is repressed" by various arrangements of theoretical knowledge
(297); the child, in other words, is the aporia of theory, the thing
that gets effaced in order to set theory to work (Spivak 429). This
observation helps explain why in Children and the Politics of Culture
Sharon Stephens notes an absence of the child in the burgeoning
literature on globalization. If the link between children and globalization
has not been visible in adult-centred theory (a point I will return
to at the end of this paper), the child is nevertheless a prominent
symbolic figure in the theatre of globalization, most specifically
in the discourse of child rights. Since theories of the child rose
along with theories of man, however, with the critique of one, social
panic sets in around the other (Wallace "Technologies"
297). Consequently, as the global enterprise of neo-liberal man
gets challenged by such instruments as the 1989 Convention on the
Rights of the Child (the CRC), we need to ask how the child serves
as a site of containment for displaced anxieties of globalization.ii
Within the human rights discourse, the child as repository of repressed
knowledge poses a problem: while the child carries polymorphous
symbolic freight, it serves to homogenize material differences.
Although the concept of the child as a normalizing figure is not
often challenged, anthropologist Jo Boyden cautions that the child
created by the CRC excludes its counterpart of street children whose
disappearance from urban centres from São Paolo to Seattle
gets effaced in debates over child rights. As definitions of permissible
behavior set out in various legal instruments become more precise,
she states, "so judgment[s] about abnormal childhoods"
become more unsympathetic (Boyden 187).iii In noting that the growing
unease over the suffering of innocent child-victims is accompanied
by an increasingly unforgiving perception of anti-social children,
Boyden specifies a relationship between image and index: the child
is constructed on the trace of and makes invisible its material
Other. Exceeding the image burdened by the Enlightenment values
of naturalness and innocence, street children elude the frame of
visibility, leaving only a resistant trace in the ambiguous figure
of the street child. In Homi Bhabha's formulation, "[w]e are
no longer confronted with an ontological problem of being but with
the discursive strategy of the moment of interrogation" (49).
Putting the universal figure into question, when children are imaged
as children, the romance of protected childhood begins to confront
its material limit. Children-as-children demand recognition beyond
those values encoded by the singular figure and consequently carry
potential to intervene in the imperialist ideology that forges the
child-beneficiary of economic man as a subject to be (re)formed
for the circuit of capital production. With the return of repressed
anxieties that surface when the mask of innocence is removed, historical
children are in danger of becoming ostensibly invisible or of reconfiguring
in the realm of unprotected visibility; in the street, for example,
the singular child becomes feral and multiplies into "gang."
In other words, the child degenerates to 19th-century typologies,
slipping via the street from innocence to intransigence to become
the juvenile delinquent, visible marker of "unimaginable communit[ies]"
This illiberal child has a dangerous cultural opponent in the child
located occasionally in the current surfeit of financial magazines
of which the 1998 special edition of Forbes is paradigmatic. This
publication is rife with the tropes of imperialism, for the Forbes
man of the "concrete jungle" and his freely-traded offspring
appropriate earlier figurations of territorial imperialism (Brother
297, Slemon 7). Within Forbes, like Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders,
the (ad)venture(r)-capitalist engages in "First Encounters"
that enable colonization of no less than the entire universe (Davidoff
303). There are few child-figures in Forbes.iv When present, however,
they provide the raison d'être for the hero's "relentless
pursuit" of capital gains. While young girls are metonymically
imaged as "packages" to be provided for through the borderless
enterprise of financial speculation (Liberty Mutual 281), young
boys are always-already miniature replicas of their successful male
parent. Selling not only life insurance and mutual bonds but gender
and racial stereotypes, these figures reinforce the logic of economic
imperialism. In this accounting, the child inserted into the global
cash nexus is a functional principle of both accumulation and consumption
and as such is both psychological asset and material liability.
According to an article in US News & World Report, one of many
such articles, this child costs parent-citizens one and a half million
US dollars to raise to the age of majority (Longman 51). With such
pressures and expectations, there is no ethical room in a Forbesist
economy for the "estimated 250,000 children who die each week
around the world" because of poor nutrition, sanitation, and
health care. (Elshtain 431) Rather, evading responsibility for the
redress of structural inequities, corporatist logic records a company's
investment in the public interest by promoting bourgeois familial
imagery, thereby, displacing the financial burden onto an idealized
family for which homo economicus provides private security. This
security is not only economic but physical, for the Forbes-man installs
solid locks to secure his home "from fear of . . . invasion"
from, as history records, a highly visible threat to middle-class
security: the street child indexing the socio-economic fringes inhabited
by street children (Ingersoll-Rand 119).
As ethnographer Tobias Hecht observes in his study of Brazilian
street children, while street children have been used to "exemplify
the vulnerabilities of childhood," they have also been refashioned
"as harbingers of the danger posed to society" (173).
Children of the poor often use the street as a place to work and
socialize, yet the mass media fuels moral panic about the urban
young by rendering stereotypes of groups of children as delinquents.
Child-actor Vinicius de Oliveira, whom director Walter Salles discovered
working as a shoeshine boy in Rio's airport, concurs: neither he
nor his character in Central Station is a street child, he states,
and life in a slum quarter does not translate to delinquency. Absent
in Forbes, the street child can be located in Brazilian films such
as Hector Babenco's Pixote (1981) and Salles's Central Station (1998)
which disrupt neo-liberal fictions about street children.
I limit my reading in this paper to Central Station, which allegorizes
the production of new affective social relations. The relationship
between the two central characters is initially antagonistic. Dora
is a retired school teacher who works as a professional letter writer
in Rio's central train station. At the end of each day, she reads
through these letters and tears most up, saving a few for possible
future mailing. Her adversary is a feisty nine-year-old, Josué,
whose mother approaches Dora to write a letter to the father Josué
has never met. When his mother is killed in the street, the now
homeless boy begins to pester Dora, who entices him to her home
and then sells him to a black market adoption ring. Eventually,
Dora has second thoughts and intervenes to rescue the boy and help
him find his father when a friend suggests he will be sold on the
international market for human organs.
One of the problems limiting the effect of such films as Central
Station lies with their reception. Salles tempers harsh socio-political
issues with a rich iconographic spectacle, drawing several reviewers
to neglect its historical indexing to read a tale of individual
redemption, superficiality, or predictable cuteness.v While Salles
minimizes his critique of brutality and corruption to foreground
positive aspects of human relationship, he posits a rationale for
responsibility beyond nuclear family in condensed images referencing
the transgression of taboo prohibitions, in "the impossible"
of consuming the sacrificial child's organs and killing the juvenile
delinquent. Reading a narrative of individual redemption makes "the
impossible" of child-murder invisible; the (re)viewer's eye
slides aporetically over the image to disavow the uncivilizing act.
Significantly, at the end of his journey, Josué does not
find his father but two elder brothers. Foregrounding fraternity
to provide an antidote to the disease of social alienation, Salles
images the political event in its extremity in a brief scene that
remains invisible to those reading from the lens of imperial-liberalism.
An incident in which a youth steals a transistor radio, is caught
by a vigilante thug and shot on the spot is shocking in its disruption
of the "sentimental" narrative of individual child-rescue,
but even more shocking is this scene's invisibility to (re)viewers
when one considers that Salles based the shooting on an actual event.
Indexing the material conditions of the narrative's possibility,
the disruptive presence of the murdered youth haunts the myth of
Salles thus does not present universal brotherhood but rather a
reconfigured affiliation that entails the intervention of the invited
guest, of a summoned Dora, who acquires the moral conscience prerequisite
to developing affective relationships beyond "the family."
In Salles's formula, this work of child-rescue is performed at the
level of the individuated child which unless read adjacent to the
structural problems marked by the socio-political margins haunting
the text sanctions a prefigurative logic of child-saving predicated
on its Other of child-killing; in Central Station, the gang of street
children shown in Pixote, for instance, is the aporetic bind of
universal brotherhood. Read on the allegorical level as the carnivalization
of the civilizing enterprise, the journey undertaken by Dora and
Josué spectacularly renders the remedy for spiritual alienation
under military regime as individual salvation; on the literal level
the film critiques economic exploitation by referencing its radical
limits: the over-consumption of commodities as the harvesting of
the child's organs and distributive injustice as the killing of
the juvenile thief.
In an economy of knowledge grounded on the rationality of sight,
Central Station demonstrates, brutality towards children is correlative
with their elided visibility.vii To combat the myth of childhood
as a space of protection, the CRC addresses children's invisibility
by making them partial agents rather than mere objects of intervention,
the occasional object of the unencumbered individual who may or
may not intercede on their behalf. The notion of protection is generally
based on unacknowledged dependencies and power relations. In the
logic of free-trade economy, protection is proprietary, limited
to the million-dollar Forbes-child. Not distributive justice, Forbes
ads certify, but individual responsibility, or protectionism, to
which ideology the bourgeois child is to be inculcated, is a fundamental
value of the free-willed economist, and while bourgeois children
might expect to profit from this logic, invisible poor children
cannot (Cigna in Forbes 80).viii
Take the example of a recently sanctioned visible child-a politicized
Elián González emptied of material particularity and
reconfigured as the prototypal neo-liberal heir apparent. The media
narrative of Elián hardly needs recounting. Essentially,
by the detainment of a young boy for seven months in the United
States and his separation from both nuclear and immediate-extended
family, US authorities sacrificed a boy's right to affective security-his
right to family, home, and cultural community. In this political
battle, the child functioning as a site of symbolic production legitimated
for many an ideological inversion, from defending "traditional"
western family values to vehemently opposing the reunification of
the nuclear family.
This inversion is possible because the child functions doubly. As
himself, Elián was made a typological object of Christian
sacrifice and salvation, a sacred child bearing the Disneyfied seeds
of capitalism garnered for a greater celestial or fiscal Father
(Jenkins 16). In addition, Elián was made an "organizing
principle of the nation-state in its relations with . . . its own
citizens and those of the . . . developing world" (Wallace
"Technologies" 286). The political question became: which
nation makes the better parent? The answer: which kind of family
is not as important as which kind of state. Elián-as-consumer-of-commodities
functions to displace attention from worldwide protest over US imperialism
formulated as the Helms-Burton law. Rescuing the child figured as
the messiah of democracy reinforces the myth of redemption, thereby,
assuaging guilt for imposing inhumane embargoes on food, educational,
and medical supplies that affect the "gang" of Cuban children
made invisible. Wiping "the moral slate clean," salvation
of the solitary child leads to a diminished sense of responsibility
for the hardships these economic sanctions impose (Scheper-Hughes
While the work of bourgeois childhood supports corporatist claims
that capital investment is not only an act of individual but, by
implication, social responsibility, this responsibility rests on
voluntary acts of charity that do nothing to address structural
inequities and, ultimately, eschew social responsibility. This truth
is bluntly expressed in USAmerican economist Milton Friedman's Capitalism
and Freedom:ix Social responsibility is "a fundamentally subversive
doctrine," he states. "Few trends could so thoroughly
undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance
by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to
make as much for their stockholders as possible" (133). To
counter the ideology of voluntarism, intervention concerned to ameliorate
the conditions of existence for children must take children's right
to social welfare and partial self-determination into the theoretical
As feminist debate teaches, the work of grass roots organizations,
the "real front against globalization," is inseparable
from theoretical intervention (Spivak 416). My final point, then,
illustrates how, despite radical commitment to ameliorating unequal
conditions imposed by economic globalization, in adult-centred theory,
children are invisible. To be taken seriously, children need to
secure not only moral and emotive rhetorical value, but the theoretical
import generally reserved for adults.
I close with an image in The Economist which anthropologist Arturo
Escobar analyzes in Encountering Development. Noting that this article
appeared "the week prior to" the Earth summit meeting
. . . on Environment and Development held in Rio in 1992, Escobar
describes in the accompanying photograph "an undifferentiated
mass of dark people, the 'teeming masses' of the Third World,"
and in so doing marks an aporia of the child (210).x Sharon Stephens,
child researcher as well as anthropologist, reads the same Economist
photograph and sees not a horde of "people" but "a
mass of black children" (13, emphasis added).xi Notably, while
the child functions as an organizing principle in the discourse
of development, the child remains invisible in Escobar's interventionary
critique, symptomatically presented in a chapter entitled "Power
and Visibility" (emphasis added).xii This excision of the child
from an analysis of development is curious, since historically both
marginalized peoples and children have been managed through representations
of the child that enable various civilizing missions, including
the mission of development (Wallace "Waterbabies" 176).xiii
To effectively intervene in economic globalization, I suggest, is
to further problematize development theory by incorporating children
into adultist accounts.
In sum, a theoretical account that brings children into the discursive
equation must decode the legitimating narrative of salvation and
(re)formation authorized by the child. To set to work the problem
of implementing children's rights, these rights must be brought
into the discourse of development, for to redress problems of distributive
injustice necessitates conjoining individual protectionist impulses
with children's rights established by the CRC to partial self-determination
and social welfare. Ultimately, our recognitions and identifications-whether
or not we choose to question images of childhood and render children
visible in theory-structure our relation to knowledge and condition
our abilities to forge new affective relations.
i Respectively, Bill McSweeney in Security, Identity and Interests
and three unnamed Bangladeshi street children in the traveling art
exhibition Children of the Wind, Les Enfants du Vents organized
by Canadian curator Linda Dale.
ii Following the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, unencumbered civil man became impotent in Cold War efforts
to forge a binding treaty addressing economic and social rights.
The rights movement, therefore, requiring a new symbolic labourer
carrying additional ethical and emotional value, deployed the child
as an object of global politics. By encoding an additional set of
rights including social welfare and self-determination for children,
this figural shift from universal man to child enabled a partial
displacement in a rights regime that had previously been primarily
civil and political. In other words, the inclusion of the affective
and moral currency that the child contributes makes universal social
welfare conceptually possible. However, just as the child coexists
in unequal relationship with economic man, so those rights enabled
by the child are subordinate to civil and political rights prioritized
by free-trade logic, those rights enjoyed without an entailing responsibility
to a larger society.
iii Michael Freeman in The Moral Status of Children discusses the
James Bulger case, the murder of a toddler by two 10-year-old boys
in February, 1993. Freeman observes, "we are prepared to impose
criminal responsibility on [children at the age of ten] . . ., but
we are less willing to accept the correlativity of responsibility
and rights" (28). In the Bulger case, he argues, the trial
processes and sentence were "in no way adapted to the needs
of 11-year-olds" (109). Freeman contrasts a similar case over
one hundred years earlier when in 1861 two 8-year-olds were convicted
of the manslaughter of a 2-year-old child. The Bulger case could
have been treated differently; James Bulger's killers "were
not given the opportunity of a manslaughter verdict" and unlike
the earlier judge, the judge in this case "seemed oblivious
to the welfare of the children Thompson and Venables (251-2).
iv There are slightly more women in Forbes. Here, the figural woman
literally stands behind her man. She provides for her children with
the help of security companies, she sports expensive jewelry if
she is young and superficially beautiful, or she receives breakfast
in bed if she is the office helpmeet, in which case, the question
becomes "who is she sleeping with?" (Westin in Forbes
v See, for example, Peter Brunette, Arthur Lazer, and Janet Maslin.
vi Child actor Fernando Ramos da Silva who plays Pixote in Hector
Babenco's film (1981) experienced a brief moment of sanctioned visibility
through his acting success. Unable to get more work because he was
almost illiterate, da Silva dropped back into the realm of unprotected
visibility, where at the age of seventeen street-child da Silva
was mistaken for a criminal and shot to death by military police.
vii Discussing Richard Rorty on mirroring, Bhabha notes that the
West's "primary relation to objects and ourselves is analogous
to visual perception" (49). The panic over child abuse in the
last decades of the 20th century belies notions of the privatized/invisible
space of the family as a space of protection.
viii The Canadian government, for instance, acknowledged in its
apology to First Nations communities for the harm done by the residential
school policy, that protection is in fact the worst form of oppression.
ix Samir Amin, "one of the most influential economists today,"
director of Forum Tires Monde in Dakar, Senegal, and author of books
such as Imperialism and Unequal Development, Eurocentrism, and Empire
of Chaos, says scathingly of Friedman, "Milton Friedman is
the wizard-in-chief of our contemporary Oz. He understood what they
[the pure economic pundits] wanted to hear: that wages are always
too high (even in Bangladesh), that profits are still not high enough
to offer the affluent sufficient investment incentives, and so on.
Hence his success, despite his muddleheadedness (he might say anything,
and then its opposite, depending on who is listening and when) and
his proven intellectual dishonesty. Those are the very qualities
sought in a wizard-in-chief, worthy of a Nobel Prize" (142).
x The 'lesson' [he critiques] is population: the expanding masses
of the 'third world' have to be curbed if sustainable development
is to be achieved" (210).
xi Escobar's inattention to age may or may not have to do with the
shortcomings of recall, for his vaguely dated and incorrectly titled
article is missing from his bibliography.xi
xii For an elaboration of the parent-child developmental paradigm
and a brief overview of development and dependency theories see
Kate Manzo's "Modernist Discourse and the Crisis of Development
Theory" in Studies in Comparative International Development
26.2 (Summer 1991): 3-36. The analogy is often implicit in development
literature but explicit in such earlier colonial literature as Katherine
Mayo's Mother India contested by such post-colonial writers as Anita
Desai, Bessie Head, Jamaica Kincaid, and Edna O'Brien.
xiii What is it that makes it necessary in a critique of population
control that Escobar not see children as children? To do so, would
require the impossible recognition of the limit-text for reproductive
rights theory, since unprotected children are that which is exorbitant
to wholesale reproduction. (This is not, in this debate, to sanction
other than choice.)
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