Tag Archive: workshop

On 3rd September 2015, we held a workshop about the use of children to represent the future at King’s College London. Here, Alice Violett gives her thoughts on the day in a guest post.

By Alice Violett, PhD Candidate, University of Essex

Yesterday I went to the abovementioned workshop, held by History & Policy and the Agents of Future Promise research group.  It was a very interesting and enjoyable day that generated a lot of discussion and things to think about.

The first panel featured Laura King and Lindsey Dodd.  Although I already knew about their ‘children of the future’ work from the conference I went to in Greenwich, I still found new knowledge and things to think about.  Laura’s part of the project is about how children have come to be represented in adverts and suchlike as ‘future adults’ and therefore their mental and physical health are important with that future status in mind.  She mentioned something I hadn’t really thought of before: that after the Voting Acts, all children became future voters as well – and therefore it became even more important to mould their minds while they were young.  Lindsey’s paper was about her research on Vichy France, where children were encouraged to hero-worship and send letters, pictures and donations to the office of Marshal Pétain, as well as influence their parents to support the regime.  I always find it quite disturbing to hear about!  But something I hadn’t thought about before was how these children were being encouraged to do something in the present, rather than being told they had to do certain things when they grew up.

The second panel featured Matt Ruuska from War Child, and Kerry Smith from Plan International UK.  As someone who’s interested in both research into and use of stories, and the charity sector, these papers were extremely engaging.  What really grabbed me is that both charities, as we were told, present children in such a way that they’re not passive, helpless, dependent victims – an unhelpful stereotype.  They have them looking at the camera, telling as much or as little of their stories as they want, and portray them as strong people who just need a bit of support to empower them to have a better future – again, giving the kids something to do in the present rather than having to wait.  Although I’d seen their adverts, I’d never really thought about this, and still associated charity appeals with images of silent, starving, kids covered in flies.  This got many of us thinking about representation – whose story is chosen to represent all the other children’s various stories?  What is appropriate and inappropriate?

The third panel was about gender and toys, with the other member of the research group, Vicky Crewe, talking about the issue in history with regards to the Boer War, and Jess Day, from Let Toys Be Toys, talking about the issue in the present, and what the campaign group has been doing to change things.  Vicky showed how the Boer War was a great opportunity to market war toys and games to boys, not only from a profit point of view but to get them interested in and supporting the war, and to encourage the soldiers of the future.  Although some girls may well have played with their brothers’ toys, and not all boys would have been enthusiastic about these toys, girls were engaged with the war in a different way, through writing lettings to troops and fundraising and being told that women’s role was to nurse or stoically wait at home for the men to return.  While boys were having these war toys marketed to them, girls were targetted with things that trained them for home-making, health and food products, and bikes.  This paper got me thinking about my own work; one of my autobiographers, born in 1918, described himself as not having been a fan of ‘boys’ toys’, only playing with them during fits of desire to conform.  Vicky also pointed out that not all children were exposed to the relentless Boer-isation of toys – children from religious or pro-Boer families (a couple of whom I’ve come across) would not have had the same pastime as their war-mad peers.  Jess’ talk was very interesting, not least because it made me think of gendered toys and clothing in my own lifetime.  It seems to me that in the time since I was growing up, things for girls have become very pink, whereas even before I went through my ‘no skirts or dresses’ phase, the clothes I wore weren’t massively girly and I was happy to wear a male cousin’s hand-me-downs (though I hated a pink shirt I had because it said ‘Little Man’ on the label!).  In the past 10-15 years, as Jess pointed out, things have become unnecessarily gendered – why on earth did someone at Next label a box of zoo animals as ‘for boys’ – and are sending the message to children that men and women do certain jobs, even as women’s career options have become wider than ever.

Something I really liked about this workshop was that time was set aside after a couple of the panels for us to discuss, on our tables, issues that had arisen.  It provided a nice break from listening to papers, and it wasn’t awkward as everyone had plenty to say!  A few things really grabbed me from these sessions.  The first was the idea of ‘the child’ (re: charities picking one story to represent all children they want to help) versus lots of individual children (which is something I’m trying to pick up on in my thesis).  While some academics grapple with the idea of what the archetypal child is, I’m going totally the other way and deliberately looking for differences!  Another thing that intrigued me was the question of whether certain children were being envisioned as ‘future workers’ or ‘future leaders’.  My grammar school certainly focussed on academic over vocational subjects, and projected us as leading companies and countries.  The third thing that gave me food for thought was the idea that by focussing so much on their future, we’re ignoring children’s present.  This struck a chord as it felt like I spent so much of my teenage years waiting to be able to do these great things as an adult, like ‘yes, this prospectus looks great but I’m not going to be applying to university for another two years!’ or ‘that job sounds like a great idea for when I hit the job market in several years’ time’.  Linked to that, what about people who feel let down because their envisioned future never materialised?  What about the children who aren’t part of this vision of the future because they’re poor, disabled, or don’t pass the right exam at the prescribed time?  Seeing children exclusively as future adults can lead some to feel ‘written off’ before they’ve even begun.

Overall, I had a great day, and it’s always nice to catch up with my history of childhood friends – the bunch of us who always go to these things, and always talk on Twitter.  I didn’t even feel the need to ‘escape’ at any point, now I know quite a few people well enough to chat beyond the usual ‘so, what do you do?’ pleasantries.

Thank you Alice for your thoughts on the day, and for letting us repost this piece, which originally appeared on Alice’s own blog

In this film, Principal Investigator Laura King (University of Leeds) discusses the upcoming workshop on 3 September 2015 at King’s College London, which will consider how and why children have been represented and mobilised for political purposes, past and present. It will bring together historians, campaigners and policy makers. Find out more, have a look at the programme and book now.

By Laura King, Principal Investigator, School of History, University of Leeds

‘Have mothers and parenthood been sufficiently recognised in their contribution towards the community? More attention should be paid to this question of the future generation as well as under what conditions children are to be brought into the world and reared. Otherwise, in a few years’ time the part which the British race will be taking in the future will be a dwindling part because we shall be a dwindling race.’

In 1942, MP and feminist campaigner Eleanor Rathbone addressed the House of Commons with these words, as it debated the question of woman-power during the Second World War. She highlighted the importance of children as future citizens and their role in ensuring the success of the British nation, race and empire in the future. And in this, she argued for a better recognition of women’s role in helping ensure the success of that future generation.

Evacuees in Britain during the Second World War

This example demonstrates some of the key themes of the ‘Agents of Future Promise’ project, and some issues to be discussed in our 3rd September workshop. Using historical research, we’re examining how children have been used to represent the future in the past. Does this matter at all today?

We think it does. Our research is opening up at least three important questions about children and the future. These are as relevant today as they were a hundred or fifty years ago, and these are important issues for those who work with or for children.

Firstly, if children are the future, can this help campaign groups mobilise support and funding to tackle child poverty, ensure better education programmes, attract resources for improving child health? Does it mean that children and young people themselves can use this idea in their own lobbying – if children are the future, shouldn’t they have a say in contemporary politics?

Secondly, if boys and girls are future citizens, are we moulding them into particular stereotypical gendered roles? Does this put too great an emphasis on girls’ roles as future mothers, and boys’ duty as future workers or soldiers – to protect the future of the nation?

Thirdly, does using children to represent ideas of the future for the interest of a political grouping actually harm children in some way? By using children’s potential and innocence to represent a political ideology, do we encourage the idea that children can be used for someone else’s ends?

The use of children to represent the future is an important and present concern – a potential benefit and burden for young people.

On 3 September 2015, our workshop at King’s College London will bring together NGO expertise and new historical and archaeological research to investigate the representation of children and its consequences.

Short presentations by historians, civil society practitioners and policy makers will be followed by small group discussions to reflect on historical research and contemporary policy and practice. The workshop is aimed at researchers, NGOs, policy makers and others working with and for children.

By taking part in this event, participants can:

  • Understand how and why children were mobilised and portrayed in the past for various reasons
  • Reflect on the implications of this history for policy and practice today
  • Share expert knowledge about children’s agency in their portrayals and mobilisation, past and present
  • Understand the policies and practices of NGOs working with and for children, past and present
  • Learn about how historical research can inform contemporary practices

Find out more by looking at the workshop programme.

Booking is now open through the King’s e-store. We have some travel bursaries available for those working in non-profit organisations, and students – email Laura King for more information.