Mourning the child (really, but not really): Miranda Sophia Leibel, Writing our Wrongs: ‘Justness’, Accountability, and Transparency in Provincial Child Death Inquiries in the Context of Neoliberal Settler Colonialism, PhD dissertation, Carleton University, 2022


Abstract: This dissertation examines the child death inquiry as a performative ritual of liberaldemocratic governance in the contexts of ongoing settler colonialism and the implementation of New Public Management in Canadian public policy. I ask: what is the performative work of public inquiries in constituting political relationships in contemporary Canada? I situate the child death inquiry as a particular form of public inquiry shaped by settler affective responses to Indigenous child deaths and assembled by contradictory logics that emphasize the universal generalizability of Indigenous loss, while articulating a specific and targeted anger with liberal, democratic governments, who ought to be accountable to their taxpaying-settler-publics. I trace the movement of figures as they are re/produced in the inquiry process: the ‘Indigenous Public Child’, the taxpayer-citizen and the benevolent settler public, and the ir/responsible government. I then consider how these relationships are produced, contested, and reaffirmed, as well as what kinds of impacts, concerns, and possibilities exist in the political spaces and relationships produced. I demonstrate how the dispositif of the child death inquiry moves from organizing hegemonic forms of visibility (through mainstream media), structuring the vocabulary of problematization (through legislative debate), establishing normative ‘solutions’ (through public reports), and articulating ‘progress’(through policy commitments). The shift to private-sector-infused managerialism as a proposed solution to the contradictions of settler colonialism reflects a transformation from justice (as a political demand) to justness (as a technocratic form of ‘resolution’ and a commitment to continuous self-improvement). In Manitoba, one child becomes a symbolic stand-in for the various political failures of what is portrayed to be a bloated bureaucracy; in Alberta, government accountability comes to be framed through the quantification (and publicization) of child deaths; finally, in Ontario, the absence of the figure of the Indigenous Public Child, compounded by the preemptive commitment to self-improvement, reveals how the dispositif of the child death inquiry changes when the benevolent settler public does not accept moral responsibility for the Indigenous Public Child. Each case study demonstrates how, in different ways, lives and deaths are made to be public in the settler state, and to what end.

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