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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 III. Socialisation to the nation, socialisation to politics


Approaching nationalism as a process of socialisation or as a process for the construction of reality means taking into account the role of parents and the family. Moreover, if, as Smith says, we can consider nationalism a form of “civic education”, we can also logically consider it as a process of political socialisation. “Civic education” is commonly seen as the stock of political or civic knowledge that is transmitted in the school system or formal learning, with political socialisation referring to more diffuse political knowledge, values and identities transmitted in a range of social contexts and relationships. Political socialisation thus refers more to the processes of transmission and internalisation of these different types of “knowledges”1 and less to the stock of education that is intended for transmission.

The school system and the family have traditionally been seen as the two most powerful agents in political socialisation, and it is clear that concerns of political socialisation have often overlapped with those of civic education, both concerned with that fundamentally political question of how best to create the model citizen and ensure the perpetuation of political values across generations. However, if the classical theorists did tend to focus on state-controlled education, as we saw above, the 20th century literature on political socialisation tended to focus primarily on the role of parents and the idea of “successful” parental transmission of political values. The evolution in the dominant understanding of what constitutes “the family”, shifting to less homogenous, less normative models,...

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