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Governing through vague terms : child abuse, community, government and group interests Cradock, Gerald


This dissertation asks: what is the meaning of child abuse, who should protect children from abuse, and how is child protection accomplished? It posits that child abuse is a vague term as described by philosophers and that it is comprehensible only in relation to two other vague terms - community and government. Vague terms receive sharpenings of meaning within secondary speech genres that are repositories of the tacit knowledge of networked thought collectives. Vague terms appear less vague when they are employed in the primary speech genre of everyday life. Because vague terms appear obvious in the primary speech genre, group interests are able to deploy vague terms as a rhetorical means of advancing their interests. The dissertation uses as its primary research source public submissions to three government inquiries conducted between 1991 and 1995 in British Columbia. The submissions demonstrate the ongoing relations between various group interests concerned with child abuse, community and government. The meaning of child abuse is found to be an emergent and negotiated property of group interests. Vague terms are predictive of the sites and types of ongoing negotiations between group interests over the problem of governing too much and governing too little characteristic of liberal governments.

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