There is no universal category of Childhood. Discuss.
To have a universal category of Childhood, all first hand and second hand experiences of Childhood must be the same to a certain degree. The term “universal” demands that all definitions and takes on the term must be the same without any equivocation. The interest in the concept of Childhood in terms of Sociology has increased massively since the 1980’s (Mayall 2002, James et al. 1998, Prout 2000, Lee 2001). Many Sociologists have analysed Childhood not only in contemporary terms but also how Childhood has been understood throughout history and across cultures. This research has led many to the conclusion that Childhood differs greatly throughout these variables and the concept has and does change. As well as interpreting Childhood Sociologically over time and cultures, one must also account for how different disciplines and literature such as Biology, Psychology and the Law define what is a Child and what constitutes Childhood. Many Sociologists therefore argue whether there is an essential definition of Childhood and indeed, if there can even be one. This has generated many debates over the question of whether there can ever be a “universal category” of childhood and as such has meant that our understanding of Childhood as a naturalized term has been altered. “The sociology of/for childhoods has been an important development, challenging a range of adult-centric conceptions and agendas along the way, not least the notion of childhood as somehow 'natural' or 'universal’“ (Williams, Lowe, Griffiths 2008: 1-2) As mentioned previously, renewed Sociological interest in the concept of Childhood began in the 1980’s when Sociologists debated the various forms of Childhood and if there could ever be a Universal category of the term. They argued that the “common sense” understanding of Childhood that we generally understand in contemporary society is the result of historical, social, cultural and political preoccupation which dominates in the west. The concept of Childhood and our understanding of it was created by society within the past two or three hundred years (Aries 1962, Giddens 2006). Aries (1962) comments in his book “Centuries of Childhood” that at certain times throughout history there have in fact been periods where Childhood simply did not exist i.e. medieval Europe (Aries 1962). People were infants, and then they essentially became “small” adults and went out to earn a wage, took part in the same activities as adults and even dressed like adults (Aries 1962). This example illustrates how Childhood has differed over time. This therefore makes Childhood ahistoric and negates the theory that there can be a universal category of Childhood. It is difficult to judge further and more widely throughout history however as documentation is sparse when concerned with Children. This also illustrates how Children are often given little worth in their own right and how adult’s accounts of Childhood dominate literature rather than the Childs perspective. Corsaro (2005) argues that Aries’ research was primarily centred around medieval French drawings rather than actual factual accounts and therefore could only take into account upper and middle class families from that time making the study not only class specific but also culture specific. Neil Postman concurs with Aries in that Childhood has changed and varied over time. “Cultural historians have been telling us for about three decades that Childhood is not all of a piece and not all of a parcel; essentially, we have learned, Childhood varies according to where it takes place and in which historical era it occurs” (Postman, 1994: 120) Anthony Giddens defines the concept of Childhood as a “distinct and clear stage of life which (...) intervenes between infancy and teen years” (Giddens, 2006: 175). Corsaro (2005) develops this idea by arguing that Childhood is not just a time frame in which children live their lives, but also...
Bibliography: Aries, P. (1962). Centuries Of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Vintage. New York.
Corsaro, W. (2005). The Sociology Of Childhood (second edition). Sage Press. California.
Davies, H (2007). “Book Review: The Sociology of Childhood”, Sociology, 41,173: 1
Hockey, J and James, A. (1993). Growing Up and Growing Old. Sage. London.
Lee, N. (2001). Childhood and Society. Open University Press. Maidenhead.
Mayall, B. (2002). Towards a Sociology for Childhood. Open University Press. Maidenhead.
Postman, N. (1994) The Disappearance Of Childhood. Vintage Books. New York.
Williams, S + Lowe, P + Griffiths, F (2006) ‘Embodying and Embedding Children 's Sleep: Some Sociological Comments and Observations’, Sociological Research Online, 12, 5: 1-4
Undisclosed Author BBFC
Undisclosed author BBC . “Children of conflict” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/people/features/childrensrights/childrenofconflict/work.shtml 05/05/2009)
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