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SociologyExchange.co.uk Shared Resource

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  • 1. Childhood
  • 2. Childhood is socially constructedSocially constructed’ means: -Something that is created and defined by society. -Not fixed but differs between societies and culturesIf this is true we can therefore compare our western ideas of childhood with: -the past -other societies
  • 3. Childhood is socially constructedAries (1962) “Our world is obsessed with the physical, moral and sexual problems of childhood. This preoccupation was unknown to medieval civilizations because there was no problem for the middle ages. As soon as he had been weaned, or soon after, the child became the natural companion of the adult.”
  • 4. Childhood is socially constructed• In the past Children would have had limited education and would have been a financial asset.• Children would have had to work either inside or outside the family home.• Children would have had more adult responsibilities.
  • 5. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CONCEPT OF ‘CHILDHOOD’ IN THIS IMAGE?
  • 6. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CONCEPT OF ‘CHILDHOOD’ IN THIS IMAGE?
  • 7. Aries’ Conclusion:Children were in effect ‘mini-adults’ with thesame rights, duties and skills as adults. Forexample, the law often made no distinctionbetween children and adults, and children oftenfaced the same severe punishments as those foradults.As evidence of this, Aries uses works of art fromthe period. In these children appear without‘any of the characteristics of childhood: theyhave simply been depicted on a smallerscale.’
  • 8. Childhood is socially constructedStephen Wagg (1992) also validatesthis belief of Aries…“Childhood is socially constructed. It isin other words, what members ofparticular societies, at particular timesand in particular places say it is. Thereare no single universal childhoodexperiences by all. So childhood isn’t‘natural’ and should be distinguishedfrom mere biological immaturity.”
  • 9. Test this theory of social construction…Give 5 words to describe the childhoodof the following:
  • 10. Childhood is socially constructedConstruct an image of ‘childhood’ in the21st Century in Western Society.What does a 21st century child look like?
  • 11. What is the modern western notion of childhood?A special time of lifeChildren are dependent on adults/parentsRequire a lengthy period of protection, nurturing and socialisation before they become adults.Jan Pilcher (1995) notes that children in our society occupy a separate status from adults.
  • 12. Jane Pilcher (1995) ‘Separateness’ Childhood is a distinct life stage with a separate status from adults. How do we distinguish between the 2 life stages?LAWSDISTINCTIVE DRESSPRODUCTS/SERVICES
  • 13. (i) LAWSLaws exist to regulate what children areallowed, required or not allowed to doE.g.
  • 14. (ii) Dress & Products Children also dress differently to adults and certain products and services are specifically aimed at children.E.g.
  • 15. The ‘Golden Age’ of ChildhoodChildhood in the 21st Century has beenreferred to as the ‘golden age’ of happinessand innocence.Children are looked on as vulnerable and inneed of protection from the adult world –theydo not have responsibilities such as paid work,care for children, elderly etc.They are kept in the sphere of family andeducation – adults provide for them andprotect them from the outside world in theseareas.
  • 16. Reasons for the change in position of Children1. Laws restricting child labour – excluding children from paid work. Children went from being economic assets to liabilities – financially dependent on parents.
  • 17. Reasons for the change in position of Children2. Introduction of compulsory schooling in 1880.3. Child protection and welfare legislation – 1889 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, 1989 Children Act. Made the welfare of the child the major principle of agencies such as social services.
  • 18. Reasons for the change in position of Children• 4. Growth of the idea of children’s rights. United Nations Convention of the rights of the Child outlines basic rights and entitlements of each child.
  • 19. Reasons for the change in position of Children 5. Declining family size and lower infant mortality rates. These have encouraged parents to make greater financial and emotional investment in the fewer children that they now have.6. Laws and policies that apply specifically to children, such as minimum ages for a wide range of activities from sex to smoking reinforced the ideas that children are different from adults, and so different rules must be applied to their behaviour.
  • 20. Different cultures construct or define childhood differentlySociologists have attempted to provechildhood as a social construction bycomparing it to how children are seenand treated in the different cultures.
  • 21. Different cultures construct or define childhood differently• Ruth Benedict (1934) argues that children in simpler, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from their modern western counterparts in 3 ways.• They take responsibility at an early age. For example, Lowell Holmes’ 1974 study of a Samoan village found that ‘too young’ was never a reason for not allowing a child to take part in a particular task. “Whether it be the handling of dangerous tools or the carrying of extremely heavy loads…if a child thinks he can handle the activity, parents do not object.”
  • 22. Different cultures construct or define childhood differently• Less value placed on children showing obedience to adult authority. For example, Raymond Firth 1970, found that among the Tikopia of the western Pacific, doing as you are told by a grown –up is regarded as a concession to be granted by the child, not as a right to be expected by the adult.
  • 23. Different cultures construct or define childhood differently• Children’s sexual behaviour is often viewed differently. For example, among the Trobriand Islanders of the south-west Pacific, Bronislaw Malinowski 1957, found that adults took an attitude of ‘tolerance and amused interest’ towards children’s sexual explorations and activities.

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