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Child and Nation

A Study of Political Socialisation and Banal Nationalism in France and England

Edited By Katharine Throssell

Where do feelings of national belonging come from? Why is it that this belonging often seems both fundamental and banal, both intangible and omnipresent?
This book argues that the answers to these questions lie in childhood and the socialisation to the nation that we experience as children. It suggests that the banality of our own everyday nationalism is due to the fact that we have spent our lives learning to take it for granted. Just as our first understandings of reality are learned during childhood socialisation, so nationhood and national belonging are internalised as natural and necessary from the very beginning of our lives. The specific nature of this early socialisation is what confers upon banal nationalism its characteristic combination of omnipresence, inscrutability and self-evidence.
To try and get around this self-evidence and explore this socialisation and its results, this study has adopted an innovative methodology involving semi-directive projective interviews with young children in France and England. This book presents an analysis of how this early socialisation to the nation plays out on young children’s visions of national belonging and its justifications and implications. It also looks at what this transmission in childhood means for nationalism as an ideology and the power and pertinence of the nation today.
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I grew up in Australia during the height of multiculturalism in the 1980s. But the storybooks of my childhood were often about England, all snowy winters and robin redbreasts, or European fairytales full of wolves and dark forests. Our forests, however, are rarely snowy, and they are not tall and straight like the ones in those books – instead they are the untamed density of the bush. Our Christmases were hot, with swimming, mangoes and ice-cream; we learned that Father Christmas took his fur-lined boots off and swapped his reindeers for six white kangaroos when he arrived in Australia. At primary school we read dreamtime stories and were taught that this heritage of indigenous culture, colonisation and immigration was Australia’s strength and specificity. We learnt that diversity is beautiful; that “we are one, but we are many”. Reflecting the largest local immigrant community, we learnt Italian as our first language; signs at the local swimming pool read “Aqua Profunda/Deep Water” and at Christmas we were visited by Befana the witch in our classrooms. On Monday mornings we lined up at Assembly, in our red and white checked school dresses, to sing “Advance Australia Fair” before the flag. When I first started school, I thought that Assembly was called “Grand Final”, mistaking one celebration of the nation for another – the final game of the Aussie Rules football season – at least as important in the national psyche as more official celebrations.

For those who migrate, like for those who travel, the...

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