This episode continues our mini-series looking at how children are socialised into recurring habits of visualising war and peace. Alice interviews Prof. J. Marshall Beier, who is Undergraduate Chair in the Department of Political Science at McMaster University. In the course of a distinguished career, Marshall's research has focused particularly on how children and childhood get conceived in political contexts, and what impact that can have on their political involvement as well as on their lives more broadly. In the course of this research, Marshall has published extensively on the militarisation of childhood and well as child and youth rights and youth political participation. Notable publications include edited volumes such as The Militarisation of Childhood: Thinking beyond the Global South (2011), Discovering Childhood in International Relations (2020), and – with Jana Tabak – Childhoods in Peace and Conflict (2021).
We begin the podcast by looking at how children are militarised in many different ways - from their recruitment as child soldiers, to more 'benign' forms of cadet training, to messaging in society about the pervasiveness of threats (leading to an understanding that citizens need protection via the military), to the ways in which leisure spaces such as museums, airshows and online gaming can promote the 'cult of the hero' and inculcate wider military values, such as resilience, courage, or the idea that certain wars are 'good' while others are 'bad'. Marshall draws attention to 'militarism's ambient cacophony' - by which he means that the promotion of different kinds of military activity is all around us - and to the fact that as children grow up, they are exposed to many different kinds of pedagogies (formal and informal) which both normalise and naturalise war. This indirect 'enlistment' is vital to governments who, in time, may ask the adults that children become to sanction military spending and military deployments.
Marshall also discusses the concept of 'childhood' itself, and differences between 'the imagined child' and children as political agents, subjects, knowledge-bearers and knowledge-producers. We examine typical representations of children affected by conflict, and the ways in which images of their victimhood and vulnerability are often leveraged as 'a technology of governance' - in other words, used by politicians and others to shape wider attitudes and policy. Marshall underlines how flexible a category 'child' can be, however, and how governments and militaries can 'evacuate' certain age groups from this category when they see them as a threat, deeming them e.g. 'military-age males'. He notes that states and militaries sometimes also ask children to 'do the work of adults': for instance by conducting surveillance, or being resilient when they lose a parent to conflict. And he draws on his work with the McMaster Youth and Children University to discuss how we might take a more rights-based approach to engaging with children around war and peace, empowering them to contribute to debate and discussion, rather than side-lining or even exploiting them.
We hope you enjoy the episode. For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. For more information about individuals and their projects, please visit the University of St Andrews' Visualising War website.
Music composed by Jonathan Young
Sound mixing by Zofia Guertin