Friday December 11, 2015 at 4:00 PM EST
Saturday December 12, 2015 at 5:00 PM EST

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Emory Law School, Gambrell Hall 
1301 Clifton Road
Faculty Lounge, Gambrell Hall 575
Atlanta, GA 30322

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The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative 
The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative 

A Workshop on Children,Vulnerability and Resilience 

Existing frameworks for analyzing law and imagining justice—including individual rights, equality, and efficiency—are modeled on an autonomous adult legal subject. What alternative frameworks might come into view if we consider childhood as central to the law and justice inquiry? We invite scholars in law as well as the humanities and sciences to consider what should be the scope, nature, and extent of the state’s responsibility for the legal subject in childhood.

This workshop will interrogate the status of childhood within legal liberalism and explore how applying the emerging vulnerability approach to state responsibility may transform our understanding of both the purpose of law and the nature of legal subjectivity.  Liberalism conceptualizes childhood as a temporary stage along the path to full legal personhood in which there is no expectation of the autonomy and agency granted to adult subjects.  As a consequence, children are denied full legal capacity and constitutional protection until they are deemed to reach a certain level of intellectual maturity and competence. The private family is given primarily responsibility for and control over the physical and emotional well-being of the child. For its part, the obligation of the liberal state is merely to ensure the minimal level of security and education necessary for children to develop the capacities of functioning citizens. Vulnerability studies, by contrast, suggests that childhood should be treated as a first stage in the continuum of the human legal persona, which covers the full life-course of the individual from birth through to old age. Children, like persons in all other stages of life depend upon family, community, civic institutions, and government to flourish. Childhood illuminates but does not exhaust the interdependence that characterizes the human condition. What is the state’s responsibility during this critical stage for the development of resilience?

In recent years, historians have demonstrated that the changing legal status of children was at the center of debates about political and religious consent, social status, and democratic political theory. Psychologists have deepened our insights into how children develop social cognition, language, gender and sexual identity, and moral judgment. Advances in neurobiology highlight the harm that comes from the state's failure to support and provide services to families and, in particular, children from ages zero to five years. Although resilience can be built throughout the life span, it is not easy to recoup early deficits.  How can multiple fields of academic study and interdisciplinary collaboration help scholars to promote a responsive state that addresses the vulnerable subject as a child and builds resilience across the life-course?