Philip Cook is a lecturer in Political Theory in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. Join him on 4th August at 8.20pm at the New Town Theatre (Fringe venue 7) to discuss why we should bring back child-labour.
How does your CoDI show fit in with your research?
I believe the way we treat children in today’s societies is mostly wrong. We treat them more like pets than people. We deny them truly equal rights, and this includes the right to work. My research focuses on persuading people that children should be liberated from this infantilising treatment. One of the most radical ways children can become our equals is by giving them the right to work. So, as someone interested in the philosophical questions around social justice, I want to argue that the right to work for children is a matter of justice. My research into the rights and wrongs of child-labour is part of a bigger project I’ve been working on for some time that looks into what justice requires of our treatment of children. I’ve written in defence of votes for children (abolishing a minimum voting age), and am also working on what justice in schools would look like. But as I think about it more and more, work is central to the project of liberating children from the unjust treatment they experience, and that’s why I’m excited to explore this idea with our wonderful, inquisitive (and I’m sure critical!) Fringe audience.
Why is the topic ‘dangerous’?
All liberation movements have been seen as ‘dangerous.’ Womens’ ‘liberation’, colonial ‘liberation’ and racial ‘liberation’ have been radical and disruptive ideas in their different ways. There are lots of vested interests at stake, and it can be challenging to recognise that ways of living that seem normal and perfectly civilised are in fact riven with oppression, discrimination, and inequality. Children’s experience of childhood is similarily oppressive. Children’s liberation from childhood is not a new idea, but it is a minority view to say the least. But we have not always treated children the way we do today: children used to be treated much more as ‘little adults.’ Though we don’t want to go back to the days of sending children down mines (even if we had any left), we should at least recognise that the way we treat children is a choice, and not something ‘natural’ like the weather. Family life, economic life, and political life would be changed radically if children were allowed to work, and many might see this as dangerous. It might not be easy, but it is worth doing. At the very least, it’s at least worth thinking about very seriously.
Why is the topic important to you?
I’m passionate about treating children with greater equality. Equality is a radical value, it means we have to change the way we treat others. And that means we have to change ourselves, and for most of us, that is a big challenge. It goes against the grain of today’s society driven by values of consumption, control, desire, satisfaction, and pride. Equality demands some humility, some restraint, and some compassion towards others, accepting we and our ego cannot always be put first. If we think about the group of people whom it is most acceptable to boss around, to control, and to treat as ‘minors’ or inferiors, it is children. If you take equality seriously, you’ve got to reconsider the way to treat children. Inequality is a choice, and I would like to argue we can choose to treat children more equally.
Describe your show in 3 words
Surprising; outrageous; revolutionary
Why should the unenlightened Fringe-goer attend your show? What will they learn?
Almost everyone has a view on how children should be treated. Almost everyone tries to treat their own and other children as well as they can. My talk challenges the view held by most people that stopping children from working and forcing them to go to school is good for children. So almost everyone should be interested in this show! Although I work in political philosophy, the ideas are accessible to everyone, and the fundamental values I draw on are shared widely. So in the spirit of equality that animates my talk: I hope it will be accessible to all. Of course, I would be pleased if some people came away agreeing with me! But my main goal is for the audience to leave with some new questions in their mind, and some tools to think about those questions so they can make up their own mind about the issue. We generally don’t talk about children’s equality very seriously today, let alone the topic of child-labour, so let’s at least aim to open-up the conversation and cast-off assumptions that the way we do things today is necessarily the best.
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