Children, pathology and politics: a genealogy of the paedophile in South Africa between 1944 and 2004

Bowman, Brett
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South African Journal of Psychology
By the early 1990s the paedophile as a ‘type’ of child sexual abuse (CSA) perpetrator was prioritised for study and intervention by the South African socio-medical sciences and cases of paedophilia featured prominently in the media reporting of the time. Drawing on the genealogical method as derived from Michel Foucault, this study aimed to account for this relatively recent emergence of the paedophile as an object of socio-medical study and social anxiety within the South African archive. Based on an analysis of archival texts against the backdrop of international biopolitics and local conditions of political possibility, the genealogy contends that the early figure of the paedophile was an instrument and effect of apartheid biopolitics. The paedophile was prioritised for research and escalated as social threat in the public imagination as part of the broader apartheid project aimed at protecting white hegemony through the ongoing surveillance of and health interventions directed towards South Africa’s white children. While the apartheid project constructed black children as posing fundamental threats to white supremacy, discourses beginning in the mid-1980s repositioned them as vulnerable victims of apartheid itself. It was from within these discourses that child sexual abuse (CSA) as a public health concern began to crystallise. By locating blackness within the fields of discipline and desire, the material conditions for an ever-expanding net of sexual surveillance were established. The study thus demonstrates that even the paedophile cannot be effectively researched without considering the historical co-ordinates that so powerfully contoured its emergence as an important object of study and social intervention within South Africa’s highly racialised systems of thought.
paedophile; South Africa; genealogy; biopolitics; child sexual abuse
8. Bowman. B. (2010). Children, pathology and politics: a genealogy of the paedophile in South Africa between 1944 and 2004. South African Journal of Psychology, 40(4), 443 – 464.