Modern Western Notion + Cross-Cultural Differences

Childhood = 'Golden Age' of innocence. Pilcher - 'modern childhood defined by separateness'.

+ Children have separate status and must be protected from adult life.

BUT not universal view: Wagg - childhood is socially constructed. No single universal experience.

Childhood is not a fixed, universal thing but varies culture-to-culture. 

Benedict - childhood differs in non-industrial societies:

1) Responsibility at Earlier Age  2) Less value on obedience  3) Different Sexual Behaviour

Study: Malinowski - Trobriand Islanders were tolerant on children's sexual explorations.

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Historical Differences + Modern Cult

Ariés - concept of childhood did not exist in Medieval Europe. 

+ Study of paintings - Children depicted same as adults on a smaller scale. Worked and behaved like adults.

Shorter - High death rates encouraged indifference/neglect to infacts. Referred as 'it' or named the same as a dead sibling.

Ariés - from C13th schools specialised in education of the young, reflecting church 'fragile creatures'. C17th - distinction between children's and adults' clothing. C18th - Handbooks on childrearing - child-centred family. C20th - Century of the child


Pollock - Wrong to say childhood didnt exist, rather different notion of it in Medial Europe.

BUT Ariés work is valuable bc it shows childhood is a social construction.

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Reasons for Changes in Position

Industrialisation underlines many of the reasons:

  • Laws restricting child labour 
  • Compulsory Schooling 
  • Child protection legislation - 1889 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act
  • Idea of children's rights - UN Convention on the Rights of Child - right to healthcare, education
  • Lower Infant Mortality Rate 
  • Progress in Children's Health - Denzelot - C19th theories stressed children needed protection
  • Laws with age restrictions - smoking, sex
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Future: Disappearance

Postman - childhood is disappearing (ex: similarity in clothing + same rights as adults). Reason: the fall of print culture and rise of TV culture. 

+ Information Hierarchy - From C19th childhood was separate bc adults could read and hide knowledge about 'bad' topics thus childhood was innocent/ignorant. TV blurs this because anyone can access it. Disappearence of adulthood - adults' and children's tastes/styles r indistinguishable.


Opie - childhood is not disappearing. Strong evidence of continued existence of separate children's culture. 

Postman over-emphasises TV as a single cause. 

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Future: Postmodernity

Jenks - childhood is only changing

Modernity: Concerned with futurity and preparation to be an adult. Children needed to be nurtured by a child-centered family. Adults' relationships were more stable. 

Postmodernity: Adults' relationships become unstable, divorce more common. Relationships with children become important source of identity. Over-protection of children, resulting in even more separateness from before and greater surveillance of children's lives.


There is more evidence that parents see relationships with children as more important than with parents, but from small unrepresentative studies.

Jenks over-generalises despite family diversity to imply all children are in same position.

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Has the Position Improved? MoP View

Childhood is steadility getting better. It is better now than it has ever been due to childcare, rights, education + smaller child-centred families and better healthcare, lower IMR.

Ariés and Shorter held MoP view. Parents can provide for needs of smaller families better. Family is child-centred + high financial/emotional investment from parents: Cost of raising a child until 21 is ~£227k.

Toxic Childhood

Palmer - Rapid tech/cultural changes in past 25 years damaged children's emotional, physical + intellectual development.

UNICEF - UK is 21/25 for children's wellbeing

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Has the Position Improved? Conflict View

Society is based on conflict which arises from power inequalities. MoP view is idealitistic.

Inequalities among children:                                                                                                            Not all children have same status/experience.                                                                           Bonke - girls do more domestic labour, especially in lone-parent families: 5x more than boys.          Brannen - Asian parents more likely to be strict towards daughters.                                          Children of unskilled manual workers 3x more likely to suffer from hyperactivity.

Inequalities between children and adults:                                                                                            Firestone & Holt - many things seens as protection by MoP are in fact ways to oppress children:     Neglect and abuse (ChildLine over 20k calls a year); Control over space (1971 86% travelled home alone, 2010 25%), time, bodies, resources (labour laws mean children are dependent + child benefit goes to parent)

 Age Patriarchy:

Gittins - Adult domination/child dependency. Patriarchy: 'rule by father'. Society oppresses women/children - 200 women study left abuse because fear for children.

Hockey - Acting Up/Acting Down

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Position: 'New Sociology of Childhood'

Mayall - Idea that childhood is socially constructed risks seeing children as passive 'socialisation projects' from 'adultist' viewpoint.

Children are active agents who play major part in creating own childhood.

Mason - Children actively create their definitions of who is family. 

Smart - use of empowering methods (unstructured interviews) uncover the many childhoods from pov of children themselves. Study: Children in divorce take an active role in making situation better. 

Explore diverse, multiple childhoods within a single society. 'disabled childhoods, Chinese childhoods, poor childhoods'

Draws attention to fact that children often lack power in relation to adults, thus approach favoured by child liberationists.

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