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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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Chapter II. ‘Eat your peas and love your country’: everyday socialisation and banal nationalism


If Rousseau, as we have seen, emphasised the importance of teaching children to be citizens and patriots for the success of a nationalist project, he did not see this as happening purely through the school system. He discusses the importance of games, and particularly collective games for the transmission of collective belonging and the norms and values of the nation: “By what can hearts be moved to love the motherland and its laws […] dare I say it? By children’s games; by institutions that are idle in the eyes of superficial men but which form cherished habits and unconquerable attachment.”1

Although Rousseau suggests that these games are still essentially state-controlled, in that they convey the ideals that the state wishes to convey, it may be possible to conceive of games and other rituals of daily life that convey these norms unintentionally, that is without the explicit objective of ideological acculturation, simply through being an element of common cultural practice. We have seen that the hidden curriculum in the schoolroom is a notion that explains the acquisition of rules, values and norms that are not explicitly taught but conveyed through models and ideas that children are implicitly encouraged to adopt and aspire to. The same principle is true of the world outside the school room, where children (and indeed adults) are exposed to cultural norms, standards and ways of behaving that form a kind of cultural common sense, enabling people to interact in society in keeping with what is...

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