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Between Family and State: Children and Youth as Subjects of Concern

Session II-07, sponsored by Association of Middle East Children and Youth Studies (AMECYS), 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
This panel locates itself within the growing field of history of childhood in the Middle East. It specifically captures the transformation from a complete absence to a pervasive intervention of the state in the lives of children. In a period of almost two hundred years –from mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth centuries- and in a geographical area that extends from Turkey to Egypt, the perception towards children, child-rearing, as well as state’s concerns regarding children and youth drastically changed. This panel examines both the absence and the presence of the state in the lives of children, and their parents through different perceptions that are in a close dialogue with one another. The papers follow a chronological order and offer a wide range of topics pertaining to children. The first paper looks through the prism of the sharia court registers in Ottoman Tripoli-in modern day Lebanon-in the second half of the 18th century and examines parents’ attitude toward their children in terms of a dichotomy between affection and pragmatism. It also traces the interconnectedness between gender and childhood studies and the validity of conceptualizing the two fields as separate fields of inquiry. The second paper focuses on children’s sexuality, gender, and corporeality in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. It examines conceptualization, discussion, and regulation of these specific aspects through children’s magazines published from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The third paper focuses on the ways in which Turkish nationalism instrumentalized children in the performative construction of a futurist discourse emphasizing both on the actual and on the metaphoric transformation of a sick body left alone (Ottoman Empire), into a health and strong body surrounded by his/her brothers and family (Turkish nation). The fourth paper shifts the geographic focus to Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century. It examines the evolution of the concept of “mental hygiene”, which centered around “the development of personality,” with the assumption that personality maladjustments in childhood were the cause of individual mental disorders and social problems of all sorts. Mixing elements of pedagogy and psychology, proponents of this approach saw the school as the strategic agency to prevent, detect and "adjust" problems in children's personality development, leading to "the medicalization" of the school as a locus for "child gaze." The papers use an array of sources that include legal documents such as sharia court registers, newspapers, statistics, visuals, and ethnographic data.
Disciplines
History
Participants
Presentations
  • This paper is part of a dissertation exploring gender and family history in the Ottoman provincial city of Tripoli, in Modern day Lebanon, in the second half of the eighteenth century based on the sijjilat, the registers of the Ottoman Islamic sharia court. I started my research looking for women but kept bumping into children. In my quest for wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, or property owners, children and youth kept peeking their heads through the sources, boys more than girls, depending on the type of cases. In his work on Ottoman Tripoli, Beshara Doumani indicates that “the coastal cities [like Tripoli], it is presumed, are characterized by a modern nuclear family structure that put a premium on affective ties between husband/wife and parents/children.” In this paper, I look through the prism of the sijjilat and examine parents’ attitude toward their children in this nuclear family in terms of a dichotomy between affection and pragmatism. I argue that parents cared for their children and acted accordingly to ensure their wellbeing but mostly to secure their financial future. Though the children were ‘silent’ in the sources, they transpired as a social group that informs the debates revolving around childhood and parents/children’s relationships. I also show that there were nuanced indications that the court, symbolizing the Ottoman legal system, took every measure to ensure that adjudication took into consideration the children’s best interests. This paper also traces the interconnectedness between gender and childhood studies and the validity of conceptualizing the two fields as joint fields of inquiry. I show that children presented themselves as a category of historical analysis that is useful to better understand gender dynamics in an Ottoman milieu. The evidence from the registers shows that women’s agency transpires through matters related to children. Female Tripolitans, at least those who resorted to the judicial system to settle disputes, were clearly involved in the decision-making in matters related to their families, children, and other minor relatives. This paper also touches on the economic impact of religious endowments in Islamic societies. I look at this impact, that already got enough attention from scholars, from a different perspective related to the appointment of minor boys to waza’if (salaried jobs) within waqf establishments. Personal disputes cases (talaq, hadana, wisaya, nafaqa), cases of employment within waqfs, and property devolutions constitute the framework of this paper. I use Islamic sharia court registers, estates inventories, and fatawa collections.
  • Prevailing modernization movement in Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were highly influential on children’s everyday lives which underwent a significant change. Reconceptualization of and discussions on their sexuality, gender, and corporeality as well as regulations of these aspects through different tools was one of them. My paper focuses on these three aspects and examines them through discussions in various children’s magazines. In what ways and to what extent were children’s sexuality, gender, and corporeality defined and discussed? What were substantial discourses used in discussions regarding each aspect? What were some of the important practices promoted for healthy bodies? In what ways did debates on sexuality, gender, and corporeality show differences between different magazines and between different time periods (Tanzimat, Hamidian, and the Second Constitutional Monarchy)? By constellating around these questions, the main goals of my paper will be to reveal various discussions on these three aspects and to investigate their influences on configuration and reconfiguration of ideal femininity/masculinity norms and ideal types of bodies as well as it aims to discuss the abject bodies, the excluded femininities and masculinities. In so doing, one of the most important contributions of my paper will be to bring these uncovered topics, specifically gender and sexuality, with a focus on children. In my paper, I will mainly use various children’s magazines published from 1869 to 1914. Besides them, I will also utilize some women’s magazines and some other magazines published for adults on healthcare, sports, and public health. In this way, my paper will have a comparative aspect and will be able to show similar and different discourses, practices, and images between adults and children regarding these three aspects.
  • My research focuses on the emergence of a new set of ideas and practices of childrearing in the formative years of modern Turkey (1923-45). I analyze the ways in which the political and the intellectual webs surrounding the Children’s Protection Society (CPS) and their discussions on childrearing, can provide us with a new understanding of nationalism; one focusing on children’s bodies and children’s spaces in Turkey. This paper concentrates on the yearly celebrations of April 23, National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. Celebrations of the National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, co-organized by the state and the CPS, offer a great ground to observe state policies and the celebration of healthy childhood. In the form of beauty pageants, yearly contests of robust children, twins, and multiples were organized during these celebrations. Contests often used previously diseased or undernourished bodies of children and constructed a narrative of before and after. Mothers and healthy reproduction were also renowned. Mothers of five or more children were publicly celebrated and offered medals by the CPS on the Children’s Day. This work examines the ways in which the CPS used the bodies of children in the performative construction of a futurist discourse emphasizing both on the actual and on the metaphoric transformation of a sick body left alone (Ottoman Empire), into a healthy and strong body surrounded by his/her brothers and family (Turkish nation). In my research I use ethnographic data, oral accounts, newspapers, visuals, and statistics of the Children’s Protection Society, and try to blend them into a broader theoretical discussion on performance, body politics, and history of childhood.
  • In 1945, Dr. ‘Abdel Azīz al Qūṣī published his seminal work ’Usus Aṣ-ṣiḥḥah an-nafsiyyah (Foundations of Mental Hygiene). Few years earlier, in 1938, his master, Ismā‘īl al Qabbānī (the Egyptian John Dewey) published Qiyās al dhakā’ fil madāris al ’ibtidā’iyyah bil Qāhirah (Measurement of Intelligence in Cairo Primary Schools), first of its scope and methodology in Egypt and the Arab World. The significance of the work of both al Qabbānī and al Qūṣī is due to their introduction and representation of the “mental hygiene” movement, a hybrid of pedagogy and psychology. “Mental hygiene” centred around “the development of personality,” with the assumption that personality maladjustments were the cause of individual mental disorder and social problems of all sorts (shudhūdh). Because childhood was the locus of development of personality, any deviance would render children vulnerable to personality disorders. As such, according to both Qabbānī and Qūṣī, the school was the strategic agency to prevent, detect and "adjust" problems in children's personality development. Due to the work of al Qūṣī, and others, we see for the first time in Egypt the publication and distribution of government sponsored books and pamphlets addressed to children giving “proper” and scientific sex education. This shift from a moral discourse on sex to one more entrenched in medicine and science signaled a nuanced case of biopower aiming at the “normalization” of childhood sexuality, and managing the body and mind of the child as an individual member of the population. Simultaneously, the work of al Qabbānī signaled the medicalization of education, by introducing IQ tests, behavioral clinics and,al madāris al tajrībiyyah (experimental schools), to measure and “quantify” the intelligence capacities of a child and consequently pathologize, and perhaps treat, those who did not conform to the “normal.” The work of al Qabbānī and al Qūṣī represent yet another episode of “childhood gaze” by “child experts” which started at the fin-de-siecle Egypt, reaching a peak in the 1940s. Policies and laws were drawn to rescue, protect and reform “the child,” who was perceived as the capital and future of the nation. In such turn, the education of children as a matter of public order was not the only concern. Children’s physical, moral and intellectual integrity, their sexuality, their leisure and their well-being became part and parcel of pedagogy and the education process, which became more open to public intervention and no longer a private matter