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Title: Classification, variation and education : the making and remaking of the 'normal child' in England, c.1880-1914
Author: Byrne, Stephen J.
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis seeks to reconstruct the making and remaking of the ‘normal child’ during the period 1880 to 1914 in England. It does so by foregrounding the contested and confused nature of various attempts to define and police the boundaries between the normal child and his or her abnormal counterpart. On the one hand, it highlights how the normal child, as it began to emerge during the late nineteenth century, was subject to multiple articulations, each of them drawing on and mobilizing different conceptions of the normal itself, whether as an assumed average, an explicit average, an average that was by definition inferior, or an optimal condition that was achievable; or again, as a condition that was more or less fixed, or one that was mutable and capable of being moulded. On the other hand – and partly by way of explanation for the above – it seeks to embrace the actions and agency of a wide variety of actors, including officials, professional experts, MPs, philanthropic and voluntary organizations, school boards, teachers, and local authorities. Certainly conceptions of the normal child were at stake; but this thesis does not seek to provide an intellectual history of the normal child during the period under consideration. Quite the contrary, though it acknowledges and affirms the importance of ideas and idioms, it also seeks to affirm the importance of practices, institutions, and professional interests, as well as considerations which extended much beyond the field of education, narrowly defined – considerations of finance; the health of the nation; and the practicalities of organizing a national education system. Of particular importance in this respect was the advent or a more or less universal system of elementary education during the 1870s and 1880s which provided something like the institutional conditions in which the problem of the ‘normal child’ could flourish and be posed as such. By 1914 – and in contrast to 1880 – the ‘normal child’ was a matter of routine discussion among all those interested in the governance of education; and yet, the problem of the normal child would remain just that: deeply problematic, and engulfed in differing professional-political perspectives.
Supervisor: Crook, Tom ; Levene, Alysa Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral