Susan Shepler

Childhood Deployed

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Childhood
Deployed
examines
the reintegration of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Based on eighteen
months of participant-observer ethnographic fieldwork and ten years of follow-up research, the book argues that there is a fundamental disconnect
between the Western idea of the child soldier and the individual lived
experiences of the child soldiers of Sierra Leone. Susan Shepler contends that
the reintegration of former child soldiers is a political process having
to do with changing notions of childhood as one of the central structures of
society.

For
most Westerners the tragedy of the idea of “child soldier” centers
around perceptions of lost and violated innocence. In contrast, Shepler finds
that for most Sierra Leoneans, the problem is not lost innocence but the horror
of being separated from one’s family and the resulting generational break in youth education. Further, Shepler argues that Sierra Leonean former child
soldiers find themselves forced to strategically perform (or refuse to perform)
as the“child soldier” Western human rights initiatives expect in order to most effectively gain access to the resources available for their social
reintegration. The strategies don’t always work—in some cases, Shepler finds,
Western human rights initiatives do more harm than good.

While
this volume focuses on the well-known case of child soldiers in Sierra Leone,
it speaks to the larger concerns of childhood studies with a detailed
ethnography of people struggling over the situated meaning of the categories of childhood.It offers an example of the
cultural politics of childhood in action, in which the very definition of childhood is at stake and an important site of political contestation.
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311 printed pages

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