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The science of childhood: postcolonial development in India, 1950s

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In this paper we examine how, in the decade following India’s independence, the psychology of childhood became a locus of experimentation, and an avenue through which approaches to postcolonial development were expressed. Tracing the ideas of educational reformers, psychological researchers and child welfare advocates, we show how a ‘science of childhood’ in this period emphasised both the inherent potential and the emotional complexity of India’s young citizens. However, while identifying this potential, these actors at times circumscribed it by deploying culturalist assumptions about Indian childhood that were linked to a teleology of the new nation state. These were ideas that shaped a ‘pedagogic’ approach to postcolonial modernisation. Nation‐building was not just a technocratic undertaking, but an educative project that was scientific, spiritual and therapeutic in orientation. We reflect on the need for a greater attention to the pedagogy of the state in analyses of past and present state‐citizen relations.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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