A photo of a dead three-year-old refugee boy on a Turkish beach goes viral. A hashtag started in Africa becomes a call for action in the global north to rescue school girls from extremists. A 15-year-old is shot in the head and once recovered continues her activism for girls education. A grieving father clutches his dead nine-month-old twins after a gas attack in Syria. A toddler, lit by bright headlights, cries for her mother being arrested at the US border.
What are the consequences of the creation, circulation, and reception of images of children in situations of conflict and crises? How are young people particularly suited for virality, and what does it tell us about both the situation the child finds themselves in, and how those far from the crisis understand the politics and humanity? How are we asked to read their bodies, their lives, their stories? What are the uneven global power relations; the gendered and racial and youthed implications of these images? These questions motivate a research agenda that has evolved from blogging when events occurred into a coherent research agenda over the past few years.
Drawing on feminist theories and methods to pay attention to gender as it intersects with age reveals powerful assumptions that operate in these context. In 2015 I won the International Feminist Journal of Politics’ Cynthia Enloe Award for an article that explored the construction of girlhood in the #IAmMalala and #BringBackOurGirls campaigns. With Lesley Pruitt and Gayle Munro, in the journal Signs, we explored the stereotypes and assumptions that shape young male refugees’ arrival to Europe during the so-called ‘crisis’. I have also spoken with Lesley about these themes in a podcast for Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security centre, and as a guest on the Dead Prussian podcast.
More recently, my attention to representations of children in crisis has focused particularly on children who are not just suffering, but are dead. Building on existing work in international relations that recognises the corpse as a significant subject for IR, and again drawing on feminist IR, as well as the work of Judith Butler, my work has asked how we might sit with the discomfort of these explorations to hold the embodied presence and representational discourse together to account for children’s deaths in crises. I have presented this work in a number of places, and published an article in International Political Sociology. This work is ongoing.
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