`Highly Vulnerable'? Political Violence and the Social Construction of Traumatized Children

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarian interventions to provide psychological assistance to children exposed to political violence have become commonplace. Within the literature and the practices of organizations involved in interventions, there is a widespread conception that children exposed to political violence are highly vulnerable to psychological trauma. This article challenges this claim. The article examines a number of methodological weaknesses in the existing literature and associated practices, including: problems of measurement; an inadequate conception of the aetiology of children's psychological responses; and a lack of due attention to the literature on child development. On the basis of this examination, we conclude that the evidence base does not support the conclusion that children are highly vulnerable. The article then suggests that two factors may help to explain the growth in interventions in the absence of a scientifically rigorous evidence base: cultural changes in Western society, which have led to an increasing focus on `victimhood', which maps easily onto existing Western conceptions of childhood as a time of innocence; and changes in the international system at the end of the Cold War, which have provided a favourable environment for the significant growth of `humanitarian' interventions. The article concludes with some suggestions for lines of inquiry for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Volume46
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009

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political violence
social construction
humanitarian intervention
cold war
international system
cultural change
etiology
evidence
trauma
assistance
childhood
Violence
examination
lack
literature

Cite this

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title = "`Highly Vulnerable'? Political Violence and the Social Construction of Traumatized Children",
abstract = "Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarian interventions to provide psychological assistance to children exposed to political violence have become commonplace. Within the literature and the practices of organizations involved in interventions, there is a widespread conception that children exposed to political violence are highly vulnerable to psychological trauma. This article challenges this claim. The article examines a number of methodological weaknesses in the existing literature and associated practices, including: problems of measurement; an inadequate conception of the aetiology of children's psychological responses; and a lack of due attention to the literature on child development. On the basis of this examination, we conclude that the evidence base does not support the conclusion that children are highly vulnerable. The article then suggests that two factors may help to explain the growth in interventions in the absence of a scientifically rigorous evidence base: cultural changes in Western society, which have led to an increasing focus on `victimhood', which maps easily onto existing Western conceptions of childhood as a time of innocence; and changes in the international system at the end of the Cold War, which have provided a favourable environment for the significant growth of `humanitarian' interventions. The article concludes with some suggestions for lines of inquiry for future research.",
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`Highly Vulnerable'? Political Violence and the Social Construction of Traumatized Children. / Gilligan, Chris.

In: Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 46, No. 1, 01.2009, p. 119-134.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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