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http://chd.sagepub.com Tacit Notions of Childhood: An analysis of discourse about child participation in decision-making regarding arrangements in case of parental divorce
Jantine Hemrica and Frieda Heyting Childhood 2004; 11; 449 DOI: 10.1177/0907568204047106 The online version of this article can be found at: http://chd.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/4/449
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TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD An analysis of discourse about child participation in decision-making regarding arrangements in case of parental divorce
JANTINE HEMRICA AND FRIEDA HEYTING University of Amsterdam Key words: childhood, children’s rights, child welfare, discourse analysis, parental divorce, presuppositions Mailing address: Frieda Heyting University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Science, Department of Education, Room B10.05, PO Box 9420, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands. [email: email@example.com]
Childhood Copyright © 2004 SAGE Publications. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, Vol 11(4): 449–468. www.sagepublications.com 10.1177/0907568204047106
This article reports on a reconstruction of some major pragmatic presuppositions in recent Dutch and English discussions in scientific media about the say children should have in devising settlements after parental divorce. Pragmatic presuppositions – such views as discussants implicitly assume to be taken for granted by their audience – were interpreted as indicating implicit conventions with respect to conceptions of childhood that underlie explicit discussions. We concentrated on three dimensions of such underlying conventions: the child’s supposed interests in having a say, supposedly required competences for having a say, and the supposed links between and relative priority of the child welfare perspective and the rights perspective in this issue. Closer examination reveals that not all of the presuppositions that appear to be characteristic for the discussion at hand are selfevident.
Introduction An important issue, which plays an overt or covert part in discussions about granting or denying rights to children, are the questions in what respects and to what extent children are to be considered different from adults in specific contexts, and what consequences these differences should have for how they are to be treated in such contexts. As we do not have any indisputable criteria to answer such questions, we have to renegotiate definitions of ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’ time and again. Results vary depending on historical, cultural and contextual circumstances, as Maundeni’s (2002) research in Botswana with respect to children’s rights in parental divorce recently illustrated. This variability makes childhood a construction rather than an ‘object’ (King, 1997: 12). Even between different discourses within the same culture, constructions of childhood will vary, as Smeyers and Wringe (2003) point out, and they illustrate this with the different child concepts in legal 449
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a discussant who would underpin his or her view that the judge – instead of the child itself – should decide on the child’s residence after parental divorce by arguing that the judge can best assess which parent will offer the better atmosphere for a balanced psychological development. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. Thus. Trying to avoid generalizing about differences between children and adults. In our analyses we were especially interested in these unspoken background views discussants implicitly appealed to in scientific discussions about children’s rights to participate in the decision on arrangements after parental divorce. These contextually variable constructions of childhood contribute to the specific ‘ambiguity of childhood’. . 1999: 464ff. In communication. with respect to residence or parental access.CHILDHOOD 11(4) statutes and Victorian children’s literature. But even if conceptions of childhood are explicitly under discussion. Lee.).g.). at least on the level of presuppositions. in designating persons as ‘children’ that are to be treated – at least in this respect – differently from adults. to what extent and in what context. All rights reserved. and they attune their argumentation to that presupposition (among others). In other 450 Downloaded from http://chd. then. Such differences of opinion were abundantly present in the discussions we analysed about children’s rights in parental divorce. to justify differential treatment one still has to refer – mostly tacitly – to more general ideas. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. For example. any statement can only be intelligible and seem justified against the background of other claims that are (presumed to be) shared by speaker and audience alike (see Wood and Kroger. 1993. for example about what characteristics of the child and the situation should be taken into account in this kind of context (see Archard. e. implicitly appeals to the same presupposition. However. discussants still have to refer to shared ideas – knowledge as well as values – if only to be able to communicate. the greater the distance to real situations and the larger the group involved. although they disagree on the explicit level. does not rule out the necessity of negotiating conceptions of childhood. One simply expects them to be shared by the other participants in the situation. results from taking (at least) some tacitly applied notions of childhood for granted. makes an implicit appeal to the presupposition that the audience will consider future psychological stability to be a relevant and undisputed criterion in such decisions. The relative ease of decision-making in practical situations. who disagrees.sagepub. the more likely it becomes that differences of opinion will arise about what qualities should be considered relevant. as Lee (1999) calls it. Although deciding on how to proceed may seem easier in real situations.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. A second discussant. overt differences of opinion still depend on shared ideas. for example by adapting to each individual child in its specific context. Both discussants. and defends the child’s right to decide because that would prevent the child from developing psychological problems at a later age. implicitly expect their audiences to take the criterion of future psychological welfare for granted. 2000: 208ff.
HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD words. we want to gain an idea of the – always 451 Downloaded from http://chd. we present some comments. Such presuppositions. As Levinson (1983: 205) puts it: ‘An utterance A pragmatically presupposes a proposition B if A is appropriate only if B is mutually known by participants. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications.sagepub. 1999: 67).’ By reconstructing pragmatic presuppositions. Results are described in the third to sixth sections. We were interested in the presumed common ground authors implicitly appeal to in order to make themselves understood by their readership. The concept of pragmatic presuppositions basically refers to processes of communication. pragmatic presuppositions reflect not so much the author’s hidden opinions. being pragmatic presuppositions. judged by the way they stated and underpinned their overt views. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. as they were published in scientific media (see section below). but rather such opinions as they expect from their readership (Stalnaker. Our material included discussions with respect to the Dutch and the English situations. but rather the implicit and supposedly shared views they appealed to. And in the last section. not the various and often contradictory opinions of the contributing authors constituted our primary subject of research. All rights reserved. The reconstruction of pragmatic presuppositions Methodology Our analysis was executed against the background of a discourse-theoretical approach. we were interested in the ‘presumed common ground’ – in the game board authors characteristically imagined themselves to be playing on (Ginzburg. which result in several suggestions for future practice. . 1999). 1997: 413) – which consists of the views authors implicitly expected their readership to take for granted. Reconstructing pragmatic presuppositions aims to make explicit the tacit estimation by authors (as well as speakers) of their intended audience. know. Making an appeal to such presupposed pupil views does not imply that the teacher in question necessarily holds those views (Stalnaker.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. to which they attune their argumentation. in order to make oneself clear to one’s pupils teaching often involves attuning to their (supposed) knowledge and convictions. Consequently. (2) the kinds of interests that were presupposed to be relevant and (3) the kind of overall perspective that was presupposed to be of primary importance in this issue. 1998. In other words. primarily pertain to the function of text as a communicative device. We concentrated on three dimensions of these notions of childhood that are presumably taken for granted and that authors implicitly appealed to: (1) the kinds of competences that were presupposed to be relevant. Such presuppositions regulate the way authors or speakers take their (envisaged) audience into account by attuning their formulations and arguments to the kind of views they implicitly suppose this audience to endorse. As most teachers. for example.
then. . we reconstructed consensual patterns – the predominant gameboard on which the arguments on our topic appeared to take place – by looking for frequently occurring. we searched the main scientific catalogues and data files (analogue as well as digital) that are accessible in the Netherlands from universities and judicial and welfare institutions (Psychinfo. We selected publications in which children’s rights to have a say about their own living conditions after parental divorce figured as a main topic. 1996: 237). Because of the constructive and context-dependent character of notions of childhood. However. The procedure. In comparison with an earlier project on presuppositions in discussions about medical decisionmaking. Stalnaker. and bibliographies of the publications found. Philosopher’s Index. similar presuppositions. the distribution of pragmatic presuppositions might display regularities. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. we restricted our sample to publications in academic media. The sample As pragmatic presuppositions pertain to the communicative function of texts. what unspoken insights are required to understand the line of reasoning of a discussant as intelligible and relevant to the topic? Second. the presuppositional backgrounds of different positions on child participation in the context of parental divorce do not necessarily coincide. Of course.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. The overall method of reconstructing separate pragmatic presuppositions is based on the idea of a speaker attuning his utterances to the knowledge and convictions he implicitly expects his envisaged audience to endorse. Being ourselves – so to speak – part of the envisaged readership would also prevent us from making interpretative errors due to unusual or unfamiliar types or goals of dialogue (see Walton. To find publications that met the criteria. NCC). Second. in order to isolate a group of texts that would – at least formally – address comparable audiences. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. 1983: 205. never homogeneous – relatively consensual (sub)cultural level that can be hidden behind even the sharpest differences of opinion. A third criterion for selecting publications concerns the countries that 452 Downloaded from http://chd. 1998)? After collecting the selected categories of presuppositions from all of the material (see following subsection). our first criterion for demarcating our data sample specified a discussion context. giving evidence of what discussants most characteristically presuppose to constitute the ‘common ground’ of a specific discourse. Eric. Picarta. Online Contents.sagepub. essentially follows two questions. First. Different discussants can implicitly ascribe different views to their audiences – even if they envisage the same audience. All rights reserved. NIWI.CHILDHOOD 11(4) changing. Data Juridica. we actually found such context-dependent differences (see Discussion section). other discussion contexts might reveal other pragmatically presupposed ideas on the nature of childhood. what – unspoken – ideas have to be accepted in order to be able to recognize an argument as potentially convincing (see Levinson.
Analyses were restricted to publications with respect to the situation in the Netherlands and in England. and their specific interests with respect to having rights. In both countries. Consequently. . In addition. can throw light on the question of what authors presume their readership to take for granted in justifying differential treatment of children.sagepub. We therefore concentrated on reconstructing pragmatic presuppositions with respect to these two issues. we included publications up to and including 2001.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD were included. an influential advocate of children’s rights – to similar effect. The Law Commission (1986) report on custody published in England provoked new debates on the issue. as was already the case in England. Date of publication constituted the fourth and last criterion for demarcation of the material. These four criteria resulted in 34 publications to be analysed. A third aspect of the hidden notions of childhood we were interested in concerns the specific type of discourse discussants presume to be engaged in. and the matter is taken to court.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. 1988) – on the occasion of the retirement of Mrs Rood-de Boer. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. children in both countries have the right to be heard. a volume was published in 1988 (Rood-de Boer and Lubbers. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. in order to find out what characteristic views on required competences and children’s interests the authors implicitly ascribed to their audiences. All publications that met these four criteria were included in our sample. references to all of them are included in the list of references at the end of this article. discussions on children’s rights in general are dominated by two issues: the question of what competences are required to be able to exercise a right. discussions on children’s right to have a say in case of parental divorce received a new impulse in the same period. Discussions on children’s rights in case of parental divorce in both countries can be expected to be comparable in their reflection of modern western conceptions of childhood. All rights reserved. Argumentations concerning the specific requirements children should meet. Since 1997. First. interest. in many cases the court is not involved in making arrangements for the children. and perspective We were especially interested in three specific dimensions of the hidden notions of childhood in discussions about children’s rights in parental divorce. which also explains a certain degree of interrelatedness of discussions on our topic in both countries (for instance in van Nijnatten and Sevenhuijsen. 1993). 2001). Dutch parents share custody of their children after divorce. including 12 with respect to the Dutch. The typical ambiguity of childhood is also an effect of the multiplicity of 453 Downloaded from http://chd. and 22 on to the English situation. both countries have similar legislation on this topic. and in distinguishing childhood from adulthood in the context of discussions about parental divorce. Competence. and the question what interests of the child are served by having such rights (see Archard. In both cases. If parents cannot come to an agreement. In the Netherlands.
In balancing considerations that result from the differentiated perspectives on children. In the case of children’s rights to have a say in arrangements after parental divorce. As institutionalized communication devices. child interests and primary relevant discourse perspective characteristically underlie 454 Downloaded from http://chd. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. . It is very possible (we describe an example later) to argue in favour of granting more rights. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Approaching this balancing process from a discourse-oriented point of view as well. two of the predominant perspectives involved are the child welfare perspective and the judicial or rights perspective. we took the rights and welfare perspectives to be institutionalized ways of understanding and communicating social issues. 2002). What pragmatic presuppositions with respect to required competences. Luhmann. the chosen frame will reflect the perspective discussants expect their audience to consider the proper (not: exclusive) frame for the issue at stake. 1997. but as devices for communication. Communication perspectives in general – including the rights and welfare perspectives – represent a set of institutionalized ‘frames of reference’ for use in social communication. a frame in which one should subsequently fit their specific welfare and educational needs? Or do authors expect their audience to think the other way around? Our research questions can now be summarized as follows. All rights reserved. or determined by them. In our analysis.sagepub. We were interested in any regularity in this balancing process. this differentiated modern model of communication will also affect conceptions of childhood (Luhmann.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. but they are not restricted to. discussions can cover a higher level of complexity without having to use more words. As this framing takes place as a communication device. Do authors presume as a common ground that in the context of discussions about parental divorce children are to be seen primarily (again: not exclusively) as subjects of rights. As explained in social systems theory (King. By – mostly implicitly – fitting discussions in a specific frame of reference. while framing the argumentation in a welfare perspective.CHILDHOOD 11(4) institutional perspectives involved in decisions on how to treat children in specific situations (Lee. As these different institutionalized discursive frames of reference cannot be reduced either to each other or to a coordinating one. 1999). Both perspectives have to be balanced in issues like these. 1984. authors will ultimately have to frame their line of reasoning within one final perspective. 2002). we were interested in pragmatic presuppositions about how to balance the rights and welfare perspectives with respect to children and their say in case of parental divorce. in order to be able to communicate this reasoning – which does not mean they should neglect or even pay less attention to considerations from other perspectives. we interpreted these institutionalized perspectives on children not in terms of organizations. These perspectives are important to social organizations (like the legal system and child welfare organizations). such perspectives are primarily considered instruments for enabling and organizing communication in modern complex societies.
Van Nijnatten and Kuipers (2001) argue that the child as a family member is capable of taking responsibility in case of parental divorce. like the more recent legislation in the Netherlands. legal) dependency. This presupposition clearly reflects what du BoisReymond (1996) calls ‘the model of the modern family’. Children are considered strongly dependent on parental care indeed. implicitly expect their readership to endorse – that children do not differ fundamentally from adults in their role of family member. van Nijnatten and Kuipers (2001) and Freeman (1995). in which children and adults participate alike. in this discussion context. and for that reason she considers it wrong to deny the child a say. All rights reserved.e. According to Sawyer (1995). Characteristic presuppositions with respect to children’s interest in having a say In a majority of Dutch (9) as well as English (14) argumentations. or the presumably stronger anti-divorce lobby in England that Nicolai and Cuijvers (2001) report on. The explicit lines of reasoning of this group of authors are very similar. They underline children’s competence to independently form an opinion. Many discussants (7 Dutch and 10 English) relate children’s interests 455 Downloaded from http://chd.sagepub. authors implicitly appeal to the presupposition that the readership will take for granted the value of democratic family communication. By presenting their views in this way.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD discussions in academic media on the topic of children’s rights to have a say in matters concerning their own living conditions in case of parental divorce in England and in the Netherlands? Although we expected Dutch and English discourse contexts to be highly comparable. authors pragmatically presuppose – i.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. children’s interests in having a say in divorce cases were explicitly related to their position in the family. . this should be part of ‘normal’ procedures in any family if children’s living conditions are at stake. According to him. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. Examples of this line of argument can be demonstrated in Sawyer (1995). but their interests demand full recognition of their democratic position as family members. in the context of the family one should avoid reducing the child to an object of care. The traditional – and elsewhere in society still widespread – model of the authority-based family does not figure as a presupposition in any of the contributions to discussions on children’s rights in case of parental divorce. Granting them a say is considered a consequence of this democratic family membership. Freeman (1995) argues in favour of allowing children a say. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. we also looked at any possible differences between the countries. this family model represents a characteristic of the presumed common ground of the discussion about children’s rights in parental divorce. As many discussants appeal to this presupposition. Apparently. in spite of their (financial. which could be due to different circumstances. In a similar way.
None of the contributions reveals the presupposition that children should not be considered as rights subjects. All rights reserved. of which we speak later. because of the opportunities it provides for expressing emotions caused by parental divorce. In this respect. Exemplary of this approach are argumentations in van Nijnatten and Kuipers (2001). thus improving their weak position.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. albeit in very different ways. The combination of this and the aforementioned presupposition with respect to developmental outcomes will obviously result in the dilemma of the child as a ‘being’ vs the child as a ‘becoming’ (Lee. In these argumentations authors mainly refer to responsibility for the long-term future of the children involved. . as well as the related presupposition that children are to be considered ‘unfinished’ with respect to their social and emotional make-up. In a substantial number of cases (five Dutch and nine English) restricting children’s rights is defended with a view to children’s interests. authors expect their readership not to make a fundamental distinction between childhood and adulthood. In a third type of reasoning. These cases demonstrate an instrumental dimension of the presumed common ground with respect to participation. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications.CHILDHOOD 11(4) in having a say to their developmental prospects. as demonstrated in seven Dutch and five English texts. Singer (2001) also considers participation rights beneficial to the affective developmental prospects of children. These lines of argument reveal the presupposition that considerations with respect to developmental outcomes – the question whether and how decisions will stimulate the child’s development – should be considered relevant with respect to children’s rights. authors maintain that procedures with respect to divorce arrangements should be organized in a way that benefits children’s social and emotional development. Van Nijnatten and Kuipers (2001) point out the reduced risk of future problem behaviour that will result from being allowed to fully participate in deliberations. van der Linden and Vlaardingerbroek (1988) argue in favour of independent legal access for children who want any changes in arrangements concerning parental access. whereas the aforementioned value of family democracy seems to represent an intrinsic value. This way of putting things evidences the presupposition that readership will take it for granted that children – like adults – can and sometimes even should be considered subjects invested with rights. In these cases. 1999).sagepub. autonomous access to court will improve children’s legal security. Why legal access would imply an ‘improvement’ of their position only becomes intelligible on the basis of this presupposition. For example. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Smith (1997) takes the view that denying participation will eventually damage the emotional and social development of children. They condemn the notion of children having to take decisions involving consequences for their future. Not only pleas in favour of granting rights reflect presuppositions with respect to children’s interests. Singer (2001) and Smith (1997). According to these authors. 456 Downloaded from http://chd. authors explicitly relate children’s interest in having a say to their legal position. The same can apply to argumentations against granting rights.
These children acknowledge the possibility of future regret. However. As expected. According to these authors. as well as their legal status. These perspectives do not necessarily conflict in all respects. If the wishes of the child might impede her or his optimal development and well-being in the long term. but to the possibility of reconsidering the decision. Cantwell and Scott (1995) defend the opinion that assigning participation rights in case of parental divorce would result in burdening the child with important decisions on how they are best cared for.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. but in their view this should not lead to adult attempts to prevent it. many discussants in our sample clearly presuppose the once-only and permanent kind of decision. This example also anticipates the second category of pragmatic presuppositions we were looking for: those concerning required competences for asserting rights. children’s development and welfare. they feel children should be protected from this responsibility – like the decision to go to school is not up to them either. To sum up. One would have to address this presupposed necessity of taking once-and-for-all long-term decisions explicitly in order to make room for a serious discussion about the suggestion made by these children. these authors implicitly appeal to the presupposition that the arrangement of children’s living conditions should be attuned to the long term. The solution to this dilemma – restricting children’s rights – illustrates this. are supposed to benefit from participation rights in parental divorce. Although children are considered capable of expressing their wishes. An additional presupposition relates to children’s inability to take responsibility for that kind of decision. children should never have final responsibility. as Smart et al. With respect to children’s interests. Gunning and de Roos (1992) also fear the pressure of responsibility that results from assigning rights. The ever-present potential conflict between both ways of looking at children becomes apparent where discussants pragmatically presuppose the necessity of a long-term view that children are believed to lack. they should be kept in a position that they need not blame themselves if things do not turn out well. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications.sagepub. This presupposition clearly excludes any suggestion from children themselves. Wortmann (2001) and Smith (1997) want to avoid this kind of responsibility as well. this reflects the pragmatic presupposition that both a child welfare perspective and a rights perspective are to be considered relevant in this issue. None of the contributions demonstrated the opposite presupposition. according to these authors. All rights reserved. because of possible damage to the future well-being of the child. 457 Downloaded from http://chd. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. . As far as these decisions concern the future. and decided on once and for all. (2001b) report on.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD For example. one should act upon the opinion of adults. they cannot be trusted to have the long-term perspective required for making the ‘right’ decision – this seems to be view authors implicitly expect their readership to endorse. as demonstrated in argumentations that support rights because of their contribution to emotional development.
1992). authors formulate the view that the – required – ability to judge for oneself will develop with age.sagepub. None of the authors appeal to the aforementioned presupposed social and emotional ‘unfinishedness’ of children to substantiate their views with respect to required competences. authors reason very similarly – and express rather similar pragmatic presuppositions. On this topic. the arguments of the majority of authors are concurrent in that they stress the necessity of being able to understand the situation as well as the reasons that gave rise to the current decision procedure (Young. too. . 2001. it seems legitimate to postpone such rights as are granted adults by definition. Because of this presupposition. These and similar lines of reasoning are proof of the pragmatic presupposition that required competences for having participation rights are principally developable competences. All rights reserved. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. the child should be able to judge his or her own wishes also in the light of a wise decision of the court (de Bruijn-Lückers and Van der Linden. To be sure. which is barely mentioned. Young. Even if we look at contributions that pay explicit attention to the social and emotional dimensions of decision-making. the role of 458 Downloaded from http://chd. Generally speaking. 1992). we find a strong emphasis on the competence of giving and understanding reasons as compared to understanding in an empathic sense. and he expects older children to pass this test more easily than younger ones.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. that they implicitly appeal to the presupposition that required and conditional competences should primarily be of a cognitive nature. Whenever authors actually relate children’s participation rights in case of parental divorce to required competences. For example. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. as demonstrated in the preceding section. First of all. Young (1992) advocates that children should be tested before being heard in court. we still find that authors present their argumentations in such a way. Authors who argue in favour of extending children’s rights to have a say in case of parental divorce also implicitly appeal to what they expect their readership to consider required competences. only at the age of 12 will children have acquired an understanding of the situation that is required to be able to participate in decision-making. According to these authors. An analogous argumentation can be found in de Bruijn-Lückers and Van der Linden (2001). With respect to the content of required competences. in most English (17) as well as Dutch (10) arguments. For example.CHILDHOOD 11(4) Characteristic presuppositions with respect to required competences Pragmatic presuppositions about required competences are not only implied in argumentations in favour of restricting participation rights. they invariably seem to presuppose as a common ground in their readership that assigning such rights should hinge on competences of a cognitive nature – while in the same breath giving evidence of the pragmatic presupposition that required competences in the cognitive realm should be considered conditional competences for assigning rights.
459 Downloaded from http://chd.sagepub. we investigate presuppositions with respect to the rights and welfare perspectives. it is primarily related to the developmental interests of the children involved. Some of the texts mention the moral dimension as well. children should (and are expected to) be able to make moral judgements in a rational way.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD emotions in decision-making regarding arrangements after parental divorce is not completely ignored by the authors. (2001b) demonstrate in their research that the way even very young children try to organize contacts with both parents. as demonstrated earlier. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Singer (2001) refers to the loyalty problems children may struggle with in situations like this. the child should be able to understand the social situation as giving rise to the specific dilemmas at hand. Predominance and interrelatedness of the child welfare and rights perspectives In the previous sections the possibility of conflicting perspectives has already come to the surface. especially because of – as yet – lacking competences such as cognitive abilities and long-term perspective. we are interested in presuppositions concerning priority – with respect to framing the argumentation – and interrelatedness between those two perspectives. . For example. as demonstrated in the previous section. are ultimately presupposed to be cognitive in nature. Required and conditional competences. with respect to required competences for asserting participation rights. then. However. acknowledging children in their quality of moral persons should be an important aspect of the process of decision-making. In particular. emotional or social maturity does not appear to be part of the pragmatically presumed common ground of discussions on required competences for having a say. For example. shows a strong moral involvement. in addition. All rights reserved. In the context of required competences. De Bruijn-Lückers and Van der Linden (2001) formulate a similar argumentation with respect to social competences. Young (1992) stresses that children should be able to handle emotions in an understanding and rational way. According to them. Moral. The child welfare perspective especially represents the view of the child as a ‘becoming’ (see Lee. According to them. In this argumentation. 1999). the cognitive level of development remains the ultimately presupposed criterion. this perspective developed into a relatively autonomous communication perspective only in the last few centuries.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. Smart et al. the authors make an implicit appeal to the presupposition that the role of social and emotional aspects should be subordinated to the primarily cognitive nature of required competences. Although children’s status as subjects of rights seemed self-evident. In this section. However. the emotional dimension only comes up as a presupposed object of understanding and reasoning. authors pragmatically presupposed deferral of rights to be justified. they should characteristically be applied in a long-term perspective. According to Luhmann’s theory of communication systems. In both cases. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications.
Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.CHILDHOOD 11(4) ‘Childhood’. other communication systems. provided with corresponding rights (the rights perspective). or ‘biographical prospects’ as a separate functional perspective provide contemporary western societies with an instrument to deal with the problem that new generations can no longer integrate into society by means of direct inclusion and participation (Luhmann. 1997. and subsequently integrated welfare considerations. The child as a being – as included in ‘normal’ social systems – is represented in our analysis by the rights perspective (although the context of other discussions. 1984). 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. might also be relevant).sagepub. illustrates how representatives from similar professional and disciplinary backgrounds can implicitly appeal to different presuppositions of their audience. The second discussant argued in favour of penalization. which would hinder the educational process – thus framing his argumentation from the perspective of the child as primarily in need of guidance with a view to its future. in which both discussants were from social work-related professions. presupposing a rights perspective on the issue. This discussant situated the issue primarily in a rights frame.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. Luhmann. All rights reserved. . primarily in need of development and guidance (the child welfare perspective). 2002). It pertains to the question how and in what respect the view of children as human subjects. authors rely on different presuppositions with respect to the final perspective in which to frame the argumentation. This perspective is characterized by primarily understanding events as instantiations of justice vs injustice (King. should be combined with the view of children as humans-to-be. A recent television discussion in the Netherlands on the penalizing of child corporal punishment. The first discussant argued against penalization by drawing attention to the fact that this would turn many ‘normal’ educational acts into criminal acts. as the following example illustrates. We found publications that presupposed a view of children as subjects of rights as the ultimate frame – that proceeded to position children’s developmental and guidance needs within this presupposed frame – as well as 460 Downloaded from http://chd. 1997) and presuppositions refer to convictions ascribed to the readership. the professional – judicial or welfare – background of the authors themselves does not predetermine which of these presuppositions we will find in their texts. Although nearly all of the analysed contributions to the discussion contain considerations with respect to child welfare and considerations with respect to judicial and human rights. she underlined that the human right of physical integrity compels us to refrain from it and to look for educationally effective alternatives. Mutually relating rights and welfare perspectives constitutes a third dimension of the pragmatically presumed common ground in discussions about children’s rights in divorce-related issues. such as the economic or the religious system. As perspectives should be understood as instruments for communication (King. Although she did recognize the possible developmental benefits in some circumstances of giving the child a physical signal.
in order to be able to make the right decision in any specific case. He considered the report strongly coloured by a judicial perspective – a perspective he considers one-sided by definition – whereas in his view the welfare 461 Downloaded from http://chd. Dutch authors subordinate developmental and welfare needs comparatively more often to the rights perspective than their co-discussants who refer to the English situation. In other words. we were also interested in presuppositions about the way these perspectives should be mutually related. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. in a majority of the publications (seven Dutch and 16 English) authors give evidence of the presupposition that children should primarily be considered subjects of care and guidance. in as much detail as possible. Against this background. he criticizes the Law Commission (1986) report on participation rights with respect to custody arrangements. Therefore. As presupposing one final perspective does not imply ignoring the other one. even if a child decided to abandon contact with one or both parents. In Doek’s argumentation. From this child welfare perspective.sagepub. Doek (1992). writing about children aged 12 and over. Although he recognizes the importance of continuous relationships with both parents for harmonious child development. All rights reserved. Dutch authors were found to reason more often than their English colleagues from the presupposition that respecting autonomy rights is of vital importance. gives evidence of the presupposition that the issue of children’s rights in case of parental divorce should primarily be approached from a rights perspective. in the context of this discussion Doek presupposes a rights perspective as the perspective on children – at least from 12 years on – that his readership takes for granted. with respect to children King (1987) underlines the necessity of taking individual circumstances into account. for children no less than for adults. the right to autonomously decide which social relations to maintain constitutes the frame within which developmental needs should be met. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. A similar priority of a rights perspective was found in five (out of 12) Dutch and in six (out of 22) English publications (despite the fact that jurists outnumber welfare professionals). According to the author this justifies the conclusion that the reciprocity of right of access should prevail. For example.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD publications that presupposed a view of children as subjects of care and guidance as the ultimate frame – that proceeded to position their (human) rights within the frame of their developmental and welfare needs. According to King. possible developmental harm resulting from such an approach should be combated in a way compatible with this rights frame. . he does not adduce this as an argument to undermine the child’s autonomous right to codetermine parental access arrangements. following the report would result in a ‘reductionist’ view of children’s position in cases of parental divorce. However. This result is consistent with our findings about the interests in participation rights that authors ascribed to children. developmental prospects constitute the frame to which participation rights should be adapted.
Presumed common grounds with respect to the English situation do not differ fundamentally from those with respect to the Dutch situation. That presupposing a welfare perspective does not necessarily mean giving lower priority to children’s rights can be illustrated from Singer (2001). A substantial number of discussants appeal to the presupposition of children as subjects of rights and subjects of care and guidance at the same time. Both differences seem 462 Downloaded from http://chd. 2002). Dutch discussants more often presuppose the importance of respecting individual autonomy rights. that they apparently expected their audience to take for granted. development of the child welfare perspective as a functionally differentiated perspective in current societies (Luhmann. not only in cognitive respects. and second. he implicitly presupposes the welfare perspective to constitute the frame for evaluating considerations concerning rights. albeit intricately interwoven. We only found a different emphasis in two respects. In a similar way. Dutch discussants appeal more often to the presupposition of family democratic values.sagepub. Consequently. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Authors generally approached potential conflicts between both dimensions by implicitly referring to a model of rational. Presupposed common grounds in discussions with respect to England and the Netherlands As expected. we can only speculate. Children were presupposed to be unfinished. All rights reserved. authors characteristically referred to an implicit ideal model of democratic negotiations within families.CHILDHOOD 11(4) perspective could be comprehensive. In addition. and they also more frequently presuppose the rights perspective as the primary one for framing discussions about children’s participation in parental divorce. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. and she underpins this view by arguing that children might develop loyalty problems and feelings of powerlessness as a result. . most discussants implicitly expected their audiences to frame this issue primarily in a child welfare perspective and to incorporate rights considerations as secondary.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. lacking in these competences was treated as grounds for deferring rights. As children were presupposed not to be able to meet the requirements of this model. but also in social and emotional respects – although this in itself was not seen as grounds for deferring rights. Although her argumentation comes down to a plea for the extension of children’s participation rights – even beyond the level that Doek (1992) recommends presupposing a rights perspective – Singer’s argumentation presupposes the child welfare perspective as the primary frame to discuss the issue. As we did not investigate the backgrounds of these differences. cognitively guided and long-term orientated decision-making. English and Dutch discussants reasoned from roughly similar presumed common grounds. This can be understood as an expression of the rather advanced. She wants to avoid decisions being taken by others instead of by the children themselves. First.
at this point we want to add some personal comments to the results of our analyses.. However. that is so predominantly presupposed. let alone a democratic one. The main contribution of making presupposed common grounds explicit is to renew and stimulate discussions – which in turn gives evidence of our own pragmatic presupposition that a reflectively pursued public discourse should be valued. Considering children as fully participating members in democratic families was part of the typically presupposed common ground in this discussion. this also illustrates the contextual variability of tacit notions of childhood. which could explain their greater emphasis on legal considerations and perspectives. All rights reserved. this insight has not become part of the implicitly presupposed 463 Downloaded from http://chd. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. 2001). Analysis of publications on children’s rights in deciding on medical treatment never revealed any sign of the presupposition that children should be considered members of a family.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. thus actively engaging ourselves in the aforementioned discourse. decision-making requires not only cognitive. This cognitivist model of ‘good’ decision-making. The characteristics of this culture are expressed in the ‘culture of negotiation’ (Brinkgreve and De Regt. however. A few things in the way Dutch and English authors handle the ambiguity of childhood attracted our attention in particular. First. the emphasis placed on democratic participation and on cognitive rationality clearly reflects the western liberal culture in both countries (see Archard. The presupposed cognitivist decision model. However. because children from 12 years on had previously always had the right to be heard in court. Dutch parents could now – like English parents – determine for themselves when and how to involve their children in the process.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD consistent with the idea that considerations concerning the child as a subject of rights are given relatively greater weight in argumentations by Dutch discussants. This intended law would create a situation – as had already existed in England for some time – in which parents rather than the court should take initial responsibility for deciding on arrangements for their children. was similar (see Hemrica et al.g. but also emotional and social competencies. as some of the authors point out (e. As compared to a previously conducted analysis of discussions about medical decision-making. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Some of the Dutch authors consider this a deterioration of the legal position of children. Discussion Our theoretical and methodological approach does not allow for prescriptive recommendations. Especially in cases of parental divorce. 2001). van Nijnatten and Kuipers. deserves to be brought up for discussion in some respects.sagepub. 1993). As arrangements were no longer obligatorily brought to court. . 1990) that characterizes ‘modern’ families. This greater emphasis on the child’s rights might be explained by the fact that a considerable part of these authors (also) wrote in reaction to the (intended) amendment of the Dutch law in 1998.
A second issue of note refers to the predominant way of treating required competences for ‘good’ decision-making as preconditions for participation rights. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. the possibility of letting oneself be guided by one’s feelings seems out of the question and can hardly be brought up for discussion – notwithstanding the fact that this is not a completely uncommon approach in other human relationships. The presupposition that required competences should be considered conditional competences excludes some potentially fruitful possibilities from public discourse. irrespective of the characteristics of the underlying model of ‘good’ decision-making. Generally speaking. offering support to the child while the child asserts her or his participation rights – thus compensating for lacking competences – instead of denying or restricting those rights. Especially in case of parental divorce (and in other family-related problems such as child abuse). Such an approach seems rather unthinkable in the context of the discussion as we found it. . which relates them not only to the family. could bring some relief as well. any right assigned to children simultaneously implies an infringement on parental authority. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. but also to a variety of other institutions. This presupposition – required competences should be considered conditional competences – falls outside the scope of our research questions. Recognizing children as individuals in their own right could facilitate the reconciliation of different perspectives – in the present case the rights perspective and the child welfare perspective – irrespective of the prioritized one. This alternative could also be a response to the objections of Smart et al. In retrospect. which remains cognitivist.CHILDHOOD 11(4) model of ‘good’ decision-making. and was a side result of our investigations.sagepub. This suggestion to reconsider the child’s status as an individual should not be confused with a plea for the priority of a rights perspective in questions like these. This could be explained from a conception of – also legally prescribed – parental authority that results from a historical and cultural development in which children have primarily been considered part of a family and in that respect their parents’ ‘property’ (see van Nijnatten. A third issue with respect to our results concerns the presupposition that decisions should be conceived from a long-term perspective. For example. (2001b) to the tendency not to recognize children as (moral) ‘persons’. it appears to play an important part. it might offer fruitful opportunities to recognize children as individuals in their own right. the tendency to endow children only with derived identities can also be detrimental to their welfare. Although parental authority protects children in many respects. All rights reserved.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. Offering support to the child while the child asserts her or his rights would require a view of the child as a separate individual – apart from her or his parents. insofar as lack of competences impedes the reconciliation of child welfare and rights considerations. Against this discussion background. Against this background. This approach could be realized. 1995). this seems more consistent with children’s current ambiguous position in society. and subse464 Downloaded from http://chd.
Bond. Family Law 23(2): 91–3. (1998) ‘Advocating for Children of Separating Parents’. Armstrong Walsh (1994) ‘The No Order Principle.sagepub. In conclusion. for correcting and improving our English. In any case. One might also consider a procedure that would provide for the opportunity to reconsider decisions on a regular basis. authors do not want to deny the interest of the child to be recognized as a subject of rights. Brinkgreve. and S. in both the Dutch and the English contributions the child welfare perspective appears to constitute the primary frame. children do not decide whether to go to school either – it is dubious whether this approach will always be productive in cases of parental divorce. translator. This strategy leaves considerable room for uncontrolled parental influence. could also contribute to respecting the child as a subject of rights while simultaneously recognizing her or his specific welfare interests. and despite the fact that many discussants have a judicial background. However. Jeugd en Samenleving 20(5/6): 324–33. considering the possibility of offering independent support to children as they assert their rights. Against this background. de Regt (1990) ‘Het verdwijnen van de vanzelfsprekendheid. Considerations concerning the distant future appear to be considered part and parcel of any acceptable decision in cases of parental divorce.com by Doina Balahur on May 14. Note With many thanks to Maggie Oattes. although the subject of discussion concerns a right. Bibliography Archard. as well as creating opportunities for reconsidering decisions. 465 Downloaded from http://chd. and how they should be related to the envisaged arrangements under discussion remain strikingly vague. whereas a welfare approach could offer more opportunities to be responsive to the needs of each individual child. However. Bennett. 1995). This might reflect the view that a rights perspective will necessarily result in a reductive approach (King and Piper. it can be avoided without much damage by dropping the presupposition that any decision should be considered definitive. Parental Responsibility and the Child Wishes’. (1993) Children: Rights and Childhood. C. London: Routledge. M. because it allows any proposal made by the child to be annulled by referring to presumed future damage. this approach could also help to steer clear of the problem of how to foresee long-term consequences with a minimum of reliability (Elster.HEMRICA AND HEYTING: TACIT NOTIONS OF CHILDHOOD quently remain in force once and for all. 1989). Children and Society 12(2): 12–24. what aspects of the child’s future should be considered exactly. at least in principle. D. Although a child welfare perspective may require the possibility of overruling children’s wishes – for example. 2008 © 2004 SAGE Publications. S. With respect to developmental prospects and other long-term consequences. Over de gevolgen van individualisering voor kinderen’. . Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. at the same time. and A. All rights reserved.
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