From savage to citizen: education, colonialism and idiocy

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    In constructing a framework for the participation and inclusion in political life of subjects, the Enlightenment also produced a series of systematic exclusions for those who did not qualify: including 'idiots' and 'primitive races'. 'Idiocy' emerged as part of wider strategies of governance in Europe and its colonies. This opened up the possibility for pedagogy to become a key technology for the transformation of the savage, uncivilised Other into the citizen. This paper explores the transformative role of pedagogy in relation to colonial discourse, the narrative of the wild boy of Aveyron—a feral child captured in France in 1800—and the formation of a medico-pedagogical discourse on idiocy in the nineteenth century. In doing so, the paper shows how learning disability continues to be influenced by same emphasis on competence for citizenship, a legacy of the colonial attitude.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)561-574
    Number of pages14
    JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


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