Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

‘What is the child innocent of? Sexual knowledge of course!’: an interview with Shohini Ghosh

  • Interview
  • Published:
Jindal Global Law Review Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

It is axiomatic to consider the child as innocent. The image of the innocent child stands in contrast to the cruelty of the world that we inhabit. The innocent child is instrumentalised to advance a moral project of rights that consider protection and care as universal virtues of a modern civilisation. Historically, the media has been the most pervasive of tools used to perpetuate this image (followed closely by the law). The relationship between childhood and innocence is a historically contingent idea that has been politically deployed with the specific aim of producing the image of the ideal or ‘customized child’, one that is devoid of political and sexual agency and is perpetually vulnerable to suffering. One of the abiding aims of modern culture has been to keep the child’s innocence immune from contamination by the assumed perversity of sex and sexuality. Since both childhoods and media images are historically contingent, Shohini Ghosh in this interview considers them to be discourses that are constructed in and through specific contexts. An attention to historical trajectory and the changing contexts of media cultures in both India and the West, Ghosh argues, helps us see what exceptionalises the understanding of children’s suffering when the context is sexual in nature. Ghosh offers nuanced and rigourous scholarly arguments about what is at stake for ideas of freedom in general and recognising children as political beings in particular, when considering the relationship between children, sex and sexuality. These are not matters of academic concern alone, but has material consequences with regard to the way in which we want to understand children as citizens with the capacity to think, judge and produce knowledge.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Notes

  1. Meehan Crist, ‘Is it OK to have a child?’ London Review of Books (5 March 2020). https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/meehan-crist/is-it-ok-to-have-a-child. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  2. Birgitta Höijer, ‘The Discourse of Global Compassion: The Audience and Media Reporting of Human Suffering’ (2004) 26(4) Media, Culture and Society 513.

  3. Sylvia Hakopian, ‘Children’s Utopia/Fascist Utopia: An Analysis of Children’s Textbooks and Subjection under Fascism’ in Ayers et al (eds) Utopia: The Avant-Garde, Modernism and (Im)possible Life (De Gruyter 2015) 369.

  4. Karen Wells, ‘The Politics of Life: governing childhood’ (2011) 1(1) Global Studies of Childhood 15.

  5. World Health Organisation, Global status report on preventing violence against children (WHO 2020).

  6. Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Duke University Press 2004).

  7. Alexandra C. Gunn, ‘Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and Early Childhood Education’ Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Education (23 May 2019). https://oxfordre.com/education/view/10.1093/acref7FL03ore/9780190264093.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264093-e-333#acrefore-9780190264093-e-333-div1-. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  8. Partha Chatterjee, The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World (Columbia University Press 2006).

  9. China Mills and Brenda A. LeFrancois, ‘Child As Metaphor: Colonialism, Psy-Governance, and Epistemicide’ (2018) 74(7-8) World Futures 503.

  10. See generally, Dafna Lemish (ed) The Routledge International Handbook of Children, Adolescents and Media (Routledge 2013).

  11. AP Images, ‘Photographer Nick Ut: The Napalm Girl’ (AP, 8 June 1972). https://www.apimages.com/Collection/Landing/Photographer-Nick-Ut-The-Napalm-Girl-/ebfc0a860aa946ba9e77eb786d46207e. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  12. Yung Soo Kim and James D. Kelly, ‘Photojournalist on the Edge: Reactions to Kevin Carter's Sudan Famine Photo’ (2013) 20(4) Visual Communication Quarterly 205.

  13. Joel Gunter, ‘Alan Kurdi: Why One Picture Cut Through’ BBC (4 September 2015). https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34150419. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  14. Arthur Kleinman and Joan Kleinman, ‘The Appeal of Experience; The Dismay of Images: Cultural Appropriations of Suffering in Our Times’ (1996 125(1) Daedalus 1, 2.

  15. Ashis Nandy, ‘Reconstructing Childhood: A Critique of the Ideology of Adulthood’ (1984) 10(3) Alternatives 359.

  16. Patricia Uberoi, Freedom and Destiny: Gender, Family and Popular Culture in India (Oxford University Press 2016) 95.

  17. Steven Angelides, The Fear of Child Sexuality: Young People, Sex, and Agency (The University of Chicago Press 2019).

  18. Joan Nestle, ‘My Mother Liked to Fuck’, in Ann Stintow, Christine Stansell and Sharon Thomson eds., Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality (Monthly Review Press 1983) 669.

  19. Shohini Ghosh is Sajjad Zaheer Chair Professor, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi.

  20. See generally, Debolina Dutta, ‘Incongruous pedagogy: on teaching feminism, law and humour during the pandemic’ (2022) 18(4) International Journal of Law in Context 403.

  21. Prabha Kotiswaran, ‘Wives and whores: Prospects for a feminist theory of redistribution’ in Vanessa Munro and Carl Stychin, Sexuality and the Law: Feminist Engagements (Routledge-Cavendish 2007).

  22. Gowri Vijayakumar, ‘Indian Sex Workers More Than Vectors of Disease’ (The Feminist Wire, 13 December 2012). https://thefeministwire.com/2012/12/indian-sex-workers-more-than-vectors-of-disease/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  23. Shohini Ghosh, ‘Decriminalizing Sex Work’ (2008) 583 Seminar. https://www.india-seminar.com/2008/583/583_shohini_ghosh.htm. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  24. Oishik Sircar, ‘Getting the message right’ The Hoot (7 December 2007). http://asu.thehoot.org/media-watch/media-practice/getting-the-message-right-2831. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  25. Svati P. Shah, ‘Born Into Saving Brothel Children’ in David F. Ruccio (ed), Rethinking Marxism (Routledge 2005).

  26. Sarah Brouillette, ‘Human Rights Markets and Born into Brothels’ (2011) 25(2) Third Text 169.

  27. Gowri Vijayakumar, ‘Labors of Love: Sex, Work, and Good Mothering in the Globalizing City’ (2022) 47(3) Signs.

  28. Mallika Leuzinger, ‘Projecting Empowerment: Camera Politics in and beyond Twentieth-Century South Asia: A Photo Essay’ (2022) 4 Dastavezi 8.

  29. Shohini Ghosh, ‘Censorship Myths and Imagined Harms’, Sarai Reader 04: Crisis/Media (SARAI/ CSDS 2004) 447-454. http://archive.sarai.net/files/original/755257fc6fa5744ae93c402cd54bc039.pdf. Accessed 27 Novermber 2022.

  30. See generally, Sarada Balagopalan, Inhabiting ‘Childhood’: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India (Palgrave MacMillan 2014).

  31. Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (Minnesota University Press 2002) 10.

  32. Shohini Ghosh, ‘Looking in Horror and Fascination: Sex, Violence and Spectatorship in India’, in Geetanjali Misra and Radhika Chandiramani (eds), Sexuality, Gender and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice in South and Southeast Asia (Sage 2005) 26-48.

  33. See generally, Mary Beth Oliver et al (eds), Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research (3rd edition) (Routledge 2009).

  34. David Morley, The ‘Nationwide’ Audience: Structure and Decoding (British Film Institute 1980).

  35. David Morley, Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies (Routledge 1992) 17, 24.

  36. Graham Murdoch, ‘Reservoirs of Dogma: An Archeology of Popular Anxieties’, in Martin Barker and Julian Petley (eds) Ill Effects: The Media Violence Debate (Routledge 1997) 70.

  37. Janet Staiger, Media Reception Studies (New York University Press 2005) 167.

  38. Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen (1975) 16(3) 6.

  39. Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (Palgrave 1989), 14-28 (15, 19).

  40. Ibid. 15, 16.

  41. Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (University of North Carolina Press 1984); Tania Modelski, Loving with a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women (Routledge 1990); Ien Ang, Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination (Routledge 1985).

  42. Quoted in Christine Gledhill, ‘Pleasurable Negotiations’, in John Storey (ed), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Pearson-Prentice Hall 2006), 118.

  43. Mulvey (n 38) 15.

  44. See generally, Julián Daniel Gutiérrez-Albilla, Queering Buñuel: Sexual Dissidence and Psychoanalysis in His Mexican and Spanish Cinema (Tauris Academic Studies 2008) 11.

  45. Christine Gledhill, ‘Pleasurable Negotiations’, in E. Diedre Pribram (ed), Female Spectators: Looking at Film and Television (Verso 1998) 64–89. See also, Linda Williams (ed) Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film (Rutgers University Press 1994).

  46. Drucilla Cornell (ed), Feminism and Pornography (Oxford University Press 2000).

  47. Catharine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin (eds), In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (Harvard University Press 1998).

  48. Robin Morgan, ‘Theory and Practice: Pornography and Rape’ in Laura Lederer (ed), Take Back the Night (William Morrow 1980) 134–140.

  49. Feminists Against Censorship, Pornography and Feminism: The Case Against Censorship (Lawrence & Wishart 1991).

  50. See generally, Shohini Ghosh, ‘The Troubled Existence of Sex and Sexuality: Feminists Engage with Censorship’, in Christiane Brosius and Melissa Butcher (eds), Image Journeys: Audio-Visual Media & Cultural Change in India (Sage 1999); Shannon Bell et al., Bad Attitude(s) on Trial: Pornography Feminism and the Butler Decision (University of Toronto Press 1997).

  51. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Report of the Enquiry Committee on Film Censorship (Government of India, 1968). https://indianculture.gov.in/reports-proceedings/report-enquiry-committee-film-censorship. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  52. Ibid. 88.

  53. David MacDougal, The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses (Princeton University Press 2006) 67.

  54. See generally, Erica Burman, Developments: Child, Image, Nation (Routledge 2007).

  55. Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (Vintage 1962).

  56. Anne Higonnet, Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (Thames & Hudson 1998).

  57. Shohini Ghosh, ‘What, exactly, is the child innocent of?’ (Tarshi, 3 October 2016). https://www.tarshi.net/inplainspeak/issue-in-focus-child-innocent-art/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  58. See generally, Patricia Holland, Picturing Childhood: The Myth of the Child in Popular Imagery (I.B. Tauris 2004).

  59. Sally Mann, Immediate Family (Aperture 1992).

  60. Gayle S. Rubin, ‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’ in Gayle S. Rubin, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader (Duke University Press 2011) 142.

  61. David Marr, The Henson Case (Text Publishing 2008).

  62. Elizabeth Hess, ‘The Alice Sims Case’ (Aperture Magazine, Fall 1990). https://issues.aperture.org/article/1990/05/05/the-alice-sims-case. Accessed 27 November 2022; Lisa Duggan, ‘Sex Panics’, in Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter, Sex Wars: Sexual Dissident and Political Culture (Routledge 2006) 74; Kent Jenkins Jr., ‘Artist Won’t Be Charged In The Child Photo Case’ The Washington Post (4 August 1988). https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1988/08/04/artist-wont-be-charged-in-child-photo-case/0929416b-261a-454e-a08c-4b095f8735b5/. Accessed 27 November 2022; Kent Jenkins Jr., ‘VA. Artist Wins Custody of Children’ The Washington Post (25 August 1988). https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1988/08/25/va-artist-wins-custody-of-children/22e06c21-7e04-4ffd-9088-d31c8d67a887/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  63. H.R.4123—Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (USA).

  64. See generally, Erin J Rand, ‘PROTECTing the figure of innocence: child pornography legislation and the queerness of childhood’ (2019) 105(3) Quaterly Journal of Speech 251; Laura U. Marks, ‘Minor Infractions: Child Pornography and the Legislation of Morality’ (1990) 18(4) Afterimage 12.

  65. Sina Najafi and Anne Higonnet, ‘Picturing Innocence: An Interview With Anne Higonnet’ (Cabinet Magazine, Winter 2002/03) https://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/9/najafi_higonnet.php accessed 27 November 2022.

  66. Henry James and Patricia Crick, What Maisie Knew (Penguin 1985).

  67. Rubin (n 60) 148.

  68. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

  69. See generally, Snowden Becker, ‘Capturing the Friedmans (review)’ (2004) 4(1) The Moving Image 145.

  70. Elizabeth Kastor, ‘Corcoran cancels photo exhibit’ The Washington Post (13 June 1989). https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1989/06/13/corcoran-cancels-photo-exhibit/e5cd2996-8b66-41af-9163-05b634fd2898/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  71. See generally, Vikki Bell, ‘The Burden of Sensation and the Ethics of Form: Watching Capturing the Friedmans’ (2008) 25(3) Theory, Culture and Society 89.

  72. Xan Brooks, ‘Film of the Month: Capturing the Friedmans’ (BFI, 20 December 2011). http://old.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/review/924. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  73. Erik Kohn, ‘Andrew Jarecki Reflects On ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ and Why It Needs a Sequel’ IndieWire (9 April 2012). https://www.indiewire.com/2012/04/andrew-jarecki-reflects-on-capturing-the-friedmans-and-why-it-needs-a-sequel-48265/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  74. Express News Service, ‘India porn ban: Government blocks over 60 additional websites, check the full list’ The Indian Express (29 September 2022). https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/indian-govt-porn-websites-ban-full-list-8181130/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  75. See generally, Vincent L. Barnett, ‘‘The most profitable film ever made’: Deep Throat (1972), organized crime, and the $600 million gross’ (2018) 5(2) Porn Studies 131; Ketaki Chowkhani, ‘Pleasure, bodies and risk: women's viewership of pornography in urban India’ (2016) 3(4) Porn Studies 443.

  76. This has been a vexed question in both practical and ethical terms concerning school and college education. See, Matthew Jenkin, ‘If schools are teaching about porn, should they show it too?’ The Guardian (29 April 2015). https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/apr/29/schools-teaching-porn-sex-education. Accessed 27 November 2022; Amia Srinivasan, The Right to Sex (Bloomsbury 2021) 33-72 (see the chapter titled ‘Talking to My Students About Porn’).

  77. Carol Vance was one of the conveners of the historic and controversial 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality, and the editor of a landmark volume that was published in the wake of the conference. See, Rachel Corbman, ‘The Scholars and the Feminists: The Barnard Sex Conference and the History of the Institutionalization of Feminism’ (2015) 27(3) Feminist Formations 49; Carole S. Vance (ed), Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (Routledge & K. Paul 1984).

  78. One manifestation of ‘hurt sentiments’ is the demand for trigger warnings, especially in the context of discussing matters related to sexual violence. Such demands from students tend to consider trigger warnings to carry some moral obligation that they are owed by the teacher or the institution. For a counter position that argues that trigger warnings might exacerbate the harms they are expected to guard students against, see Jeannie Suk Gersen, ‘What If Trigger Warnings Don’t Work?’ The New Yorker (28 September 2021). https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/what-if-trigger-warnings-dont-work. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  79. Giles Deleuze, ‘To Have Done With Judgement’ in Giles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical (tr. Daniel W. Smith and Michael E. Greco, Verso 1998) 126–135.

  80. See generally, Avirook Sen, Aarushi (Penguin Books 2015).

  81. Shohini Ghosh, ‘The Talwars and presumed guilt’ The Hoot (6 November 2013). http://asu.thehoot.org/story_popup/the-talwars-and-presumed-guilt-7127. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  82. See generally, Nandita Haksar, Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in the Time of Terror, Bibliophile Southasia 2007); Arundhati Roy, The Hanging of Afzal Guru And the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament (Penguin 2016).

  83. Manoj Mitta, ‘‘Objectionable’ and ‘compromising’: The lengths to which the CBI went to vilify Aarushi Talwar’ Scroll.in (30 October 2017). https://scroll.in/article/855663/objectionable-and-compromising-the-lengths-to-which-the-cbi-went-to-vilify-aarushi-talwar. Accessed 27 November 2022; Saikat Dutta, ‘Cop Out’ Outlook (3 February 2022). https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/cop-out/237544. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  84. Shohini Ghosh, ‘Mistrial by media’ The Indian Express (14 October 2017). https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/mistrial-by-media-aarushi-talwar-murder-case-4889249/. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  85. Shohini Ghosh, ‘Here we are now, entertain us’ Hindustan Times (6 July 2008). https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/here-we-are-now-entertain-us/story-A7DUpi4uD3haevtyIlOEsM.html. Accessed 27 November 2022.

  86. See generally, Zoë Druick, ‘The courtroom and the closet in The Thin Blue Line and Capturing the Friedmans’ (2008) 49(4) Screen 440.

  87. Shohini Ghosh, ‘The Talwars and Presumed Guilt’ in Siddharth Narrain (ed), Acts of Media: Law and Media in Contemporary India (Sage 2022) 209-217.

  88. See generally, Debolina Dutta and Oishik Sircar, ‘India's Winter of Discontent: Some Feminist Dilemmas in the Wake of a Rape’ (2013) 39(1) Feminist Studies 293; Ratna Kapur, ‘Gender, sovereignty and the rise of a sexual security regime in international law and postcolonial India’ (2013) 14(2) Melbourne Journal of International Law 317; Megha Mehta, ‘Children No More? A Feminist Critique of the Juvenile Justice Transfer System in India’ (2019) 12(1) NUJS Law Review 43.

  89. Indocuonline, ‘Tales of the Night Fairies’ (YouTube, 4 February 2013). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ystke5m8now. Accessed 27 November 2022; Shohini Ghosh, ‘Sex Workers and video activism–Tales of the Nightfairies: a filmmaker’s journey’(2006) 7(2) Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 341.

  90. PSBT India, ‘We Are Foot Soldiers’ (YouTube, 7 January 2015.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfm06qBo4c4. Accessed 27 November 2022; Debolina Dutta and Oishik Sircar, ‘Notes on unlearning: Our feminisms, their childhoods’ in Rachel Rosen and Katherine Twamley (eds), Feminism and the Politics of Childhood: Friends or Foes? (UCL Press 2018).

  91. Swapna Gayen, ‘Innovative approaches to combat trafficking of women in the sex trade’ (2006) 7(2) Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 331.

  92. Andrew Green, ‘Obituary: Dr Smarajit Jana’ (2021) 398 The Lancet 206.

Acknowledgements

I thank my JGLR editorial board colleagues Aashish Yadav and Sanskriti Sanghi for their feedback on the introduction and for editorial support in finalising this interview.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Oishik Sircar.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author has no conflicts of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sircar, O. ‘What is the child innocent of? Sexual knowledge of course!’: an interview with Shohini Ghosh. Jindal Global Law Review 13, 409–429 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-022-00186-5

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-022-00186-5

Keywords

Navigation