Encounters with Wild Children

Encounters with Wild Children: Temptation and Disappointment in the Study of Human Nature

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Encounters with Wild Children
    Book Description:

    Through detailed readings of a wide variety of accounts, debates, and representations, Encounters with Wild Children explores the many different meanings these children were given and the varied responses they elicited. Adriana Benzaquén explains why wild children continue to haunt and fascinate Western scientists and shows how the knowledge they have generated in different disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, pedagogy, linguistics, and sociology, has contributed to the shaping and reshaping of the modern understanding of "the child" and affected the social and institutional practices directed at all children in schools, welfare, mental health, and the law.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7611-7
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    THESE TWO ACCOUNTS, one from 1344 (but printed in the late sixteenth century) and the other from 1962 (but reported in the early 1990s), tell stories of encounters with strange children in unusual circumstances and of the responses the children elicited in the adults who saw and took charge of them.¹ The events are separated by more than six hundred years, and yet the two accounts, like the many other stories of “wild children,” are intriguingly similar – and enduringly fascinating. For more than four hundred years such stories have been recorded, circulated and reproduced, mainly (but not exclusively) in Europe...

  4. PART ONE Telling Stories of Wild Children
    • CHAPTER ONE The Accounts
      (pp. 15-41)

      WHAT IS A “WILD CHILD”? This is the question that will occupy us in the first two chapters. It is not my aim to formulate an accurate or definitive understanding, definition, classification, or characterization of wild children but to stipulate the discursive – epistemological and narrative – processes and mechanisms through which something like “the wild child” was constituted, in diverse times and places, institutional and textual locations. In other words, the first two chapters are about different approaches to the question of what a wild child is, from the perspective of description, classification, definition, and narration.

      Let me say that, as...

    • CHAPTER TWO The List, the Class, the Story-Form
      (pp. 42-70)

      ALTHOUGH WILD CHILDREN are children who, for one reason or another, have spent a long time in isolation from other human beings, their accounts are never isolated but always linked to other stories of the same kind. Since the early seventeenth century, accounts of strange children encountered in strange circumstances have been produced and positionedasstories of wild children. The children, and the stories, have been related to one another. This chapter examines the emergence of the wild child as a class. Following a discussion of historical attempts to compile a list of cases and of the different ways...

  5. PART TWO Of Savages, Philosophers, and Naturalists
    • CHAPTER THREE Peter of Hanover and the Wild Girl of Songi
      (pp. 73-105)

      PETER OF HANOVER and the wild girl of Songi, discovered in the early eighteenth century, excited the attention and curiosity of a large number of people from different stations in life and across national and linguistic borders. They are the first wild children on whom we have dossiers. In texts of very different status, length, quality, and reliability, the wild children’s observers and interlocutors recorded what they saw and what they thought about it.

      The many accounts of Peter produced during his long life include reports in the British press about his discovery in Hanover and transfer to England; observations...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Debates
      (pp. 106-140)

      WILD CHILDREN’S extraordinary condition offered Enlightenment philosophers a motive for reflection as well as empirical evidence to support or illustrate a variety of views and theories in epistemology, natural history, and anthropology. The most consequential seventeenth-century accounts of wild children, such as Digby’s (Jean of Liège), Tulp’s (theJuvenis balans), and Connor’s (the Lithuanian boys), had been embedded in philosophical or medical discussions. The intense concern with wild children evinced throughout the eighteenth century partly built upon these earlier accounts and problems. It was also linked to three other sources of cultural and intellectual concern: the longstanding myth of the...

  6. PART THREE Civilizing the Savage, Educating the Child
    • CHAPTER FIVE The Wild Boy of Aveyron
      (pp. 143-184)

      IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, as we have seen, wild children attracted the attention of philosophers and naturalists who saw in them a means to address a wide range of themes and problems. Wild children thus became involuntary participants in the gradual formation and consolidation of human science. In this process,speculationandobservationwere the methods employed to produce knowledge, and the wild child was understood (and sought) primarily as asavage. The early nineteenth century witnessed the rise of a new way of producing knowledge about people and a new way of understanding the wild child. Knowledge was reformulated...

    • CHAPTER SIX Victor’s Afterlife
      (pp. 185-212)

      THE FINDINGS AND PROCEDURES Itard derived from Victor’s training were in time to affect not only the subsequent encounters with wild children but also the treatment and care of increasingly larger groups of children. This chapter examines Victor’s afterlife, that is, the many ways in which his story was appropriated, interpreted, and reinterpreted within the disciplines and professions dealing with childhood and children during the past two centuries. The numerous textual incarnations and uses of Victor’s life and Itard’s account of his education expose the changing relations of opposition and identity between wild children and children in general. They underscore...

  7. PART FOUR Variations on a Theme:: Brutalization, Abuse, and Freedom
    • CHAPTER SEVEN Wolf Children
      (pp. 215-243)

      MY ACCOUNT OF THE STORY OF Victor of Aveyron and its reception in the sciences and professions concerned with children showed how the link between wild children and children in general was forged and elaborated. Through the diverse interpretations and appropriations of his story, Victor was transformed into (and made to represent) a generic child. In the last two chapters I turn to the wild children discovered in the past two hundred years. In the second half of the nineteenth century, and primarily throughout the twentieth century, the wild child existed – in discourse, in adults’ imaginations, and perhaps in reality...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Confinement and Freedom
      (pp. 244-264)

      IT MAY BE THAT “exotic” wild and animal-raised children are just too unwieldy. They may be too elusive, too far away from the centres of scientific knowledge production, too radically other to be studied properly. Their wildness, taken to be the outcome of a long period spent in isolation or with animals in the wild (forest, jungle, desert, mountain), is what makes them valuable and excruciatingly desirable but by its very nature cannot be controlled or observed. It is not difficult to understand the excitement of a group of scientists when they discovered a child who appeared to be the...

  8. EPILOGUE: The Other Child
    (pp. 265-270)

    INCenturies of Childhood, his groundbreaking study of childhood in history, Philippe Ariès put forward the provocative claim that the idea of childhood did not exist in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and was “discovered” in Western societies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ariès’s argument inspired a heated and protracted controversy among historians of childhood. As an antidote to more extreme responses (uncritical acceptance or wholesale rejection), some historians have proposed a moderate interpretation of Ariès’s claim: what pre-modern societies lacked was notthe ideaof childhood butour ideaof childhood, for childhood is always historically and...

  9. APPENDIX: Lists of Wild Children
    (pp. 271-280)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 281-282)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 283-348)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 349-380)
  13. Index
    (pp. 381-393)