Advocatory Ethics and Sexual Politics


Every case law depends on generalisable versions of the legal norms, which can be interpreted and substantiated in the individual cases. The legal definition of the best interests of the child is negative: The best interests of the child can only be determined from the perspective of their endangerment. However, if legal discourses are mixed with popular and socio-political discourses, the norm of the welfare of children to be safeguarded, which is dependent on generalisation, can become independent in a highly problematic way. In the first part of this chapter, Micha Brumlik’s Advocatory Ethics are reconstructed, and in the second part, the current discourse in Germany on “Sexual Education of Diversity” is analysed, in which the protection of the welfare of the child is specifically referred to. I further argue that the systematically necessary abstraction from the concrete content of the only negatively determinable child welfare makes this concept susceptible to (political) instrumentalizations. Discussions of the best interests of the child are therefore indispensably dependent on their mediation with analyses of concrete, socially and historically always contingent constellations.

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


  1. 1.

    Brumlik uses the German term Unmündige, which means more than just minor children and adolescents. The term stems from the concept of Unmündigkeit, which is in English translations of Kant’s works translated as tutelage (Beck 1963), as immaturity (Ferrer 2013) or as minority (Gregor 1999). Kant’s own definition of Unmündigkeit, set out in the famous 1974 essay on the question of “What is Enlightenment?” reads as follows in the translation of Mary J. Gregor in the Cambridge Edition of the works of Immanuel Kant : “Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another.” (Ibid., p. 17) Thus, the term is not only applied to children and underage adolescents, but also to all human beings not being able to speak fully for themselves – for whatever natural or social reasons. Consequently, Unmündige includes the elderly losing their abilities to live independently by themselves or people with disabilities in need of support and guidance by others – simply all people ultimately being subjected to tutelage.

  2. 2.

    Sonja Buckel (2007, 2016) has reconstructed the automatization of law in dogmatics and legal practice, the fact that both can only be handled by juridical intellectuals as well as the constitutive meaning of the legal form within which law alone can be litigated, within the framework of her materialistic theory of law.

  3. 3.

    Again, the case is different regarding social work and social policy; transferring principles and methods developed in the context of children’s education into the strikingly different context of social work and social policy is indeed highly problematic. I cannot further go into this at this point though.

  4. 4.

    As proclaimed by Ekkehard von Braunmühl (1975) or in Hubertus von Schoenebeck’s German Children’s Manifesto (cf. Klemm 1992).

  5. 5.

    In his polemic against the humanistic pedagogy dominant in the German-speaking world at the turn of the century Siegfried Bernfeld defines education – more broadly, “the entire educational complex” (cf. Bernfeld 1973/1925, p. 34) – drastically and simply as merely the societal response to the “fact of child development” (ibid.).

  6. 6.

    The translations of the quotations by Micha Brumlik are by the author herself as there is no translation of his works into English yet.

  7. 7.

    Ricœur acknowledges these hermeneutics of suspicion as developed in the “school of suspicion” (Ricœur’s 1970, p. 33) dominated by its three masters Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as a methodology doubting the status quo, a “battle against masks” (ibid.: 30), intended to lift the veil or tear off the (false) front of placeholders for a hidden truth. Opposed to these hermeneutics in the lines of the critique of ideology Ricœur sees the hermeneutics of faith trying to reconstruct meaning with as little distortion as possible (cf. Josselsen 2014).

  8. 8.

    The German term pädagogischer Bezug stems from Hermann Nohl’s (1982/1933) discussion of the basic conditions of educational processes. According to Nohl (ibid., p. 134 f.) this basis is the passionate relationship of a mature human being to a young, becoming human being for the sake of her or his own life. Thereby, the relationship of the educator to the child is doubly determined, namely by the love for the child in her or his real living situation and by the love for the ideal of the (future) child, the goal being to promote the child, guide her or him and ignite the higher life in her or him. All efforts, both of the educator and the child, serve to build the future of the young person through education and training and to lead her or him to independence and self-responsibility.

  9. 9.

    In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud speaks of Anankē as what he calls “vital necessity” (Freud 1964/1930, 97) [Lebensnot/Not des Lebens]; something Lacan later interprets as “pressure, urgency", or "the state of emergency in life” (Lacan 1992/1959–60, p. 46). Freud thinks of Anankē as necessary to form the subject, and he speaks of Anankē and Eros as “parents of human civilization” (Freud 1964/1930, p. 101), specifically of Anankē as a strict educator of the human drive. So it is Anankē forcing the newborn to become active and acquire means and ways to live and survive in the world she or he was born into. On the bodily as well as the social circumstances of “Lebensnot” cf. Kirchhoff 2014.

  10. 10.

    The problem of the separation of morality and ethical life still is an unsolved problem of moral philosophy though, while the strictly formal approach to moral problems is still widely practiced (cf. Hogh 2017).

  11. 11.

    This is not a question of whether advocatory ethics depend on the “anticipatable, possible consent of the individuals concerned” (Brumlik 1992, p. 110), because the fact that they do so is, as stated, Brumlik’s argument against the universalistic validity of the criticized transcendental and universal pragmatic ethics. The question rather refers to how the mediation of the norm can and should be carried out with the moral content concerned and the real constellations of relationships in childhood environments.

  12. 12.

    The misleading title here aims to undo the ‘gender-ideological’ exclusion of heterosexual small families and lifestyles that was allegedly already carried out and to reinclude the ‘worried’ who now think themselves marginalized.

  13. 13.

    An overview of the discussions in public media in the summer of 2014 following Weber’s vilification of Sex Education of Diversity as “negligent pseudo-sex education” (transl. by the author) cf. Bunt and Brenner 2014.

  14. 14.

    The Alternative for Germany (German: Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) is a far-right political party in Germany founded in 2013. While AfD narrowly missed the 5% electoral threshold to sit in the Bundestag during the 2013 federal election, they thrived off increasing anti-immigrant discourses all over Europe and became the third-largest party in the Bundestag in 2017. Representatives of the AfD have been linked to and some have openly been active in racist, anti-muslim, anti-Semitic and overall xenophobic as well as sexist movements.

  15. 15.

    The sex education programs in question include the possibility to have a look at dummies of sexual organs.

  16. 16.

    Cilly Kaletsch, Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 7th, 2014.

  17. 17.

    However, this does not need to irritate, as children simply do not yet draw proportionally and paint large in their pictures what they are currently preoccupied with (Eich 2005, ibid.).

  18. 18.

    This quotation by Johannes Rörig as well as the following quotations from the German Child Protection Services (Pfeifle 2013) are translated by the author.

  19. 19.

    Cf. for a critical discussion of this complex and precarious matter Clancy 2009; Becker 2011, p. 7 f.

  20. 20.

    Striking in the studies on children’s perspective of child work (cf. Woodhead 1999; Montgomery 2009; James 2007).


  1. Adorno, T. W. (1976). Introduction. In T. W. Adorno, H. Albert, R. Dahrendorf, J. Habermas, H. Pilot, & K. R. Popper (Eds.), The positivist dispute in German sociology. Translated by Glyn Adey and David Frisby (pp. 1–67). London: Heinemann.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Adorno, T. W. (1997/1970). Aesthetic Theory. Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  3. Adorno, Theodor W. (2005): On subject and object. Translated by Henry W. Pickford. In Theodor W. Adorno (eds), Critical models. Interventions and catchwords. With a new introduction by Lydia Goehr (pp. 245–258). New York: Columbia University Press.

  4. Apel, K.–O. (1976). Sprechakttheorie und transzendentale Sprachpragmatik zur Frage ethischer Normen. In K.–O. Apel (Ed.): Sprachpragmatik und Philosophie (10–173). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

  5. Baader, M. S. (2012). Childhood and happiness in German Romanticism, progressive Education and the West German anti-authoritarian Kinderläden Movement of the 1968. Paedagogica Historica, 48(3), pp. 485–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Baader, Meike Sophia (2017): Pedo-sexuality: An especially German history. Translated by Nicholas levis. Women’s studies quarterly, 43(1/2), pp. 315–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Baader, M. S., Jansen, C., König, J., & Sager, C. (Eds.). (2017). Tabubruch und Entgrenzung. Kindheit und Sexualität nach 1968. Wien, Köln und Weimar: Böhlau.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bancroft, J. (Ed.). (2003). Sexual development in childhood. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Beck, L. W. (1963). Immanuel Kant. On history. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Becker, S. (2011). Sexueller Missbrauch und Sexualität. In Deutscher Arbeitskreis für Jugend- Ehe- und Familienberatung (DAKJEF) (Ed.): Psychosoziale Beratung von Erwachsenen und Paaren im Kontext sexueller Grenzverletzungen und sexualisierter Gewalt. Dokumentation des Fachgesprächs 5. Oktober 2011 in Frankfurt am Main (pp. 5–13).

  11. Bernfeld, S. (1973/1925). Sisyphus; or, The Limits of Education. Translated by Frederic Lilge. Foreword by Anna Freud. Pref. by Peter Paret. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  12. Blankertz, H. (1969). Theorien und Modelle der Didaktik. Grundfragen der Erziehungswissenschaft. München: Juventa.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Bröckling, U. (2008). Vorbeugen ist besser …“ Zur Soziologie der Prävention. Behemoth 1(1), pp. 38–48.

  14. Brumlik, M. (1992). Advokatorische Ethik. Zur legitimation pädagogischer Eingriffe. Bielefeld: Böllert KT.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Brumlik, M. (2013): Kindeswohl und Advokatorische Ethik. EthikJournal 1 (2), pp. 1–14.

  16. Brumlik, M. (2015). Die Beschneidungsdebatte: Grenz- und Bewährungsfall einer advokatorischen Ethik. Abschiedsvorlesung am 21.1.2013. In S. Andresen, C. Koch & J. König (Eds.): Vulnerable Kinder. Interdisziplinäre Annäherungen (pp. 223–241). Wiesbaden: Springer.

  17. Buckel, S. (2007). Subjektivierung und Kohäsion. Zur Rekonstruktion einer materialistischen Theorie des Rechts. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Buckel, S. (2016). The dialectic of democracy and capitalism before the backdrop of a transnational legal pluralism in crisis. In K. Blome, A. Fischer–Lescano, H. Franzki, N. Markard, & S. Oeter (Eds.), Contested regime collisions: Norm fragmentation in world society (pp. 298–323). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  19. Bunt, M., Brenner, M. (2014). Sexualpädagogik als Praktik sexualisierter Gewalt. Der aktuelle Sexualpädagogikdiskurs am Beispiel der medialen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Fachbuch ,Sexualpädagogik der Vielfalt‘. DISS–journal 28, pp. 28–30.

  20. Butler, J. (1997). The psychic life of power: Theories in subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Clancy, S. A. (2009). The trauma myth: The truth about the sexual abuse of children – And its aftermath. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Cohen, S. (2002/1972). Folk devils and moral panics. The creation of mods and rockers. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Cremer-Schäfer, H. (1997). Erfahrungen mit lokalen Projekten der Prävention von kriminalisierbaren Konflikten und problematischen Situationen in verschiedenen Ländern. In V. d. S. Wohnungswirtschaft (Ed.), Konfliktvermeidung und Kriminalprävention in Großwohnanlagen (pp. 31–44). VdW e.V: Frankfurt am Main.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Eich, H. (2005). Es geht kein Weg zurück. Wie der Diskurs über sexuellen Missbrauch zur Verdrängung der kindlichen Sexualität beiträgt. In B. Burian–Langegger (Ed.): Doktorspiele. Die Sexualität des Kindes (pp.167–192). Wien: Picus.

  25. Ferenczi, S. (1949). Confusion of the Togues between the adults and the child–(the language of tenderness and of passion). International Journal of Psycho–Analysis, 30, pp. 225–230.

  26. Ferrer, D. F. (2013). Answer the question: What is Enlightenment? By Immanuel Kant. (Translation),

  27. Freud, S. (1964/1930). Civilization and its Discontents. Translated by Joan Riviere. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Translated from the German under the General Editorship of James Strachey in Collaboration with Anna Freud, Vol. XXI (1927–1931). London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho–Analysis. New York: Cape and Smith.

  28. Früh, F. (2005). Warum wird die infantile Sexualität sexuell genannt? In V. Sigusch & I. Quindeau (Eds.): Freud und das Sexuelle. Neue psychoanalytische und sexualwissenschaftliche Perspektiven (pp. 97–111). Frankfurt am Main: Campus.

  29. Gregor, M. J. (1999). Translation of “an answer to the question: What is enlightenment? (1784)”. In I. Kant (Ed.), Practical philosophy. The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant (pp. 11–22). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Habermas, J. (1971a). Knowledge and human interests. Translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro. Boston: Beacon.

  31. Habermas, J. (1971b/2001). Reflections on the linguistic foundations of sociology: The Christian Gauss Lectures (Princeton University, February–March 1971). In Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction, translated by Barbara Fultner (pp. 1–103). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  32. Habermas, J. (1973). Wahrheitstheorien. In H. Fahrenbach (Ed.), Wirklichkeit und Reflexion (pp. 211–265). Pfüllingen: Neske. 

  33. Habermas, J. (1995/1983). Moral consciousness and communicative action. Translation by Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen. Cambridge: MIT, pp. 116–194.

  34. Herzog, D. (2013). Paradoxes of sexual liberation. Göttingen: Wallstein.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Hogh, P. (2017). Apathie Kälte Verdinglichung. Zur sozialen Wirklichkeit moralischer Indifferenz. In: P. Hogh & S. Ellmers (Eds.): Warum Kritik? Begründungsformen kritischer Theorien (pp. 22–50). Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft.

  36. Horkheimer, M. (1972a). The latest attack on metaphysics. In M. Horkheimer (Ed.), Critical Theory: Selected Essays (pp. 188–243). New York: Herder and Herder.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Horkheimer, M. (1972b). Traditional and critical theory. In M. Horkheimer (Ed.), Critical Theory: Selected Essays (pp. 188–243). New York: Herder and Herder.

    Google Scholar 

  38. James, A. (2007). Giving voice to Children’s voices: Practices and problems, pitfalls and potentials. American Anthropologist 109, 2, pp. 261–272.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Jenkins, P. (2003). Watching the research pendulum. In J. Bancroft (Ed.), Sexual development in childhood (pp. 3–19). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Josselson, R. (2014). The hermeneutics of faith and the hermeneutics of suspicion. Narrative Inquiry, 14(1), pp. 1–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Kant, I. (1999a/1797). Metaphysics of morals. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant, Practical philosophy. The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant (pp 353–604). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  42. Kant, Immanuel (1999b). Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant. Practical philosophy. The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant (pp. 37–108). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  43. Kirchhoff, C. (2014). Anpassung und Unvernunft. Die Bedeutung der Lebensnot bei Freud und Adorno. In C. Kirchhoff & F. Schmieder (Eds.), Freud und Adorno. Zur Urgeschichte der Moderne (pp. 51–62). Berlin: Kadmos.

  44. Klemm, U. (1992). Quellen und Dokumente der Antipädagogik. Frankfurt am Main: Dipa.

    Google Scholar 

  45. König, H.-D. (1996). Neue Versuche, Becketts Endspiel zu verstehen. Sozialwissenschaftliches Interpretieren nach Adorno. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  46. König, J. (2015). Szenen sexueller Verletzlichkeit als intergenerationelles Problem. In S. Andresen, C. Koch & J. König (Eds.), Vulnerable Kinder. Interdisziplinäre Annäherungen (pp. 191–207). Wiesbaden: Springer.

  47. König, J. (2016). Wer jagt wen „um der Kinder willen“? Das Präventionsparadigma als Folie für gesellschaftliche Kämpfe um Sexualität. Widersprüche 139, 36(1), pp. 71–84.

  48. Lacan, J. (1992/1959–60). Seminar 7, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis [1959-60]. London: Routledge.

  49. Laplanche, J. (1987). Jean Laplanche, Nouveaux fondements pour la psychanalyse. La séduction originaire. Paris: PUF.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Lorenzer, A. (1972). Zur Begründung einer materialistischen Sozialisationstheorie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Mollenhauer, K. (1968). Erziehung und Emanzipation. München: Juventa.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Montgomery, H. (2009). Are child prostitutes child workers? A case study. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 29(3/4), pp. 130–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Oelkers, J. (2011). Eros und Herrschaft. Die dunklen seiten der Reformpädagogik. Weinheim: Beltz.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Pfeifle, B. (Eds.) (2013). Fachkräfte in der besonderen Verantwortung. Verbindlicher Leitfaden zur Prävention von und Umgang mit sexualisierter Gewalt und Grenzverletzungen durch Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter des Jugendamtes. Stuttgart: Jugendamt.

  55. Ricœur, P. (1970). Freud and Philosophy. An Essay on Interpretation. Translated by Denis Savage. New Haven Yale University Press.

  56. Rörig, J.-W. (2015). Sexualpädagogik hat Grenzen. tageszeitung, No. 10637, February 16th, 2015,!5020636. Accessed 16 Feb 2015.

  57. Schmidt, G. (2004). Kindersexualität – Konturen eines dunklen Kontinents. Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung 17(4), pp. 312–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Sigusch, V. (1998). The Neosexual revolution. Archive of Sexual Behavior, 27(4), pp. 331–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Sigusch, V. (2004). On cultural transformations of sexuality and gender in recent decades. Translated from the German by J. S. Southard. German Medical Science, ISSN 1612–3174;

  60. Sigusch, V. (2008). Geschichte der Sexualwissenschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Campus.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Steinert, H. (1995). The idea of prevention and the critique of instrumental reason. In G. Albrecht & W. Ludwig-Mayerhofer (Eds.), Prevention and intervention in childhood and adolescence (pp. 5–15). Berlin and New York: de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Thole, W., Baader, M. S., Helsper, W., Kappeler, M., Leuzinger-Bohleber, M., Reh, S., Sielert, U., & Thompson, C. (Eds.). (2012). Sexualisierte Gewalt, Macht und Pädagogik. Opladen. Berlin und Toronto: Budrich.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Tuider, E. (2016). Diskursive Gemengelagen. Das Bild vom ,unschuldigen, reinen Kind‘ in aktuellen Sexualitätsdiskursen. A. Henningsen, S. Timmermanns & E. Tuider (Eds.): Sexualpädagogik kontrovers (pp. 176–193). Weinheim: Beltz Juventa.

  64. Tuider, E., Müller, M., & Timmermanns, S. (Eds.). (2012). Sexualpädagogik der Vielfalt. Praxismethoden zu Identitäten, Beziehungen, Körper und Prävention für Schule und Jugendarbeit. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa.

    Google Scholar 

  65. von Braunmühl, E. (1975). Antipädagogik. Studien zur Abschaffung der Erziehung. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Walter, F., Klecha, S., & Hensel, A. (Eds.). (2014). Die Grünen und die Pädosexualität. Eine bundesdeutsche Geschichte. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Weber, C. (2014). Was sie noch nie über Sex wissen wollten. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung, No. 94, April 24th, 2014, p. 9.

  68. Witte, S. (2014). In Panik vor Jedermann. Journalistische Beiträge zur Aufdeckung von Pädophilen. In I. Härtel (Ed.): Kinder der Erregung. ,Übergriffe‘ und ,Objekte‘ in kulturellen Konstellationen kindlich–jugendlicher Sexualität (pp. 89–144). Bielefeld: Transcript.

  69. Woodhead, M. (1999). Combatting child labour: Listen to what the children say. Childhood 6, 1, pp. 27–49.

  70. Zehnder, K. (2010). Zwitter beim Namen nennen: Intersexualität zwischen Pathologie, Selbstbestimmung und leiblicher Erfahrung. Bielefeld: transcript.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julia König.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

König, J. Advocatory Ethics and Sexual Politics. Childhood Vulnerability 1, 67–82 (2018).

Download citation


  • Advocatory ethics
  • Child welfare
  • Children's sexuality
  • Sexual politics
  • Primacy of the object