From Scribbles to Details: The Invention of Stages of Development in Drawing and the Government of the Child

By the end of the 19th century the study of children’s drawings became a new point of interest for psychologists and pedagogues (Martins, 2013). Their main objective was not art or drawing in themselves, but rather the possibilities they saw in these expressive acts of a child. The ways in which drawing was thought and spoken about by the psychological sciences influenced how it was seen as a school subject and what is considered in the book as its alchemy. The alchemical process (Popkewitz, 2002) is about the translation tools that make any subject, being it science, mathematics, arts, or music into curricular forms that are there for making up the governable child. These ingredients become invisible as we look at the final product that is the school subject. Historically, drawing was explored as mirroring a child’s mental development and as being itself divided into several stages able to outline the normal and the abnormal child.

It is of particular importance here to stress that drawing was not considered an artistic issue but was translated into particular images that governed how the child should develop. When considering drawing in schools, we are not looking into drawing as an artistic practice but at multiple layers that are put together under the label of drawing as a school subject that is about so much more than drawing.

This chapter historically examines what can be thought and said about drawing in school. It addresses the ways in which drawing was used within schools, but in a manner that traces the conditions of possibility that made it reasonable to consider drawing used as a tool to talk about and naturalize the notion that a child develops along a normalized trajectory of growth in education. The first section focuses on the notion of development in the fabrication of the child as an object of inquiry and research and as a new target of technologies of administration through a statistical reasoning. As the citizen of the future, the child had to be followed, controlled and normalized in order to maintain a social homeostasis as part of the secular promise of the modern state. This was to be achieved through a scientific knowledge about each subject to be governed.

Psychology was the central technology in this governing of children in schools and, simultaneously, provided ways for children to think and to act on  themselves as normal, abnormal, able, competent, talented, etc. The entrance of drawings into the psychological laboratories allowed for a practice of dissecting each part and each gesture, concerned with generating universal laws based on what were considered age-appropriate behaviors. The analysis of children’s drawings produced conceptual spaces to divide the normal and the abnormal development of the child, discussed in the second section. Further, this section discusses how the alchemy of drawing was distant from the practice of drawing as an artistic practice; it was more about the construction of the normal and moral citizen. The third section focuses on how the naturalization of development embodied specific power-knowledge relations concerning drawing stages of development in childhood, a specific kind of human being was being made up (Hacking, 1986). The developing child, as a specific kind of person, was a subject of government in the managing of life in all its regularities and irregularities.

Year 2017
Type Book Chapter
Publication A Political Sociology of Educational Knowledge: Studies of Exclusions and Difference
Pages 103-116
Publisher Routledge
Local New York
Ed/Org Thomas Popkewitz, Jennie Diaz & Christopher Kirchgasler
ISBN / ISSN 9781138694170
Language English