The Pre-Political Child of Child-Centered Jurisprudence

56 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2009 Last revised: 22 Nov 2010

See all articles by Annette Ruth Appell

Annette Ruth Appell

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: September 5, 2009


Using age as a category of analysis, this article explores the socio-legal category of childhood as part of a larger project aimed at identifying more critical conceptions of justice for children, and ultimately their families. While feminist jurisprudence and other critical legal theories have challenged the naturalness and inevitability of the social order and exposed the power dynamics undergirding this constructed naturalness, child-centered jurisprudence has remained essentially a positivist endeavor. Evoking methods of feminist jurisprudence and applying lessons of childhood studies that the construction of childhood is not a natural fact, but developed in specific ways, in specific contexts, this Article begins the project of uncovering the contours and work of the legal definition and regulation of childhood, the social category in which children sit.

The Article first outlines the legal construction of childhood, which, like earlier constructions of women, portrays children as private, dependent, and developmental. Next, it compares feminist and child-centered jurisprudence, particularly as they have been organized around and addressed dependency, and argues that child-centered jurisprudence has not interrogated the naturalness, dependency, and privacy of childhood. The Article then illustrates philosophical, political, and material conditions that resulted in the present legal construction of childhood in the United States as a natural, private, and developmental site leading to adulthood and political citizenship. The Article concludes with a set of observations that might drive a jurisprudence of childhood toward a more critical and robust conception of justice for children as children and as the adults they will become.

JEL Classification: J6, J7, O10

Suggested Citation

Appell, Annette Ruth, The Pre-Political Child of Child-Centered Jurisprudence (September 5, 2009). Houston Law Review, Vol. 46, p. 703, 2009; Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 09-09-02. Available at SSRN:

Annette Ruth Appell (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-935-7912 (Phone)

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