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Abstract

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the economization of childhood and its governance through early childhood care and education programming. It examines Senegal’s ambitious Case des Tout-Petits (CTP) program as a key example of how neoliberal state retrenchment, privatization, and deregulation are in fact accompanied by reinvigorated attempts to intercede in family life. I argue that these interventions are imagined by policymakers not as welfare-style governance or state surveillance of intimate life, but as a managed national investment strategy which devolves responsibility for generating young children’s “human capital” onto local teachers, families, and communities. To that end, this research documents a post-millennial project of “human capital” in the making and studies the institutional, familial, and embodied practices that are geared toward shaping everyday living into valuable life. Based on 22 months of multi-sited ethnographic research in Senegal’s Fatick and Dakar Regions, I show how transnational and governmental mandates for the creation of potential economic value in the bodies and minds of toddlers are interpreted in preschool classes, teacher training sessions, mothers’ workshops, health spectacles, and child savings account campaigns. These sites reveal how the CTP program scales national macroeconomic concerns about the future into the micropractices of childcare and child raising, constituting a regime of interventions I call “speculative care.” Speculative care, I argue, is a mode of social interaction that economizes and individualizes embodied persons, experiences, and intersubjective relations as anticipatory investments. These economistic interventions potentially destabilize taken for granted norms about who should be cared for and what counts as “care” within families and broader social networks. Threaded across four chapters, the dissertation develops three inter-related interventions. First, I argue that the intentional absence of international standards within the global early childhood care and education (ECCE) movement has engendered an ideologically inflected ethic of innovation in Senegal’s CTP program that manifests itself in multiple scales of entrepreneurialized state activity. The children targeted by anticipatory interventions are figured as future entrepreneurs, invested with the skills, dispositions, and capacities deemed necessary for success as future workers in a global economy. Impelled to innovate and improvise the CTP’s substantive content, government officials, development consultants, and teachers themselves become “entrepreneurs of the future.” Second, their innovations constitute the field of practice I call “speculative care” – viz. care as a form of anticipatory investment. These future-oriented practices render family life – and motherhood in particular – subject to new forms of highly moralized public scrutiny. As such, new expectations about the proper circulation and expenditure of family resources expand mothers’ roles as entrepreneurial laborers, familial “managers,” and investors in their children’s future economic value. Women have come to experience these new pressures through the embodied register of “exhaustion.” Third, I argue that Senegalese officials and teachers spectacularize otherwise mundane documentary and technopolitical procedures to both calibrate citizens’ affects and provide an alternative form of accountability for the CTP program.

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