Children’s citizenship


In an article that I found quite thought-provoking, Allison James considers the concept of children’s citizenship. She looks at how it is enacted in local contexts (using two English children’s hospitals as examples). She discusses how the ‘sociology of childhood’ developed since the 1990s has influenced conceptions of citizenship (particular children’s).

The idea of the child is one that changes from one culture to the next. How ‘the child’ is conceived and understood, though, informs the possibilities open to children in terms of agency. Policy (ostensibly designed to ‘protect’ children) constrains and restricts them; citizenship, as it is lived by children, is limited.

A large part of this restriction stems from the way children are understood/defined in terms of their ‘non’-adulthood – the way they are defined in terms of what they are not (adults).

James asserts that “…exploring the ways that the identity of ‘child’ is practiced is core to understanding the cultural politics of children’s citizenship. It is out of the conceptual differences in indentity, between children and adults (Jenks 1996), that the very problem of children’s status as citizens arises.”” (168)

“Marshall envisaged children only as ‘becomings’, rather than ‘beings’; this view is consistent with the idea that it is children’s lack of social competence that separates thier citizenship status from that of adults.” (169)

“Lister (2007) … shows that in social investment states, such as England, Canada and those in the European Union, children’s citizenship is problematic, since a number of the basic building blocks of citizenship are ambiguous when they are applied to children.” (170)

“In societies where children are largely judged in terms of the future adults they will become, their citizenship status as full participants in society is often heavily circumscribed. This is because… such understandings assume that ‘competency’ is something that is acquired the closer one is to becoming ‘adult’. This means, in effect, that ‘competency’ is necessarily (and only) an adult characteristic, i.e. one that children cannot possess’ (Uprichard, 305)” (171) 

What James writes here is relevant to a number of textx/genres, but I couldn’t help thinking of its relevance to children’s spy fiction (Ally Carter, etc.)

Ref: Allison James (2011) ‘To be(come) or not to be(come): Understanding children’s citizenship’ The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 633, January: 167-179

Referring to:

Jenks, Chris (1996) Childhood. London: Routledge

Lister, Ruth (2007) Why citizenship: where, when and how children? Theoretical Inquiries in Law 8(2): 693-718

Marshall, TH (1950) Citizenship and social change. London: Pluto

Uprichard, Emma (2007) Children as ‘being and becomings’: Children, childhood and temporality. Children and Society 22: 303-13

Other references that looked interesting include:

Archard, David. 1993. Children: Rights and childhood. London: Routledge.

Birch, Joanna, Penny Curtis, and Allison James. 2007. In search of the child-friendly hospital. Built Environment 33 (4): 405–16.

Boyden, Jo. 1997. Childhood and the policy makers: A comparative perspective on the globalization of childhood. In Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood, 2nd ed., eds. Allison James and Alan Prout. London: Falmer.

Cockburn, Tom. 1998. Children and citizenship in Britain. Childhood 5 (1): 99–117.

Hart, Roger. 2009. Charting change in the participatory settings of childhood. In Children, politics and communication, ed. Nigel Thomas. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

James, Allison, Penny Curtis, and Joanna Birch. 2008. Care and control in the construction of children’s citizenship. In Children and citizenship, eds. Jane Williams and Anatola Invernizzi. London: Sage.

James, Allison, and Adrian L. James. 2004. Constructing childhood: Theory, policy and social practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

James, Allison, and Alan Prout (eds) (1997) Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contmemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood. 2nd ed. London: Falmer

James, Allison and Adrian L James (2008) European Childhoods: Cultures, politics and childhoods in Europe. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave

Jans, Marc (2004) Children as citizens: towards a contemporary notion of child participation. Childhood 11(1): 27-44

Kjørholt, Anne Trine. 2002. Small is powerful: Discourses on “children and participation” in Norway. Childhood 9 (1): 63–82.

Lee, Nick. 2001. Childhood and society: Growing up in an age of uncertainty. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Qvortrup, Jens. 1994. Childhood matters: An introduction. In Childhood matters, eds. Jens Qvortrup, Marjatta Bardy, Giovanni Sgritta, and Helmut Wintersberger. Aldershot, UK: Avebury.

Roche, Jeremy. 1999. Children: Rights, participation and citizenship. Childhood 6 (4): 475–93.

Spyrou, Spyros. 2008. Education and the cultural politics of childhood in Cyprus. In European childhoods: Culture, politics and childhoods in Europe, eds. Allison James and Adrian L. James. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

Such, Elizabeth, and Robert Walker. 2005. Young citizens or policy objects. Journal of Social Policy 34 (1): 39–57.

Woodhead, Martin. 1997. Psychology and the cultural construction of children’s needs. In Constructingand reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood, 2nd ed., eds. Allison James and Alan Prout. London: Falmer.

Wyness, Michael. 2006. Childhood and society: An introduction to the sociology of childhood. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Family in the Gallagher Girls series


One last thought before I move on… family… how is this portrayed in the Gallagher Girls series? Cammie is a single child – though her best friends at the Academy make up for that (p.178) – and her school and home life are totally mixed together, with her mother as her headmistress, her aunt as a highly successful spy (graduated from her school), then a teacher at her school… her father is missing, perhaps (then definitely) dead… grandparents are mentioned periodically… family relationships are returned to time and again… but to what effect? How is this enjoyed by the reader? what does it offer us?

Consider this moment…

“For reasons that had nothing to do with my mother’s cooking ability (or lack thereof), I totally wasn’t looking forward to Sunday night. / Sure, we have a lot of traditions at the Gallagher Academy, and Sunday night dinners alone with my mum in her office were usually one of my favourites. I didn’t wear my uniform. She didn’t talk about the school. We weren’t headmistress and student on those nights. We were mother and daughter.” (245)

Why set the scene like this? Why enter this aspect of the life of a spy? (even if she is a teenage spy…)

[Actually, this whole chapter is a good example of what I’m talking about…]

Then, again, later, when the girls uncover more truths about their school and its founder (the senator’s daughter, Macey’s ancestor): “‘So Gilly’s family…’ Macey started, but trailed off. / ‘Disapproved?’ Liz guessed. Then she nodded. ‘Totally.’ / ‘Awesome’ Macey looked like she’d never been more proud to have Gilly’s blood in her veins.” (268).

There are two points to consider here: 1) Macey celebrates the rejection of the young spy Gilly by her stuffy old, stagnant family (something Macey no doubt feels a kinship with) and 2) lineage is important in this series: girls inherit their connections with the super-secret school for spies (the villains in the series do the same thing). The blood in your veins determines the education you will receive and the politics you will espouse… (see also p.263, 321-322) …Hmmmm… and then some of the characters are significant for their rejection of exactly that?!

Ref: Ally Carter (2012) Out of Sight, Out of Time. Orchard: London, Sydney

Boys, boy spies, boyfriends, boys at school… boys, boys, Boys?


Of course, boys are a preoccupation at Gallagher Girls’ Academy and it fits perfectly with the story, the setting, the characters, the everything, but… how are boys portrayed in this series? Is this a question worth asking? How does the portrayal of boys in this series offset the portrayal of girls?

What types of male are represented in this series? There are the boyfriends, of course, and the boys from Blackthorne, and the local boys… there are the male teachers, there are fathers – and there are lost fathers,… there are male spies/agents… senators and ambassadors…


This one caught my eye: “There’s something about Preston Winters. He has a sort of self-deprecating manner that all really hot nerds are either born with or acquire over time.” (190)

This is a character-type we could return to when considering Cammie’s friend Liz – and all her friends, in some ways, since they seem to draw on many stereotype traditions from American movies and TV programs about American high school… (note though, by raising the spectre of stereotypes, I don’t mean to belittle this series – I think it’s very clever and, as I’ve said, witty). What parts of the stereotypes are perpetuated? And what parts are challenged?

Fighting and alpha males

Of course, the girls do plenty of fighting in this series, too, but, again, this scene caught my eye:

“Zach was the first to react. In a flash, he was turning to me, yelling, ‘Run!’ / He didn’t know that the man in the alley was Agent Townsend. He didn’t care that Agent Townsend was heading straight for him. / ‘Zach, no!’ I yelled, the jumped between the two of them. ‘Stop!’ I cried, but Zach was already grabbing me around the waist and setting me in what he thought was a safer position. / ‘Ms. Morgan,’ Townsend snapped. ‘Go!’ / ‘You’re both telling me to run!’ I screamed while Preston peeked out from behind the door to watch two highly trained fighters in their prime behave like a couple of idiots. / I don’t want to think about how long it might have lasted if it hadn’t been for the whistle. High and loud, it pierced the air and reverberated in the narrow space for what felt like forever. / Everyone turned and looked through the early morning haze at Bex, who said, ‘If you boys want to beat [-p.192] each other’s guts out, I’m willing to let you, but I’d rather get Cam somewhere safe and find out what she’s doing walking the streets at five in the bloody morning.’ She started back down the alley, then stopped and added, ‘Oh and Zach, if you’re going to run away from school, leave a note. Even Cam did that.'” (191-192) … actually this thread continues on p197:

“Zach huffed but smiled. ‘So you’re Townsend.’ / The two of them stared for a long time, wordless. It felt a little like I was watching a documentary on the Nature Channel, something about alpha males in the wild. I didn’t have a clue how it was going to end until Townsend nodded and took a deep breath. / ‘I suppose you should hear it from me that I have met your mother.’ He smiled a little sadly. ‘Well…when I say met, I mean one time I tried to kill her.’ / There was a charge in the air. Maybe it was the plush carpet beneath our feet, but I could have sworn I felt a spark. / ‘Do me a favour.’Zach’s voice was low and dark and dangerous. ‘Next time, don’t just try.’ / Townsend smiled, and for a moment the two of them looked like long-lost friends. ‘Boys,’ Bex said, dropping into the chair at the head of the table. Abby rolled her eyes. ‘Exactly.'” (197)

Hmmm… what does it take to ‘be an alpha male’? How do such males fit into this series?

And what differentiates boys from men in the series? Consider: “It takes a lot to make people who know fourteen different languages speechless, but that did it. / When Zach said, ‘I’m going to kill Dr Steve,’ it wasn’t the angered threat of a worried boy; it was the calm, cool statement of an operative trained to do exactly that. And that, I think, is why it scared me.” (313)

Gallagher Girls

Obviously, drawing attention to the way boys are portrayed also draws attention to the girls. This is, to be fair, something that the narrator herself draws attention to when she states: “As Buckingham talked, I couldn’t help but remember that there’s a reason they call us Gallagher Girls. It’s not just because the youngest of us are twelve. It’s also because our founder was under twenty. From the very beginning we have been discounted and discredited, underestimated and undervalued. And, for the most part, we wouldn’t have it any other way.” (263)

Is this saying something about what the Gallagher Girls are and are not?

Actually, pp252-253 make this connection between boys and secret spy missions a bit more open. (It seems to be a connection the author is playing with!) Cammie realises that the report she had written after her first boyfriend was actually responsible for setting all the other events in motion. Something in that report (which covers the moment she ‘discovered boys’) tipped off the Circle that she was valuable and they started trying to capture her…

Ref: Ally Carter (2012) Out of Sight, Out of Time. Orchard: London, Sydney

How to think about fear


“A lot of people think that being a Gallagher Girl means not being afraid of anything. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not about ignoring fear. It’s about facing it, knowing the risks and the costs and sacrificing safety and security anyway. I’d seen my aunt Abby jump in front of a bullet once, and yet in that moment she was terrified. I didn’t want to know what I looked like.” (241)

Does this series have a stance on fear? safety? risk? the costs of safety and security?

Ref: Ally Carter (2012) Out of Sight, Out of Time. Orchard: London, Sydney

Ignorance is bliss


“I’d never thought about the things a person must see when they’re a footstep away from the presidency. All good spies know that ignorance really is bliss. Mr Winters looked like a man who knew things he truly wanted to forget. / I totally knew the feeling.” (225)

Is not knowing state secrets bliss? Is that how ‘common folk’ live? …in a state of bliss because they ‘don’t know’?

This concept isn’t just a fleeting one, either; in the final pages of the book, Cammie makes the important decision not to bug her mother’s office or listen in on the discussions taking place there. “‘Because if we were supposed to know what is happening in that room, we would have been invited into that room,’ I said, and smiled at Zach. He’d been right, of course, and I looked down at the mat. ‘Because there are things you just can’t unhear. No matter how much you want to.'” (320) The significance of this decision is partly in that it reflects a change in Cammie’s nature (from a girl who loves spying and sneaking around the Academy to find out more to a girl who makes the choice not to do so… spying becomes a question of principle…)

Ref: Ally Carter (2012) Out of Sight, Out of Time. Orchard: London, Sydney

Still on Gallagher Girls and matters of state…


Okay, so there’s another scene in Out of Sight, Out of Time that brings to mind questions of nation and security… As Cammie drags the bleeding American Ambassador towards the gates of the US Embassy in Rome, she moves consciously towards safety. “‘The ambassador,’ I yelled to the marines at the gates. ‘The ambassador has been injured!’ / I don’t know whether it was my words or the sight of the man limping and bleeding, but the gates opened. / There were guards and marines, and a final, fading rev of a motorcycle engine as I dragged Preston’s father [the Ambassador] past the fences, safely onto American soil. [End of Chapter]” (226)

There is something momentous about these last words, and again the sense of a theme that comes through in American movies – the safety of the American Embassy in hostile countries. This ‘safe space’ is so trusted in by Americans (you notice this if you come from a small country which doesn’t always have an embassy – and may well not be manned, even if it does. We often share with Australia – hard to develop a sense of security in something that doesn’t exist!). It connects, I think, with the notion of safe-houses (a setting that fits perfectly into spy fiction). There are a couple of safe houses at least in this book – and a couple of safe places that are compromised… surrounding each of these places is the notion of surveillance and armed force.

What is it about these places? What connects them to notions of safety? How are they defined? What role do they serve in the imagining of a nation? How do they provide settings for stories about risk/safety? How do they connect with the real world? Where are we safe?

…Cammie always feels safe at the Academy, where her mother is headmistress, and where her best friends share a room with her – her home, basically… she is also encouraged to feel safe here (it is well staffed by excellent spies)… I’m back to the conspiracies surrounding spies, 9/11, home, national security… (these connections are not explicit in the text, I’m just saying, as themes go, they all seem connected)… thoughts?


Ref: Ally Carter (2012) Out of Sight, Out of Time. Orchard: London, Sydney

What is a necessary curriculum for state security?


I’m still thinking about Ally Carter’s humour, I guess, but I’m also thinking about the way that concepts of school/schooling enter into this fiction

When Cammie introduces everyone to the Ambassador, for example, she states: “Bex took the ambassador’s hand and said hello in a way that would have made Madame Dabney extremely proud. ‘And this is Zach,’ I said, rounding out the group; but Zach just stood stoically with his arms across his chest. (I guess the Culture and Assimilation curriculum at Blackthorne leaves a lot to be desired.)”(195)

There is, here, that thread of the school story coming through… the competition with the boys’ school that is a brother-school, yet also the antithesis of what Gallagher Girls’ Academy stands for (in that they were training assassins…). The feeling of a finishing school for young ladies brought in by the character of Madame Dabney (and her class, too) also adds to the fun – since these girls ‘kick ass’…

Consider also: “‘Guard change,’ Bex said, her eyes never moving from the binoculars that had been a permanent part of her face for hours. Townsend made a note, and I remembered the immortal advice of Joe Solomon that, at its heart, being a spy is boring. The older I got, the smarter my teachers became.” (206)

Okay, and while I’m on it… consider this… how academic is ‘spying’? Cammie (the narrator/protagonist) states: “I know the theories behind interrogation tactics. I’ve seen the tutorials. I’ve read all the books. In the part of my mind that was still thinking, processing, planning, I knew that if the Circle had wanted to break me, there was no better place than my father’s grave. …I knew it might have worked.” (237) It’s just the way ‘theories’, ‘tutorials’, ‘books’ come together so naturally as resources for a curriculum in spying… why is that? Dispositions are, of course, important in this series, but what makes spying something you can learn like any other subject?

And, how are concepts of school and schooling presented in this series? How do our ideas about school help make Carter’s humour work? …

Ref: Ally Carter (2012) Out of Sight, Out of Time. Orchard: London, Sydney