The Social construction of 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,
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
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.