American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 165–196 | Cite as

Saving the child for the sake of the nation: Moral framing and the civic, moral and religious redemption of children

  • Gordon Lynch
Original Article


This article argues that a range of child welfare interventions that sought to relocate children away from their birth families and home communities between the middle decades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries drew on a common moral frame. These interventions – child migration schemes, assimilationist policies towards indigenous children, institutions of corrective confinement and the child protection movement – have typically been previously studied as isolated national or organisational phenomena. However, this article outlines a common moral frame to which they made reference structured around the figure of the redeemable child, vulnerable to the effects of polluted social environments, seen as needing to be re-located to new environments that would enable their civic, moral and spiritual redemption. This argument is situated within a discussion of the articulation of moral meanings as a social practice, which addresses both the central elements of this moral frame and the contexts in which it was articulated. This moral frame did not determine child-care practices within these schemes, but was one source of influence on them. In particular, the article examines the role of economic rationality in the management of these schemes, arguing that the sacralised status of the child within the family discussed in the work of Vivianna Zelizer was not extended to the children to whom these schemes were addressed. The article concludes by identifying key areas for future comparative study of these diverse schemes in relation to these shared moral meanings.


sacred child welfare pollution assimilation migration 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon Lynch
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Religious StudiesSchool of European Culture and Languages, University of KentKentUK

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