Sociology Overview

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sees society as running smoothly and in agreement.

Family is essential for the survival of society, like a heart in a body!

Durkheim places enphasis on order and stablility 

  • Analogy of the body
  • Organs work together
  • The structure is benefitial to everybody
  • Society is like a body, family is the heart 
  • all institutions have an important function (just like all the organs)
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Nuclear Family:

man & woman, living together with their children- own or adopted - and maintaining a socially acceptable sexual relationship.

Claims that the Nuclear Family is universal

→ only correct and biologically natural family form


  • Stable satisfaction of the sex drive
  • Reproduction of the next generation
  • Socialisation of the young
  • Providing food and shelter for it's members
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Critique - Murdock

  • Nuclear Family doesn't exist everywhere - family diversity 

→ single parent family, reconsistuted family, cohabitation, Nayar Tribe.

  • 1949 - Outdated

→ his work no longer applies to contempary society

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Critique of Murdock - Nayar Tribe

This tribe is an example of a family where the patriarchal nuclear family doesn't exist.

The tribe, in southern India, does a lot of fighting for income and develops a way of marriages to organise child-rearing.

TALI-RITE; prepubescent marriage. If a man dies, someone special will mourn him, but he has no further responsibilities towards her. 

Once she grows up, the ones married, young woman can start taking visiting husbands. When the male fighters come back, they spread out to the various women.

The women will take up to twelve husbands, serving one at a time, but the man can take as many wives as he likes, only limited by the women's lists.

A warrior wwhose women are occupied, will sleep outdoors. He knows that she has one of her husbands, as his tools are outside the door.

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  • Primary Socialisation - Teaches children the basic norms and values of society.
  • Stabilisation of adult personalities - Family works like a warm baths - easing away the worries of the world. Provides stability and emotional security.

Also have specific gender roles;

Female - expressive leader - child care, cleaning, nurture, homework, cooking

Maleinstrumental leader - provide income, work, discipline, house repairs

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Parsons 'functional fit' Theory

Parsons argues that the functions a family performs depends upon the kind of society in which it is found.

The functions that a family perform will ultimatly affect its structure. 


  • Nuclear - mum, dad, two children (own or adopted)
  • Extended - more generations under one roof

The functions of the family, will 'fit' the society in which it is found.


 ▪ Pre-Industrial 

▪ Industrial

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Industrial Society

As society began to industrialise from the late 18th Century onwards, the Nuclear Family became more dominant - consisting of parents and dependent children.

  Industrial Society has two essential needs;

  • A geographically mobile workforcemodern society needs individuals to be flexible and move towards work
  • A socially mobile workforce - an individual's society is now achieved rather than ascribed - given at birth - this allows the development of talent from all backgrounds.
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Loss Of Functions

Functionalists suggest the family is losing functions it once provided, to society.

Jobs at home - taken over by political institution 

Making food - shops/retail

Home Education - school

Health + Welfare - NHS, Doctors, social workers


Parsons - Family is function-less. Allows family to focus on functions it does best.

N.Dennis - 'impersonal bureaucratic agencies' taken over. Agrees with Parsons.


Ronald Fletcher - not only retained its functions but they've increased in size and importance. Specialised institutions have improved the functions - not taken over.

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Critique - Parsons

  • assumes gender roles are natural

→ patriarchal concept

  • outdated

→ women now work

more joint roles

  • becoming less geographical - uni fees too expensive 
  • Marxist would argue that we're not socially mobile
  • Ignore the Dark side of the family

→ sibling rivalry

→child abuse


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Critique - both

  • both only focus on Nuclear Family

ignore diversity

  • too positive - ignore conflict in society (Feminist and Marxist point of view) 
  • Both too outdated.
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Marxism and the Family

Unlike functionalists, Marxists do not agree with consensus

For Marxists, society operates solely for the benefit of the bourgeoisie

The view, therefore, presents the family as simply an instrument of the ruling class, raising the future work force with the 'right' set of values and beliefs - which will ensure social reproduction.

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Engels - 1972

Earliest view of family - evolutionary approach.

Primitive Communism

The family, as such, did not exist. This era was characterised by sexual promiscuity. No rules limiting sexual relationships, society, was in effect the family. 

Promiscuous Horde.


More restrictions were places on relationships and children production. Monogamous nuclear family. The state instituted laws to protect the system of private property and to enforce rules of monogamous marriage. This form of family developed to solve the problem of inheritance. 

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Arguments FOR/AGAINST Engels

FOR - 

Gough argues that through her studies of tribal societies she found his arguments have a sound bias. Families in which the means of production is shared are more likely to have extended units whereas the means of production moves towards private ownership the family closes in size. Says Engels is ethnocentric.


Lewis Henry Morgan studied primitive societies and claimed that the group marriages that Engels indicates in his study is a 'figment of his imagination'. He found that within these groups, monogamous marriages and the nuclear family existed. 

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Eli Zaretsky 1976

Argues the family creates and illusion that the 'private life' of the family is separate from the economy. 

In a society, in which work was alienating, Zaretsky claims the family was on a pedestal. The private life of the family provided opportunities for satisfactions which were unavailable outside the walls of home.

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Marxist Critique

  • Too deterministic - something that will come true because they say so - 
  • Over-emphasise the importance of the economic system on family structures
  • Overly negative in their presentation of the family
  • Appears very dated - particularly given the changes both within the family and the rise of alternative types of family
  • Blames everything on capitalism and ignores individuals responsibilities
  • Forgets about non-capitalist countries - how do we account for the problems that arise there?
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They focus on the unequal division of labour an domestic violence. Feminists believe gender inequality is not nature, but nurture-so socially constructed. 

Critical View of the family. - argues it oppressed women. Feminism is a broad term with different types. Each offers different solutions and views.

Liberal - March of progress - laws and policies.

Marxist - Capitalism is to blame

Radical - Most extreme - Men are to blame - patriachy. 

Difference - Everyone has different experiences - race, religion, etc..

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Liberal Feminism

Recognise the progress females have made in society. 


They point out existing legislation that illustrates that women's oppression is being overcome;

  • Sex Discrimination Act (1975) - outlaws discrimination in employment 
  • Equal Pay Act (1970) - men & women doing the same job are required to pay the same wage.

Changes in reforms and attitudes are needed for full equality.

Parents treats daughters and sons the same.

Marxist and Radical feminists think Liberal feminists ignore the revolutionary spirit needed for far reaching change.

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Marxist Feminism

See CAPITALISM as main cause of oppression through these ways;

  • women produce the labour force through their unpaid domestic chores - by socialising the next generation and servicing the current one.
  • Women soak up their husbands anger - which otherwise would be directed at capitalism. Fran Ansley 'women are takers of ****' - domestic violence
  • Women are reserve army of cheap labour - they can be easily 'let go of' if no longer needed.

CRITISISM - taking the blame and responsibility off men and justifying their domestic abuse through blame of capitalism.

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Radical Feminism

Radical feminists argue that all societies are patriarchal.

  • Men are the enemy- they are the source of oppression and exploitation.
  • Family plays key part; serves mens purpose- unpaid labour and sex

They want to abolish the family, overturn patriarchy and organise themselves.

Seperatism - women live seperatly from men, only way for change.

'Political Lesbianism' - idea that hetrosexual relationships are inevitably oppressive because they involve sleeping with the enemy. 

Liberal Feminists - Jenny Somerville argues that radical feminists fail to recognise that women's positions have improved considerably - divorce, jobs, etc.

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Difference Feminism

Think we can't generalise women's experiences.

Life experiences might effect it;

  • Sexuality
  • Social Class
  • Age
  • Ethnicity

Black women's racial oppression is ignored by a big focus on family as the sole source of oppression. 

Difference Feminists are criticised by other feminists for overlooking and neglecting the fact that women do share similar experiences; greater risk of domestic violence and sexual assault; lower paid jobs and etc.

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Elizabeth Bott + Young and Wilmott

Two Types of conjugal roles; 

  • Segregated - where the couple have separate roles and responsibilities. Woman - care and nurture. Man - work and income. Leisure is also separate.
  • Joint - where couples share paid work, domestic tasks and childcare. Also share leisure activities. 
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Symmetrical Family

A family in which husbands and wives have roles that are joint. 

WILMOTT AND YOUNG! - march of progress

  • women go out to work - although this is often part time
  • men now help childcare and housework
  • couples spend leisure times together, being 'home-centered' 
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Domestic Division of Labour

  • Parsons; biological roles; instrumental - male + expressive - female
  • Bott; segregated + conjugal roles
  • Wilmott & Young; symmetrical family


  • women go to work - although just is often part-time
  • men now help with childcare and housework
  • couples spend more time together, being 'home-centered' 
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Triple & Double Burdens

  • Gershuny; NO - 83% - no job, 82% part time job + 72% full time job women did housework
  • Silver & Schor; NO burden - women have less housework because improved technology.
  • Morris; YES - unemployed men won't do 'female jobs' as they don't want to lose masculinity. 
  • Jay & Ginn; - no middle-class - afford childcare. yes working class - can't afford childcare.
  • Duncombe; Triple burden as we have emotional, domestic and paid work
  • Dunne; YES - gender scripts and expectations
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Social Policy

Refers to the plans and actions of the government agencies; such as the NHS

Some affect the family, directly, some indirectly. 

  • Direct; abortion, marriage, divorce, contraception, child protection
  • Indirect; sentences for knife crime, drug abuse, education, taxation
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Comparing Policies.

China has a one-child-policy as they're trying to control families and reduce population growth. They give them tax, healthcare, education and single child family benefits.

In contrast, Romania wants to increase the population size. Made access to contraception and abortion harder, divorce difficult and even lowered the legal age to marry to 15. Also, childless couples pay 5% extra income tax.

Nazi Germany; women kept out of workforce to concetrate on their 'biological role' of 'children, kitchen and church' + 'racially pure master race' Disabled people were sterilised to get rid of 'imperfect' members of society.

UK has a 'laissez faire' policy - minimum state intervention.

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Perspectives & Policy

  • Feminism; We're a conflict view - government policies maintain women's subordination, Hilary Land - Government policies like giving them custody of children and maternity leave assume to family is patriarchal.
  • Functionalism; We see society built on harmony and free from conflict - policy helps everyone. 
  • New Right; We've had a big influence on Government thinking about laws, although we're more connected with Conservative party than Labour. Charles Murray - benefits from the state are perverse incentives
  • Marxism; Conflict theory. laws maintain the capitalist class and oppress the proletariat. Such as closing down of free nurseries after WW2. Only open when the capitalists needed them.  
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Changing patterns in divorce

  • since the 1960s - great increase in divorces in the UK
  • numbers doubled between 1961 + 1969 and again 1972
  • upward trend continued, peaking in 1993 at 180,000
  • since then the number has fallen, but still 6 times higher than 1961
  • 40% of all marriages end in divorce
  • 7/10 petitions come from Women
  • some couples are more likely to divorce than others; couples who marry young, have a child before they marry or those who have been married once before.
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Explanations for the changes

  • Changes in the law - divorce is easier
  • Declining stigma and changing in attitudes - socially disapproved in the past
  • Secularisation (the decline of the influence of religion in UK society) - 2001 consensus - 43% of young with no religion cohabit 
  • Rising expectations of marriage - romantic 'love'
  • Changes in the position of women - no longer financially dependent on men
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Divorce and Theorists

  • New Right; divorce is a bad thing - undermining the traditional nuclear family
  • Feminist; divorce is a really good thing - breaking free of the patriacharchal nuclear family which oppresses females - positive development
  • Post-Modernists; individual freedom - individual choices to end relationships if they don't meet their needs
  • Functionalists; argue people's high expectations from marriage is why divorce rates have increased. - peoples choice to remarry shows commitment to nuclear family

The new right think the rise in divorce is a bad thing, they argue divorce creates a dependent underclass in society. Feminists tend to disagree with this; they argue divorce frees women from the oppressive and patriarchal nuclear family. Functionalists still think society views marriage as ideal and these changes reflect high expectations of marriage. Post modernists argue the change reflects individual choices within society today. Finally, symbolic interactionism is a micro-theory and so is concerned with individuals interpretations, which differ.

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  • fewer people are marrying - in 2005 there were 170,800 first marriages - less than half the number for 1970
  • however there are more re-marriages - in 2005, 4/10 were - serial monogamy
  • people are marrying later - in 1971, the average age for women was 25 and 23 for men, in 2005 - for women it was 32 and for men it was 30.
  • couples are less likely to marry in a church - in 2005 35% of marriages were with religious ceremonies.
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  • Cohabitation; unmarried couple, sleeping and living together. Over 2 million cohabiting couples in the UK - expected to double by 2021. Chester - step before marriage
  • Same-sex; 5-7% of the population hard to judge whether it has increased or decreased. Increased social acceptance. Social policy now treats all relationships the same
  • One Person Households; more likely to be older women, 2006 almost 3/10 households were only one person held. Half of them are of pensionable age. Doubled since 1961.
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Family Diversity

the idea that there is a range of family types, rather than a single dominant one - nuclear family - 

Associated with the post-modernists ideas that there is more choice about relationships in today society


  • divorce rates have increased
  • more couples are cohabitation
  • same-sex couples has been legally recognise
  • more births outside marriage
  • fewer children, later in life..
  • fewer 1st marriages than re-marriages
  • more spf and lone households
  • more step-families and couples without children
  • number of nuclear families has fallen
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Modernism & the Nuclear Family

Modernism -  modern perspectives believe society has a clear cut structure & believe it is possible to gain scientific knowledge on how society functions               - achieve a better society

An example of a modernist theorist is functionalism. They see the nuclear family as the best type to maintain stability in society.

Parsons; argues there is a functional fit - nuclear family + society -

  • primary socialisation of children
  • stabilisation of adult personalities

They view the family, with its division of labour, as essential in performing these functions. All other families are abnormal & deviant.

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New Right

Conservative & anti-feminist perspective on the family.

  • Firmly opposed to diversity; only one right+natural family type, expressive and instrumental biological roles, family breakdown increases risk to children, high levels of tax is spent on benefits - perverse incentives...


  • Anne Oakley - wrongly assume roles are fixed by biology. cross-cultural studies show great variation in the roles in the family
  • Feminists - traditional nuclear family is based on the oppression of women and is a fundamental cause of gender inequality
  • Little or no evidence - that spf are part of the dependency culture and their children are more endangered 
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neo-conventional family

  • They believe there is little change to the family
  • People marry later - cohabit for a stage onto getting married later
  • Joint registered children from split relationships
  • Little evidence people are choosing diversity in the long run
  • Most children are reared by natural parents
  • Most marriages continue till death - divorce has increased but most divorces remarry (Fletcher)
  • Most people live in a headed household by married couples
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Rappoports - don't use in essay question

Says the Nuclear family has had little changes


  • Organisational -  changes in gender roles - dual worker families
  • Cultural - ethnicity differences - eg, Asian families are bigger and higher proportion of female-headed families in African-Caribbean households
  • Social Class - richer families can afford childcare 
  • Life-stage - newly married couples without children will have a different life than those with children
  • Generational - older couples are less likely to divorce - stigma
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Post-Modernists - BECK

says we live in a risk-society

greater gender equality

  • challenged male domination in all spheres of life

greater individualism

  • peoples actions are influences more by calculations of their own self-interest rather than an obligation to others

A new type of family has replaced the patriarchal family - negotiated family - do not conform to traditional family form, but vary according to wishes and expectations of its members - they enter the relationship on an equal basis - although less stable(risk of STis + divorce)

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Stacey + Giddens

Divorce Extended Family

  • greater choice has empowered family
  • women are able to shape their family to suit their needs 
  • - shape depends on active choices people make

Greater Choice In Lives

  • contraception has allowed sex&intimacy rather than reproduction
  • women have gained independence as a result of feminism and greater choice in work & education


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Long shift in attitudes - 1950

  • sexual morality - larger matter of choice
  • church and state lost power to influence morality
  • growing acceptance to family diversity - spf, gay, extended..
  • attitudes more favorable towards cohabitation and homosexual
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Birth Rates

Birth Rates; the number of live births per thousand of the population, per year.


  • long term decline since 1900 - in England&Wales, the rate was 28.7 but by 2007 it had fallen to an estimated 10.7
  • Fluctuations with threebaby booms(lots quickly) in the 20th Century - 2 after the world wars, 3rd was in the 1960s

The factors which affect the birth rate; proportion of women of childbearing age(15-44) and how fertile they are(how many children they have)

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Total Fertility Rate

Total Fertility Rate; average number of children women have during fertile years


  • Risen in the UK since 2001 - still much lower than the past
  • Most women are remaining childless
  • Women are waiting to have children - average age for giving birth is now 29.6 and fertility rates for women in their 30s and 40s are on the increase. The longer they wait, the less fertile they will be, therefore less children


  • smaller family sizes mean women will go out to work more - dual earner
  • children are a large proportion of the dependency ratio - fall in the number of children will reduce the burden
  • Fewer school, maternity wards and public services will be needed
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Reasons for the decline;

  • Changes in the position of women - access to abortion and contraception
  • Decline in infant mortality - children who die before their 1st Birthday
  • Children have become an economic liability - dependent for longer due to older schooling age
  • Child-centeredness - childhood is socially constructed as an important time
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Death Rate

Overall trend; stayed fairly stable since 1900 at around 600,000 a year - 1900 was a smaller population - some important fluctuations - 2 world wars and influenza epidemic of 1918

Fallen since 1900 - stood at 19 whereas 2007 - almost halved at 10


  • Improved nutrition - 5-a-day 
  • Medical Improvements - NHS, Doctors + anti-biotics
  • Public health measures & environmental improvements - purer water
  • Social changes - decline in dangerous jobs(mining)
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Aging Population

Average age of the population is rising - in 1971 it was 34.1 years. By 2007 - it stood at 39.6. By 2031 - projected to reach 42.6.

Fewer young people, and more older people in society.

The people aged 65 or over is projected to overtake the number of under 16s for the first time ever in 2014.


  • Increasing life expectancy - people are living longer into old age
  • Declining infant mortality - nowadays hardly anyone dies in early life
  • Declining fertility - fewer young people are being produced in relation to the number of older people in population
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Migration is the movement of people from one place to another. The reasons for migration can be economic, social, political or environmental. There are usually push factors and pull factors at work.


  • economic migration - moving to find work or follow a particular career path
  • social migration - moving somewhere for a better quality of life or to be closer to family or friends
  • political migration - moving to escape political persecution or war
  • environmental causes of migration include natural disasters such as flooding - refuge
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Push factors

Push factors are the reasons why people leave an area. They include:

  • lack of services
  • lack of safety
  • high crime
  • crop failure
  • drought
  • flooding
  • poverty
  • war
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Pull Factors

Pull factors are the reasons why people move to a particular area. They include:

  • higher employment
  • more wealth
  • better services
  • good climate
  • safer, less crime
  • political stability
  • more fertile land
  • lower risk from natural hazards
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Stephan Wagg; childhood is socially constructed. It is, in other words, what members of particular societies, at particular times and in particular places, say it is. There is no single universal childhood experienced by all.

There is a belief that children's lack of skills, knowledge and experience means that they need a protected period of nurturing and socialisation before they are ready for adult society and responsibility.

ADULTS; earn their keep, sexually active, free to do what they like

CHILDREN; protected, spend most of their time learning, interested mostly in toys, and having fun

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Cross-Cultural Differences

Ruth Benedict;

  • They take responsibility on at an early age - (Punch) - Bolivia - found that once children are 5, they work in the community. (Holmes) - Samoan village - found children are never too young
  • Less value is placed on children showing obedience to adult authority - (Firth) - Tikopia - doing as your told by a grown-up is regarded as a concession to be granted by the child
  • Children's sexual behavior is often viewed differently - Americans have a beauty pageant at a really young age - (Malinowski) - found that adults took an attitude of 'tolerance and amused interest' towards children's sexual explorations and activities.
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Historical Differences

  • (Aries) argues that in the Middle ages(10-13th Century) there was no childhood - they were 'mini adults'
  • (Shorter) argues that high death rates encourage indifference and neglect, especially towards infants; for example: it was not uncommon to give a newborn baby the name of a recently dead sibling

However,elements of the modern notion of childhood gradually began to emerge from the 13th Century onwards;

  • Schools came specailise purely in the education of the young
  • Growing distinction between adults and children's clothing
  • 18th Century - childrearing books became widely avaliable


  • Linda Pollock critisises Aries by arguing the Middle Ages notion of childhood was just different than today's
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March Of Progress View - childhood

Children's positions have steadily improved - best it has ever been 


  • today's children are more valued and better cared for
  • children protected from harm and exploitation via laws
  • better healthcare and standards of living
  • smaller family sizes
  • child-centeredness - parents invest a lot in terms of emotion and finance
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Conflict View

MARXISTS AND FEMINISTS - society is based on conflict between social groups such as social classes or gender

  • Inequalities among children - not all children have the same experiences; children of different classes and ethnicities will have different childhoods
  • Inequalities between children & adults - 
  • Neglect & Abuse; in 2006 31,400 children were on child protection registers
  • Control over children's space; children are only allowed certain places
  • Control over children's time; parents make a routine for the child
  • Control over children's body; told what to wear and when
  • Control over children's access to resources; 
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Future of Childhood

(Postman) argues childhood is dissappearing as children are gaining the same rights, dressing the same and doing 'adult' crimes

  • Stage 1 - childhood didn't exist - most people were illiterate 
  • Stage 2 - childhood became a separate status from adult. Only adults knew written word
  • Stage 3 - childhood is disappearing. coming into 'mini adults' again.


(Opie) argues childhood is not disappearing. Based on a lifetime of research of children's games, rhymes and songs, conducted with her husband, she argues there is a strong existence of separate children's culture

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Contradictory Trends - Toxic Childhood

(Sue Palmer) argues that rapid technological and cultural changes in the past 25 years have damaged children's physical, emotional and intellectual development - junk food, computer games and long hours worked by parents.

(Margo and Dixon) reported that the UK youth are at or near the top of international league for obesity, self harm, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and teenage pregnancies.


(Womack) states that rather than childhood being miserable, there are clusters of young people, those growing up on the poorer end of social scale, who live desperate lives, while others do not.

  • children have more rights - still not equal
  • growing similarities - dress + diet
  • extension of compulsory education makes them dependent longer
  • greater access to means of communication
  • children's freedom of movement more restricted ' stranger danger'
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