Traces of disparagement: teenage offenders and human development

Abadie, Santiago (2018). 'Traces of disparagement: Teenage offenders and human development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The book explores critically the conditions that a teenage offender’s rehabilitation process from the Human Development approach must involve, and provides a new comprehension of their experiences, describing them as obstacles to their agency construction.

From this perspective, rehabilitation can be represented as a process focused on enlarging people’s capabilities, the freedom people have in order to ‘lead the kind of life they have reason to value’, as claims Sen’s well known formula. This implies consolidating the autonomy of the teenagers, so as to increase their choices and help them build a socially valuable identity.


In this sense, the intimate relationship between this development and the identity that, as teenagers, they are still shaping becomes decisive, because it is within that field where experiences and resources that rehabilitation provides will find value and subjective meaning.


The work incorporates the Honneth’s philosophical recognition theory, which claims that people build their identity as a consequance of reciprocal recognition with each other. According to the recognition perspective, being a moral subject and performing as an agent require building a personality grounded in the acquisition of different levels of recognition. When deserved recognition is denied, the subject endures an experience of humiliation, which become a moral offense and, consequently, an injury in his self perception. The systematic situations of denial of recognition, something usual in these boys’ lifestories, represent a strong threat to the chance of building autonomy and elaborate an adult identity from which to start deep changes in their lives.

In the central section of the book, the narrative that a group of teenage offenders construct about themselves are analyzed from the theoretical framework composed along the first chapters. These stories show the way in which a broad range of circumstances and events troughout their lives, before and during imprisonment, may be understood as denial of recognition experiences. And, hence, as moral offenses which pose  a threat to the possibility youths have of elaborating a good self image and a moral autonomous agency.


This comprehension enriches the perspective from which we can assess both the condition of vulnerable teenagers and the available approaches and policies to work with them. It also enables us to think of the juvenile criminal trajectories in a reality caracterised by the lack of available role models of socially integrated adults as well as of real possibilities of orienting their own identity in ways which are socially valued. 


When highlighting the traces of disparagement in these teenagers’ lives as a hindrance for the construction of their agency, the research focuses reflection on the need of moral recognition as a key for human development policies, as these can only be effective if they enable people to increase their options of leading their own destiny. 

Dra. Ana Fascioli (UDELAR, Uruguay) is confirmed as discussant.

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