Precious, pure, uncivilised, vulnerable: infant embodiment in the popular media

05 April 2012

Despite recent interest in researching and theorising the sociocultural dimensions of human embodiment, the cultural representation of young children’s bodies, and particularly infants’ bodies, has received little academic attention. This article analyses some exemplary popular media texts and identifies four main discourses on infant embodiment: precious, pure, uncivilised and vulnerable. The discussion looks at intersections between these discourses, and in particular how concepts of ‘nature’ (both ‘good nature’ and ‘bad nature’), civility and Self and Otherness underpin them. The implications for how adults think about and treat infants, including the spaces and places which are deemed appropriate for infants to inhabit, are discussed. While, on the one hand, infants are positioned as the most valuable, important, pure and affectively appealing of humans, on the other hand they are represented as animalistic, uncontrolled, uncivil and overly demanding: indeed, as less than human. Infant bodies are viewed as appropriately inhabiting certain defined spaces: specifically the domestic sphere of the home. They represented as barely tolerated or even as excluded in the public sphere, positioned as it is as the space of ‘civilised’ adults.