International conference to address the concept of ‘imperfect children’

Posted by er134 at Aug 22, 2013 11:46 AM |
A conference hosted by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Medical Humanities will address the concept of ‘imperfection’ on September 6 and 7

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 22 August 2013

The word ‘imperfection’ is contentious, whether applied in a contemporary or historical sense and especially when used in the context of children; it assumes normative standards of behaviour, physical appearance, mental capacity or way of living, at the same time as it means very different things in particular ethnic, geographical or historical contexts.

But how have concepts of ‘imperfection’ in children developed over the centuries? This will be the central focus of an international conference hosted by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Medical Humanities on September 6 and 7.

During the conference, prominent scholars from around the world will explore the concept and language of ‘imperfection’ – from conception and the desire to create the perfect child to the age of sixteen.

The experts will consider topics such as mental or physical impairment, the ‘look’ of children, cosmetic surgery, biological or eugenic definitions of imperfection.

They will also consider the role of community, familial and societal reactions to ‘imperfection’, childhood ‘imperfection’ in literature and art, and the construction of feral youth in contemporary and historical populations.

The event aims to attract interest across the academic spectrum including from the fields of history, archaeology, art history and English through the social sciences and on to biology, engineering and physical sciences.

The conference will feature talks from international experts including Professor Irmtraut Sahmland, of Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany, Dr Wilfried Rudolff, of the University of Kassel, Germany and Shannon Conley, of Arizona State University, USA.

Centre director Professor Steven King, Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Law, said: “At a time when we have come to worry incessantly about children - about bullying; sexualisation; the absorption of body image representations in the press, dieting, an increasing demand for cosmetic surgery for children, and about cyber bullying of those who somehow look different - there is a danger of ‘presentism’, a sense that somehow all of these challenges are new and driven by modern media, the net and the rise of social media. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“While people in the past may not have had the same communication tools, it is clear that ‘imperfection’ in children - being too fat, too thin, having disabilities, being socially awkward, mental illness, bullying and body image - was an issue for society and for children themselves in the near and distant past.

“As soon as anaesthesia became reliable in the nineteenth century, parents sought surgical remedies to disabilities, blemishes, warts, burns and other disfigurements in their children. Child diets were common. And Victorian society worried just as much as we do about the sexualisation of children and a perceived problem with body image in the young.

“Such historical parallels - allied with more recent history in the form of attempts to engineer out ‘imperfection’ via embryo selection and genetic manipulation - drive historians in this area. Our conference thus asks 'What lessons can we draw from the past about the construction and treatment of ‘imperfection’ in children?’”

The conference will be held at the Centre’s brand new and state-of-the-art facilities in Salisbury Road, Leicester.

For more information and to book a place, please visit:



For more information, please contact Professor Steve King at:

More information about the Centre for Medical Humanities can be found at:

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