introduction
t
n a t a l n a t i o n a l i s m :
t h e p l a c e o f t h e c h i l d i n a m e r i c a n
c u l t u r a l s t u d i e s
Treaching
his book begins with a simple assumption that has potentially far-
implications for identity-based discourses like feminist and
race studies, as well as for liberalist, social-contract, and psychoanalytic
theories: While the idea of the child’s difference from adults is a fact on
which social and civic institutions largely depend and on which a variety
of challenges to those same institutions have been premised, the notion
ofthechild’sdifferencefromadultshasinfactcurtailedmorefar-reaching
effortstorethinkthefullrangeof individuals’ethicalengagementsinaso-
cial world. Childhood is now widely regarded as a distinct developmental
phaseofanindividual’slife,butasIanShapiropointsout,‘‘Democraticjus-
ticeinvitesustoviewsuchadevelopmentwithsuspicion.’’1Attheveryleast,
carefulconsideration,ifnotsuspicion,oftheculturalmeaningsinheringin
child identity is warranted when we consider that the child automatically
complicates the very idea of identity that it seems at first to embody. An
identitytowhichalladultscanretroactivelybutnolongeractivelylayclaim,
the child refutes the constancyof individual identityeven as it represents
itsmostessentialpremisethateachself isstable.Inotherwords,despite—
or,morelikely,becauseof—thisobviousfactthatthechildrepresentsthe
ephemeral and contingent nature of identity, the child, as Adam Phillips
hasfamouslyobserved,remains‘‘ourmostconvincingessentialism.’’2
The trend over the last century to structure ever more social programs
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