historical childhood

aries study and evaluation

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The Social Construction of Childhood
Phillipe Aries (1962)
Key Study
Philippe Aries, the French Historian, used letters, diaries, painting and other documents to argue that
the concept of childhood did not exist in medieval Europe
a) Pre industrialisation: Children were mini adults, working alongside adults as economic assets in the
fields or cottage industries. They dressed and behaved like adults- there were no toys or games.
Investing emotionally in children was difficult with high death rates.
b) 16th Century (industrialisation): The modern concept of childhood began to emerge as upper classes
sent their children to schools. Childhood was seen as a separate stage and there parental love in
middle class families grew as infant mortality rate fell. Middle class children were seen as the
innocents that needed protecting and working class children seen as corrupt, wicked and needed
c) 19th century (industrialisation): During the industrial revolution, factory acts banned the
employment of children in mines and factories where 1000's had been killed or injured. By the end
of this century, elementary state education was compulsory ­ children were separated from adult
settings & had a separate legal status ­ they no longer had economic worth. This entire process was
accompanied by the development of professionals that specialised in children's welfare i.e.
d) 20th century: Child centred society ­ whereby the physical, sexual and moral interests of the child
are of central concern ­ they are different from adults and therefore have different needs. This is
due to several reasons such as the state giving children today more rights and empowerment ­ they
are more active in family life and so more democratic. Young people are also seen as an economic
force in society, targeted by advertising
Daehler (2001) claims that children in medieval Europe, were seen as different from adults e.g.
there were laws prohibiting the marriage of children under 12
Pollack : claims that childhood has always been around- he looked back at diaries written between
16th and 20th century and found evidence for this whereby children were treated as lesser and were
often exposed to physical and emotional abuse.
Cunningham through examining Renaissance Art found that children were also depicted as
innocents; therefore childhood did exist at this time.


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