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Child As Metaphor: Colonialism, Psy-Governance, and Epistemicide

Mills, C. & Lefrancois, B. A. (2018). Child As Metaphor: Colonialism, Psy-Governance, and Epistemicide. World Futures, 74(7-8), pp. 503-524. doi: 10.1080/02604027.2018.1485438


This paper mobilizes transdisciplinary inquiry to explore and deconstruct the often-used comparison of racialized/colonized people, intellectually disabled people and mad people as being like children. To be childlike is a metaphor that is used to denigrate, to classify as irrational and incompetent, to dismiss as not being knowledge holders, to justify governance and action on others’ behalf, to deem as being animistic, as undeveloped, underdeveloped or wrongly developed, and, hence, to subjugate. We explore the political work done by the metaphorical appeal to childhood, and particularly the centrality of the metaphor of childhood to legitimizing colonialism and white supremacy. The article attends to the ways in which this metaphor contributes to the shaping of the material and discursive realities of racialized and colonized others, as well as those who have been psychiatrized and deemed “intellectually disabled”. Further, we explore specific metaphors of child-colony, and child-mad-“crip”. We then detail the developmental logic underlying the historical and continued use of the metaphorics of childhood, and explore how this makes possible an infantilization of colonized peoples and the global South more widely. The material and discursive impact of this metaphor on children’s lives, and particularly children who are racialized, colonized, and/or deemed mad or “crip”, is then considered. We argue that complex adult-child relations, sane-mad relations and Western-majority world relations within global psychiatry, are situated firmly within pejorative notions of what it means to be childlike, and reproduce multi-systemic forms of oppression that, ostensibly in their “best interests”, govern children and all those deemed childlike.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in World Futures on 17 Dec 2018, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Colonialism, development, governance, infantilization, metaphor, psychiatrization, racism
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
Text - Accepted Version
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