Using deconstructing Developmental Psychology to read child migrants to South Africa

Ingrid Palmary, Stanford Mahati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


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. We argue that Deconstructing Developmental Psychology in its study of the study of childhood helps us understand the ways in which childhood has been shaped and constructed across time and space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-362
Number of pages16
JournalFeminism and Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • borderlands
  • child in need of care
  • developmental psychology
  • statecraft
  • unaccompanied child migrants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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