Sociology - Childhood

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Examine the view that childhood is socially constructed

Some sociologists argue that childhood is socially constructed whereas other sociologists argue it is a natural biological stage in life that everyone goes through.

Childhood being socially constructed means that it is not natural and has adapted to the surroundings depending on the background they are from. Philippe Aries (1962) argues that childhood has changed since industrialisation, certain views that modern society have now, they did not have during the medieval times. Examples of this key study would be chronological age which didn’t exactly matter before as children had to work as soon as they were physically able to. However Aries study was critiscised by other sociologists such as Jane Pilcher (1953) who argues that Aries’s study isn’t exactly valid as it was based on a French painting of a family from the 19th century. According to Shorter (1975), parental attitudes towards children were very different, e.g. high child death rates encouraged indifference and neglect especially towards infants.

Benedict (1943) argues that children from a simpler (non-industrial) society are treated differently due to the cross-cultural differences. For example they have less value and more responsibility and their sexual behaviour is different. This reflects that your class, gender and ethnicity can have an effect on your childhood such as families from a lower class who aren’t as wealthy; children tend to have to work from young especially males e.g. in Asian families. In contrast in the modern western notion of childhood, children are seen as special and fundamentally different from adults. Pilcher (1995) argues that the key feature of childhood is separateness where childhood is a distinct life stage as in children have a separate status to adults.

Aries, Shorter and others argue that the 20th century was mainly the “Century of the Child” and that family and society have now become more...
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