Sociology- Childhood as a social construct

  • Created by: Daisymac
  • Created on: 19-01-19 14:06
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  • Childhood as a social construct
    • What?
      • Sociologists see childhood as socially constructed
      • They argue that what people mean by childhood, and the position that children occupy in society, is not fixed and differs over time
    • The modern western notion of childhood
      • Children are regarded as physically and psychologically immature and not yet competent to run their own lives
      • Pilcher 1995 notes that the most important feature of the modern idea of childhood is separateness. Childhood is seen as a clear and distinct life stage and children in our society occupy a separate status from adults
      • Emphasised through laws that forbid children to do certain things, as well as dress, food ,books and play areas
      • Idea that childhood=golden age means that they are protected and quarantined from dangers.
        • So their lives are lived largely in the sphere of the family and education
      • Wagg 1992 argues that childhood is socially constructed as there is no single universal childhood experienced by all
      • In western cultures, children are defined as vulnerable and unable to fend for themselves but other cultures do not see a great difference between children and adults
    • Cross-cultural differences in childhood
      • Comparative approach- To look at how children are seen and treated in other times and places than our own.
      • Benedict 1934 argues that children in simpler, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from modern societies
      • They take responsibility at an early age-- punch's 2002 study of childhood in rural Bolivia found that they are expected to take work responsibilities in the home and community at age 5
        • Holmes' 1974 study of a Samoan village found that too young was never  reason for not doing a task.
      • Less value is placed on children showing obedience - Firth 1970 found that among the Tikopia of the western pacific, doing as you were told is a concession to be granted by the child
      • Children's sexual behaviour is often viewed differently- Malinowski 1957 study of Trobriand islanders  found that adults took an attitude of 'tolerance and amused interest' towards children's sexual explorations
    • The globalisation of western childhood
      • International humanitarian and welfare agencies have exported and imposed on the rest of the world what a childhood should be
      • EG. Campaigns against child labour, or concerns about street children reflect western views about how childhood should be
      • However, some would argue these campaigns have little impact on the position of children
    • Historical differences in childhood
      • The position of children differs over time
      • Historian Aries 1960 argues that in the middle ages ,the idea of childhood did not exist as children were not seen as having different needs from adults
        • Childhood as a separate age stage was short
        • Children were seen as mini adults with the same rights, duties and skills as adults
        • His evidence was art from the period-- It shows that children appear without any of the characteristics of childhood
      • Parental attitude has changed over time.Shorter 1975 argues the high death rate  encouraged indifference and neglect. Eg. parents would forget children's names, how many children they had etc
    • The modern cult of childhood
      • According to Aries, elements of modern notion of childhood emerged from the 13th century onwards
      • Schools came to specialise purely in education of the young and this reflected the impact of the church , which saw children as fragile creatures of God
      • There was growing distinction between children's and adults clothing by 17th c
      • By the 18th century, handbooks on childrearing were widely available
      • Aries argues that these developments culminate in the modern cult of childhood and argues we have moved to a world that obsesses over childhood
      • Some criticise Aries for arguing childhood not existing in the past .
        • Pollock 1983 argues that it is more correct to say in the middle ages, society had a different notion of childhood
        • But it is valuable as it shows how childhood is socially constructed
    • Reasons for changing in the position of children
      • Laws restricting child labour and excluding children from paid work
      • The introduction of compulsory schooling in 1880
      • Child protection and welfare legislation-- such as 1889 prevention of cruelty to children act and 1989 children act
      • The growth of the idea of children's rights eg Rights of the child 1989 lays down basic rights
      • Declining family size and lower infant mortality
      • Children's development became the subject of medical knowledge
      • Laws and policies that apply specifically to children
      • Industrialisation


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