‘Troubling’ Chastisement: A Comparative Historical Analysis of Child Punishment in Ghana and Ireland

Sociological Research Online 1 (23):177-196 (2018)
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Abstract

This article reviews an epochal change in international thinking about physical punishment of children from being a reasonable method of chastisement to one that is harmful to children and troubling to families. In addition, the article suggests shifts in thinking about physical punishment were originally pioneered as part and parcel of the dismantling of national laws granting fathers’ specific rights to admonish children under conventions of patria potestas. A comparative historical framework of analysis involving two case studies of Ireland and Ghana illustrates non-unilinear pathways of international convergence towards the prohibition of physical punishment. The comparative historical analysis highlights the 1930s and 1940s as an era when Ireland began to reject patria potestas and religious or judicial rulings which allowed for children to be given ‘a good beating’ in family and school settings. However, from the same period, Ghana is seen to experience Christian remonstrations not to ‘spare the rod’ leading to the ‘conventional’ tradition of ‘this is how we do it here’. Two case studies serve to illustrate that banning physical punishment was less controversial in Ireland where allied traditions of patria potestas and disciplinarian Christian beliefs had lost their moral hegemony than in Ghana where such beliefs still held influence. The article concludes overall that normative campaigns against physical punishment of children emanate from a coherent paradigm of family policy where childcare, education, and well-being of children are embedded as everyday societal responsibilities rather than privatised or patriarchal familial obligations. The coherent model offers an alternative moral hegemony to neo-liberal and Janus-faced conceptualisations of good or ‘intact’ families versus ‘broken’ or ‘troubled’ families.

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