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Children’s citizenship

April 15, 2012

Allison James argues that we need to develop a “greater understanding at the local level of how children’s experiences as members of society unfold.” (167)  “[T]aking England as a case study, and drawing on some empirical research with children’s experiences in children’s hospitals,” her “article illustrates the ways in which adults’ ideas about childhood limit children’s agency and actions, thereby denying them status as citizens.” (167)

Her aim, she writes is “to explore the extent to which the possibilities and promises for the rights of children to participate in society, as laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989, can ever be fully accomplished for and/or by children.” (167) She argues that “exploring the ways that the identity of “child” is practiced is core to understanding the cultural politics of children’s citizenship. It is out of the conceptual differences in identity, between children and adults (Jenks 1996), that the very problem of children’s status as citizens arises. Thus, as James and James (2004, 37) note for the English context, despite the government’s recent emphasis on the importance of citizenship education for children and its introduction into the country’s curriculum, in practice, in their everyday lives, children and young people “remain marginalised and treated as non-citizens by the systems of surveillance and control through which ‘childhood’ is protected as a social space in the life course.”” (168) “it is important,” she goes on, “to move beyond abstract discussions of legislative and policy frameworks. What is critical to changing children’s experiences is unpacking the cultural discourses through which children’s everyday lives, as children, are constructed on an ongoing and mundane basis.” (168)

This last statement is how I come to take an interest… what are the discourses constructing children’s lives? How might we understand them better through literature for young adults and children?

She explains how “In [T. H.] Marshall’s view, children could not be regarded as full members of a community since, although they had some social and civil rights, they had no political rights that might facilitate their full participation as citizens of society. Marshall envisaged children only as “becomings,” rather than “beings”; this view is consistent with the idea that it is children’s lack of social competence that separates their citizenship status from that of adults.” (169)

This idea of children as ‘becomings’ is also worth exploring!

Ref: ALLISON JAMES (2011) To Be (Come) or Not to Be (Come): Understanding Children’s Citizenship. ANNALS, AAPSS, 633, January 2011, pp.167-179

She refers to:

James, Allison, and Adrian L. James. 2004. Constructing childhood: Theory, policy and social practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jenks, Chris. 1996. Childhood. London: Routledge

Marshall, T. H. 1950. Citizenship and social change. London: Pluto.


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