Childhood notes

childhood as a social construct

has the position of children improved?

the future of childhood

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o Childhood is socially constructed; something created and defined by society
o What people mean by childhood and position children occupy is not fixed ­ differs between
times, places and cultures
The modern western notion of childhood
o Childhood is a special time of life ­ children are different from adults
o Regarded as physically and psychologically immature and not yet competent to run own lives
o Children's lack of skills, knowledge and experience means they need period of nurturing and
socialisation before they're ready for adulthood and their responsibilities
o Jane Pilcher ­ most important feature of childhood is separateness ­ childhood is a clear and
distinct life stage and children occupy a separate status to adults
o Emphasised through:
o Laws regulating what children are allowed, required or forbidden to do
o Differences in dress
o Differences in products and services, such as toys, food, books, entertainment etc.
o Childhood is a Golden Age of happiness and innocence
o Innocence means children are seen as vulnerable and need protection from dangers
Must be `quarantined' and kept separate from adult world
o Children's lives lived in family and education where adults provide for them
o Lead lives of leisure and play and excluded from paid work
o Stephen Wagg ­ separate age status is not universal
o All humans go through same stages of physical development
o HOWEVER different cultures construct or define process differently
o Western culture ­ children defined as vulnerable
o Other cultures ­ not a large difference between children and adults
Cross cultural differences in childhood
o Comparative approach ­ how children are seen and treated in other times & places than our own
o Ruth Benedict ­ children in non-industrial societies are treated differently:
They take responsibility at an early age
Samantha Punch study of childhood in rural Bolivia ­ once children are 5yrs they take work
Lowell and Holmes study of Samoan village ­ "too young" was never given as a reason for
children to not do a task.
Less value placed on child showing obedience to authority
Raymond Firth Tikopia of Western Pacific ­ doing as told by adult is regarded as a concession
granted by child, not a right to be expected by adult.
Childrens sexual behaviour is viewed differently
Malinowski Trobriand Islanders ­ adults took attitude of tolerance and amused interest
towards children's sexual explorations and activities
o In non-industrial cultures - less of a dividing line between behaviour expected on children and
behaviour expected of adults
o Evidence suggests childhood is not a fixed thing, it is socially constructed so differs between cultures

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Historical differences in childhood
o Differs over time as well as between societies
o Today's childhood is a relatively recent `invention'
o Philippe Aries childhood did not exist in the middle ages
Children weren't seen as having different needs from adults
Childhood was short in Middle Ages
Began work at early age
Children were mini adults with same duties, rights and skills as adults
The law made no distinction ­ children often faced same punishments as adults
EVIDENCE ­ works of art from this period…read more

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Jacques Donzelot - theories of child development stressed need for protection
and supervision
o Laws and policies apply specifically to children
Such as minimum age for activities such as smoking
Reinforced idea that children are different from adults
Different rules must be applied to their behaviour
o Process of industrialisation was force for many changes
o E.g.…read more

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Not all children share same status or experiences
o Children of different nationalities likely to experience different childhoods
90% of worlds low birth weight babies born in 3rd world
o Gender differences between children
o Mayer Hillman boys more likely to be allowed to go out alone after dark
o Jens Bonke girls do more domestic labour especially in lone parent families
o Ethnic differences
o Julia Brannen study of 15-16y/o's ­ Asian parents more strict towards daughters
o Ghazala Bhatti found idea of family…read more

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Some adult control over children's lives is justified
Children cannot make rational decisions, unable to safeguard interests
o Children are not as powerless as the child liberationists claim
Childrens Act establishes principle hat children have legal rights to be protected
Idea of children's rights could show:
o Children are becoming more powerful
o Distinction between childhood and adulthood are breaking down
o Western childhood could be disappearing
The disappearance of childhood
o Neil Postman ­ "childhood is disappearing at dazzling speed"…read more

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Argues strong evidence of continued existence of a separate children's culture over many
o Findings contradict Postman- their study shows children can and do create own
independent culture separate from that of adults
The Globalisation of Western Childhood
o Child liberationists argue that modern western childhood is oppressive and children today are
subject to adult authority
o Western notions of childhood are being globalised
o International humanitarian and welfare agencies have exported and imposed on rest of world
western norms of what childhood should…read more

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Compulsory education makes young economically dependent for longer
Children's freedom of movement is more restricted e.g.…read more


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