Using deconstructing developmental psychology to read child migrants to South Africa

Journal Article


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Feminism and Psychology

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SAGE Publications


University of Cape Town

In this article, we consider how we can use the text Deconstructing developmental psychology to read child migration to South Africa. We argue that this text offers a useful analytic method for critical reflections on child migrants in South Africa for several reasons. First, it allows us to shift the focus away from children as a taken for granted object of analysis to a focus on the historical and contextual emergence of developmental psychology as a discipline and, more importantly for this paper, the nature of the child that has been produced through this disciplinary establishment. Second, it offers critical reflections on the exclusions created by this dominant discourse of the child which we elaborate. In particular, we make an argument for why a text that reflects primarily on the Anglo/US developmental psychology should be useful in the contemporary South African context. As an illustration, we give examples from ethnographic research that the authors conducted in two borderlands – the South Africa/ Mozambican border and the South Africa/Lesotho border. We use this example to show first how the migrant child that is imagined in South African law is a fantasy of the western child imagined in international child rights regimes. We contrast this production of the child with the everyday experiences of child migrants at the border. In particular, the assumption that the family is the natural place for children and the state is only involved with children whose families neglect these responsibilities is rendered nonsensical for children living in borderlands where the state shapes their otherwise everyday practices and activities.