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

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    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
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


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