To what extent can childhood be considered a social construction?
This essay will analyse the major experiences by which childhood is constructed: one determined by the society and the other examined personally. Following this approach will be explained socially constructed childhood that asserts children’s attitudes, expectations and understandings that are defined by a certain society or culture. Furthermore various aspects of childhoods will be taken into account in relation to social, economic, historical, religious and moral context where each child carries specific components depending on the time and place.
Everybody has been a child and can relate more or less to the world of children. Childhood is a part of human life that people consider as a natural stage of biological development. Surely not only that, childhood is also a social category that emerges and changes from particular beliefs, attitudes and values depending on the society. Nowadays children are viewed as a separate group of people with their own interests and have a special role in the everyday life. Childhoods in developed countries have certain aims and are determined by the society looking at the expectations and requirements how to care about children as well as to facilitate their childhood world. Childhood has also changed throughout time.
Historically the concept of childhood has been known and consciously discussed for the past 300 years and its role has been properly defined in the last century. Lots of research has been done to look at the process of constructing childhood and to understand the implications of the childhoods of different times and generations. The French medievalist, Phillipe Aries (1962) has concluded after investigating some paintings and diaries that in ‘medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist’. (Coster, 2007:3)
He believed children were treated as smaller adults once they were old enough to fend themselves. Children were working alongside adults, wearing the same clothes and behaving like adults. Children participated in all aspects of adult social life. Each childhood past or present indicates the nature of the society and its significance. So the idea of childhood changes constantly and it is reconstructed over time. Enormous transformations in regards to the conditions of childhood in the past have taken place. Until the late 19th century most people in Britain accepted as normal for children of the poor families to work. Then these children were considered as a big part of the working force and they were the main contributors to the economic progress. As Laurence Stone (1977) argues the poor families could not ‘invest emotional capital’ in their children due to their social status which was the main reason for the high mortality of children in the past. (Coster, 2007:3-6) Neither families nor the society at a time provided happy environment and care to look after the children. They were simply treated as small adults and the majority of the children from poor families did not know what was like to play with their peers and to enjoy their childhood.
The biggest transformation in children’s lives came with the Industrial Revolution in Britain which organised children’s labour in factories and mines. The changes that happened such as factories act from 1833 prevented children under 9 years to work, allowed improvement of working conditions and compulsory schooling introduced in 1870. Different societies in different times have distinct ideas of childhood. In addition, Industrial Revolution brought better payment for the workers in general and improved the lives of the poor allowing them to afford an education (even minimal for their children). That increase in wealth and new laws changed the perception of what childhood should be as the British society evolved so did the definition of childhood.
In some present societies many children need to work and that is a part of social norms in...
References: Coster, W. (2007) ‘The Social Construction of Childhood’ in Zwozdiak-Myers, P. (ed) Childhood and Youth Studies. Exeter: Learning Matters.
Jenks, C. (2009) ‘Constructing Childhood Sociologically’ in Kehily, M. J. (ed.) An Introduction to Childhood Studies. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Stainton-Rogers, W. (2003) ‘What is a Child?’ in Woodhead, M. and Montgomery, H. (eds). Understanding Childhood: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Chichester: John Wiley.
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