The Social construction of childhood An Introduction Childhood • This PowerPoint is to help review and revise the idea of the social construction of childhood. Social construction – An idea/notion that has been created and defined by society. Sociologists argue that the idea of childhood is a social construction. Other ideas could also be said to be socially constructed like health and illness, deviance etc.. For example – The idea of what is deviant (deviance means behaviour that is considered against society’s norms and values) changes over time and from society to society. So sociologists would argue that it’s not natural but socially constructed. For example, men wearing skirts in England is often seen as deviant behaviour, however in other societies it would not be. The social construction of childhood • Sociologists are interested in changes in childhood and the position of childhood. • Sociologists see childhood as socially constructed, something that is created and defined by society. • They argue that what people mean by childhood, and the position that children occupy in society, is not fixed but differs between different times and places. • How sociologists can investigate this is by examining childhood today, in the past and in other societies. The modern western idea of childhood • In our society it is generally accepted that children are distinctly different from adults and that childhood is seen as a special time of life that should be protected from the ‘adult world’. • There is an idea that children are vulnerable and not capable of looking after themselves, so there is a period of life needed (childhood) to nurture and socialise them. • Jane Pilcher (1995) – She suggests that the most important feature of the modern idea of childhood is separateness. That childhood and adulthood are very separate stages of life. • This is shown in several ways, one of them being laws that are set out to regulate what children can and can’t do. • Their differences are also shown through clothes and products that are specifically for children (entertainment, books, food etc). Cross-cultural differences in childhood • This view of childhood as a separate stage is not found in all societies. It is not universal (found in all societies). • Stephen Wagg (1992) – He argues that although all humans go through the same stages of physical development, different cultures construct or define them differently. So different societies see these stages in different ways (childhood is not the same in all societies). • So other cultures don’t necessarily see a huge difference between children and adults. An example are ‘child soldiers’ (children who from an early age are expected to fight in wars, behaving like adults) • Ruth Benedict (1934) – She argues that children in similar non-industrial societies are generally treated very differently to western children. They take responsibility at an earlier age. Less value is placed on children showing obedience to adults. Children’s sexual behaviour is often viewed differently. Cross cultural differences continued… • Lowell Holmes (1974) – Studied a Samoan village and found that children were often involved in dangerous tasks, their age was not a factor. Childhood is different all over the world • Raymond Firth (1970) – Studied the Tikopia, in the western Pacific and discovered that there wasn’t much value placed on children obeying adult authority. This is different to western societies • Bronislaw Malinowski (1957) – Studied the Trobriand islanders of the South-West pacific. He discovered that children’s sexual behaviour was viewed very differently to western industrial societies. • All this cross-cultural evidence suggests that childhood is not a fixed thing found universally, but is socially constructed and so differs from culture to culture.
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