Childhood as a Social Construct
- Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed: created and defined by society.
Modern Western Notion of Childhood: Child-Centred Society
- Childhood is a special time of life
- Belief that children lack skills, knowledge and experience.
- They need protection, nurturing & socialisation
- Jane Pilcher (1995): Most important feature of childhood is seperateness.
- Age laws in society
- Childhood has been refered to as the 'golden age'.
- However, children are seen as vulnerable.
- Stephen Wagg (1992): However, view that childhood as a seperate age-status is not found in all societies - not universal. "Childhood is socially constructed... no single universal childhood.." This means that different cultures interpret childhood differently.
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Cross Cultural Differences in Childhood: Ruth Benedict (1934)
- Ruth Benedict (1934) argues that children in simpler, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently.
- Take responsibility at a younger age.
- Less value on children showing obedience to adult authority.
- Sexual behaviour often viewed differently.
- Much less of a dividing line between the behaviour expected of children and of adults.
- Childhood is not a fixed thing.
- Differs from culture to culture.
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Historical Differences in Childhood
- Childhood in an 'invention'
- Aries (1960): from the 10th-13th centuries, childhood didn't exist.
- In middle ages, childhood was very short.
- Children were viewed as 'mini-adults'
- Aries uses art as evidence.
- Shorter (1975): high death rates encouraged indiffernece and neglect towards infants.
- Accoring to Aries childhood changed from 13th century onwards because of 1) Schools only for the young, 2) Clothing differences, 3) Handbooks on childrearing becoming available.
- Aries: The 20th Century as 'The Century of the Child'.
- Linda Pollock (1983): argues that its more correct to say that in Middle Ages, society simply had a different notion of childhood than today.
HOWEVER: Aries work is important because it shows that childhood is socially constructed.
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Reasons for Changes in the Position of Children
- 19th and 20th Centuries...
- Laws restricting child labour - children were economically dependent.
- Compulsory Schooling in 1880 - increased dependency.
- Child protection e.g. Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act 1889 & Children Act of 1989 - services available to children.
- Idea of childrens rights. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 - basic rights e.g. healthcare and education.
- Declining family size - adults spend more on fewer children.
- Age restricting laws.
- Childrens health and development theories.
- Most sociologists agree that industrialisation was the main cause for the change along with lower infant mortality rates.
Has the Position of Children Improved?
The March of Progress View
- Position of children was been steadily improving.
- Aries (1960) and Shorter (1975) hold this view: Children today are more valued, better cared for, protected and educated, enjoy better health and have more rights.
- Estimated £64 billion spent on education in 2007/08
- Babies have much better chance of survival - healthcare & higher standards of living.
- Time a child reachs 20st birthday - cost to parents is £186,000 (2007)
- Chlidren are no longer 'seen and not heard'.
- Media input to children - special programs.
Has the Position of Children Improved?
The Conflict View
- Conflict sociologists e.g. marxists & feminists
- Society is based on conflict between different social groups.
- Domination and subordination between groups where dominant oppresses the other.
- Argue that 'March of Progress' view is false & ignores important inequalities
- Inequalities in children: Access to opportunities and facing risks
- Inequalities between adults and children: Children today experience greater control, oppression and dependency.
- Nationalities, cultures, gender, social class, ethnic differences where children may not share same status or experiences.
- Adults use power as a new form of oppression and control, making them powerless.
- Abuse of children by adults. ChildLine - 20,000 calls a year reporting abuse.
- 'Stranger danger' means that children have to be driven to school - cannot walk on their own anymore.
- Adults control a childs daily routines. What they wear, how they sit, walk & run. Adults restrict children. Diana Gittins (1998) - AGE PATRIARCHY - adult domination.
The Future of Childhood
- Are children becoming more powerful?
- Is distinction between childhood & adulthood breaking down?
The Disappearance of Childhood
- Neil Postman (1994) - childhood is 'disappearing at a dazzling speed'.
- Children committing adult crimes, watching same TV.
- Children can read & write at an early stage - allowing to enter adult world sooner.
- Printed words creates information hierarchy - adults who can read, children who cannot. Adults have power to keep knowledge about sex, money, violence, illness & death a secret. This is now less.
- Television blurs - destroy the information hierarchy.
- Postman's study shows how different types of communication technology can influence the way childhood is constructed.
Opie (1993): childhood is not disappearing. Her studies have shown strong evidence of continued existence of a separate children's culture.
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The Globalisation of Western Childhood
- Western notions of childhood are being globalised.
- View that childhood is not disappearing, its spreading throughout the world
Reconstruction of Childhood?
- 'Toxic childhood' - negative trends of obesity, self-harm, drug & alcohol abuse, violence, early sexual experience & teen pregnancies.
- However, not all are effected by negative trends.
- Ageing population - more older people and less younger.
- Difficult to predict future of childhood because childhood is socially constructed.