Sociology

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Topic 2 – CHILDHOOD:

Childhood as a Social Construct:

* Pilcher (1995) notes that the most important feature of modern childhood is ‘separateness’ from adulthood – it is seen as a clear and distinct LIFE STAGE. * Children in our society have a different status to the adults and have different expectations of them. * This is emphasised in several ways, such as:

* Laws which regulate what children can and can’t do. * Difference in dress, for young children especially. * Through goods and services especially for children such as food, toys, books and play areas. * Related is the idea of childhood as being a ‘golden age’ of innocence and happiness. * This innocence means that children are considered to be vulnerable and in need or protection. * Children need to be ‘shielded’ from the hardships of the adult world. * As a result of this, children’s lives are lived largely within the confines of the family and education where they are provided for and protected by the adults. * They lead lives of leisure and play unlike adults.

* Wagg (1992): ‘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. So, childhood isn’t ‘natural’ and should be distinguished from mere biological immunity.’ * All humans go through the same stages of development; different cultures construct and define this process differently. * In the Western world, children are defined as weak, vulnerable and unable to care for themselves, however other cultures do not take this view. * A good way to see these differences is to take a comparative approach, for instance: * Punch’s (2001) study of childhood in RURAL BOLIVIA found that at around the age of five, children were expected to take on work responsibilities in the home and community. * Firth (1970) found that among the TIKOPIA of the WESTERN PACIFIC doing as an adult tells you is a concession of respect from the child and not a right to be expected by the adult. * Holmes’ (1974) study of SAMOAN people found that ‘too young’ is not an acceptable excuse for not allowing a child to carry out 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’. * Ariès (1960): ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’. Children were not seen as having a different nature or needs to the adults after they had passed the stage of physical dependence during infancy. * During the Middle Ages, children were essentially ‘mini-adults’, with the same rules and punishments applying to both. * Ariès states that elements of the modern childhood began to emerge from the 13th Century onwards: * Schools: (which adults had previously also attended) came to specialise exclusively in the education of the young. This reflected the influence of the church, which increasingly saw children as ‘fragile creatures of God’ in need of protection and discipline from worldly evils. * Clothing: Children and adults began to dress differently. By the 17th Century, an upper-class boy would wear something ‘reserved for his own age group’ which would set him apart from the adults. * Parenting Books: childrearing handbooks were widely available by the 18th Century – a sign of increasingly child-centric values in the family, at least in the middle classes. * Ariès claims that these ^ developments have caused the ‘cult of childhood’ and that we have moved form a time that did not find anything notable in childhood to one where we are obsessed with it. * He describes the 20th Century as ‘the century of childhood’. * Pollock (1983) argues that previously there was just a different idea of what childhood was, not that it did not exist. * Ariès’ work is...
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