Save us from the children: Trauma, citizenship and the politics of Palestinian childhood


Fri, 10/05/2012 - 3:00pm to Fri, 08/12/2022 - 8:38pm

Since the Second Intifada, trauma relief has served as the primary justification for a range of international humanitarian aid and development projects targeting Palestinian children and youth. Considering the central role that international humanitarian relief and development organizations have played in the Palestinian state-building process, Marshall argues that beyond merely responding to the trauma of political violence, humanitarian aid projects produce traumatized childhood subjects with the goal of transforming them into governable, neo-liberal citizens. While Palestinian children and adults alike suffer very real physical, psychological and emotional scars from the ongoing military occupation of Palestine, humanitarian aid projects presume all Palestinian children to be always already traumatized, and thus potentially prone to violence. Thus, implicit in trauma relief projects is the threat that if children are not properly treated their pent up emotional energy will release itself violently in the future – leading one to wonder whether such projects are primarily intended to provide relief to Palestinian children, or security from them. Moreover, the focus on personal healing through individual self-expression in trauma relief projects serves to depoliticize the context in which violence occurs, transforming the occupation into a set of symptoms to be treated. Likewise, the focus on individual trauma forecloses other possible responses to political violence, including empowerment.

Drawing on participant observer research with youth-oriented NGOs in Palestine, as well as with Palestinian children in a West Bank refugee camp, this talk will explore the role of international NGOs in producing particular forms of childhood political subjectivity, and how children themselves variously perform and transform such discursive constructions of Palestinian childhood. 

Sandy Marshall is an ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellow currently completing his dissertation in geography at the University of Kentucky. His dissertation, entitled "A Children's Geography of Occupation: Imaginary, Emotional, and Everyday Spaces of Palestinian Childhood", explores the ways in which international humanitarian discourse works to shape the spaces and identities of Palestinian children, and how Palestinian children in turn perform, disrupt and transform these discourses in their everyday lives. Sandy spent two years in the West Bank conducting field research for this project with the support of the National Science Foundation and the Palestinian American Research Center. Sandy completed his MA in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona, and he holds a BA in Politics from the Queen's University of Belfast.

Video of the talk


MENAS Colloquium Series
Fall 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012
3pm in Marshall 490