Teaching Rights and Responsibilities: Paradoxes of Globalization and Children's Citizenship in Lebanon

By Joseph, Suad | Journal of Social History, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Teaching Rights and Responsibilities: Paradoxes of Globalization and Children's Citizenship in Lebanon


Joseph, Suad, Journal of Social History


Learning Citizenship in a Globalizing World

What families teach their children as their rights and responsibilities as citizens in state societies needs to be studied in the context of the contradictory and complementary modes in which globalization has impacted cultural beliefs and practices in all states and transformed citizen subjects into complex global subjects, materially and concretely. Globalization can be understood in multiple ways. For the purposes of this paper I use the approach that "Globalization is a process that opens nation states to many influences that originate beyond their borders. These changes are likely to decrease the primacy of national economic, political, and social institutions, thereby affecting the everyday context in which children grow up and interact with the rest of society." (1) While it is often difficult to discriminate between influences which originate within and beyond state borders, it is nevertheless important to assess the impact of (the largely Western) international constructs of rights and responsibilities to which state societies have been subject or subjected to. These Western constructs have transported basic presumptions that citizens are autonomous, individualized selves with direct and unmediated relationships with the state and with rights and responsibilities which inhere in their personhood. (2) Such notions, universalized to some degree through international conventions, (3) have been resisted, assimilated, and become imbricated in family relations and child-rearing practices in complex and contradictory ways in societies which have long engaged in globalization. Among the families with whom I have worked in Lebanon, cultural ideas and practices of teaching children their rights and responsibilities (4) appear to reflect resistance to and assimilation of basic presumptions embedded in international conventions. Yet ferreting out what constitutes resistance and what constitutes assimilation is difficult at best since it presumes an a priori "pure" culture, unaffected by globalization. This is not the case in Lebanon. I suggest that the practices deployed by families in teaching children rights and responsibilities in Lebanon entail paradoxical incorporations of notions which both support and undermine both international conventions and locally upheld ideals and that locally held beliefs are already inflected with regional and global influences.

In this paper, I suggest that Lebanon has been so much at the crossroads of globalization (whether one defines globalization as beginning 1,000 or 300 or 50 years ago), that it is difficult and perhaps not meaningful to articulate "authentic" Lebanese family child-rearing discourses and practices. But global engagement does not mean homogenization. Indeed, it is perhaps because of this deep embedding in globalization that the diversity of discourses and practices in the teaching of children's rights and responsibilities in Lebanon raises compelling questions. Based on two long term research projects, one urban and one rural, one project begun (1971) before the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) and one begun (1994) just after, I found discourses and practices played out among families teaching their children rights and responsibilities which both complemented and contradicted Western notions underwritten in international conventions.

On the whole, international conventions have been informed by liberalist notions of the autonomous citizen subject. On the whole, locally upheld cultural ideals support a notion of the relational or connective self. In Lebanon, the liberalist model of children's rights and responsibilities (based on an autonomous, individualist self) wove through public and local discourses and practices in tandem with relational models of children's rights and responsibilities (based on a connective self nested in patriarchal connective familial relationships). (5) While the relational models of rights and responsibilities and connectivity were not "authentic" Lebanese discourses and practices unaffected by globalization, they did, nevertheless, propel dictates for action which at times appeared to contradict liberalist dictates, leaving parents, extended kin, and children confused.

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