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Child and Nation

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

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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Chapter I. ‘What nationalism is all about’: state socialisation and the national project


“Exo-socialisation”, writes Gellner, “is what nationalism is all about”1. Thus even at the very roots of classical debates in studies of nationalism, the role of socialisation is fundamental. It is arguably more fundamental for those theorists in the modernist school who, accepting that the nation arose in response to particular historic circumstances, see it as logical that it must then be consolidated and strengthened through the transmission of a national “spiritual principle” that will unite members of the new national society, as Gellner does. However, it would be wrong to think that primordialists or perennialists overlook the importance of socialisation in the nationalist project just because they conceive of the nation as a pre-existing, more or less natural, entity. This chapter sets out to explore the role that socialisation, and particularly “state-controlled” “exo” socialisation, has played in both schools of thought on nationalism. This debate essentially concerns the birth or origins of nations, their navels2 as it were, so using this literature to explore socialisation as a concept to understand the maintenance of nations might seem unorthodox. We will see here, however, that not only is the school system (and education more broadly) “at the heart of the process of forming civic and national identity”3, but it is also at the heart of the reproduction and perpetuation of these identities.

This chapter therefore begins with a discussion of the role of socialisation in some of the classic studies of nationalism, looking in particular at the nature...

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