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Deliberators, not Future Citizens: Children in Democracy

The 24-page article, Deliberators, not Future Citizens: Children in Democracy (2017), was written by Kei Nishiyama, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. The article advocates for children to be authentically included in deliberative democracy, as opposed to the position most children have, of little to no agency in democratic activities. Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

Children are “neither seen nor heard.” This is an often-used phrase when childhood scholars discuss the relationship between children and democracy (e.g. Cohen, 2005). It points out the largely ignored places and roles of children in both theory and practice of democracy. Yet, during the past several decades, we also observe a gradual improvement of recognition of children, partly as a result of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989, which enabled a number of scholars and practitioners to re-evaluate a variety of children’s participatory activities throughout the world (e.g. Lansdown, 2001; Invernizzi & Williams, 2008; Percy-Smith & Thomas, 2010). These studies invite us to reconsider the role of children in democracy.

However, the serious issue today is that children are “seen but not heard” rather than “neither seen nor heard.” Despite empirical evidence of children’s crucial democratic role in society, there still exists skepticism about their capacities, such as communication skills, which prevents scholars from taking children’s voices seriously. Furthermore, some scholars fail to take into consideration earnestly children’s various and unique ways of democratic involvement. For example, although non-participation could be interpreted as a “reasonable” political strategy for children to resist adult-centered politics (O’Toole, 2003), it is usually seen merely as evidence of their apathy or rudeness (e.g. Crick Report, 1998). The ignorance of children’s present capacities, knowledge, and/or experiences is often grounded in the current mainstream conceptualization of children – children as future citizens.

The aim of this article is to counteract this understanding of children and to contend that it is possible to reconceptualize them and their democratic agency in contemporary societies. In particular, drawing on insights gained from various contexts, this article sets a theoretical agenda for “children as effective agents of democracy.” In doing so, this article engages with several key questions: Why are children often seen as “incapable”? Is a reconceptualization of children as effective democratic agents possible? What theoretical framework/s can effectively appreciate their activities in democratic process? In responding to these questions, this article situates children in the context of deliberative democracy, particularly within the idea of the deliberative system. Although no deliberative democrats consider the case of children thus far, the systemic understanding of deliberative democracy framework adopted in this article enables a better interpretation and evaluation of children’s activities. This framework draws our attention to expanded notions of (a) actors of deliberation (deliberators), (b) spaces of deliberation, and (c) impacts of deliberation. Drawing on recent discussions of deliberative systems and using that as a theoretical framework, this article unpacks children’s various democratic engagements as “deliberators” (not future citizens).

The opening section overviews some of the dominant arguments (namely, socialization and remediation) that underpin the conceptualization of “children as future citizens,” then the next section problematizes these arguments. In so doing, it contends that children’s unique capacities can contribute to the democratization of society in a different way from adults and that they already play a powerful role in democratic processes. In reconceptualizing children as “effective agents of democracy,” the following sections argue that deliberative democracy, especially a systemic understanding of it, can provide a better theoretical framework for appreciating children’s democratic agency in more defensible ways than the existing framework suggested especially by citizenship studies (“children as citizens” framework). The final section outlines some possible contributions of children as deliberators from the deliberative system’s point of view.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss1/art1/

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