Age-Distinctions, The Philosophy of Childhood, and Political Participation
In the philosophy of childhood, conceptions about children and childhood are often understood to be contextually dependent on time and place. I explore and question contemporary conceptions about childhood and how these might be subject to change in the political sphere. Not only is there much vagueness inherent in the adult-child distinction, but many implied inaccuracies as well. Although these distinctions allow for the efficient structuring of social institutions, this comes at the cost of exacerbating the problems brought about by this vagueness and inaccurateness. I challenge the different enfranchisement status of children and adults, arguing that it is better to do away with age-based distinctions in politics. These distinctions are arbitrary and constitute ageism towards children.
My approach is unique in applying a philosophy of childhood lens to children’s enfranchisement. Emerging ‘strengths-based’ conceptions about childhood that move away from ‘deficit’ conceptions allow for a more accurate representation of children and support a case for their political inclusion. This reconceptualisation of childhood involves a shift in focus away from what children lack relative to adults. Consistently with the strengths-based conception, broader understandings of competency allow us to see children’s perspectives and lack of habituation to the world as an asset, including in the political sphere.
Age-based demarcations that prohibit children’s inclusion reinforce inaccurate, exaggerated and misleading stereotypes about children and adults alike. Actively challenging these stereotypes allows us to overcome these inaccurate understandings about children to see their political inclusion as justified. Practical concerns with children’s inclusion, including whether this would compromise the ‘goods of childhood’, are addressed and quelled. I also speculate on the possible implications of children’s enfranchisement in other domains. Challenging the adult-child distinction does not amount to an argument to do away with talk about ‘adults’ or ‘children’, but it does command a critical analysis of the implications associated with these terms. Ultimately, there are many avenues for political participation, of which voting is just one. Still, this paper provides a framework for establishing on what terms citizens are justifiably involved in political participation at all.