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The Sociology of childhood is a branch of sociology focusing on the ways societies conceptualise and organize childhood. These processes and their consequences affect the whole of society, its conception of social order, its conditions of life of everybody: men, women and children. Therefore childhood is a cornerstone of the social order and a central object of almost any societal morality.

Contents

History

In the last two or three decades the sociology of childhood has gained increasing attention and triggered numerous empirical studies as well as intensive theoretical disputes, starting in the Scandinavian and the English-speaking countries. Up to this time, sociology had approached children and childhood mainly from a socialization perspective, and the emergence of the new childhood sociological paradigm ran parallel to the feminist critique of sociological traditions. Childhood sociologists attacked the “adultocentric” approach and the “separative view” of sociology towards children. Not surprisingly, then, the key works in the sociology of childhood are quite interdisciplinary, linking history, cultural studies, ethnomethodology, and pedagogy.

Recent Trends

The current Sociology of childhood is organized around two central discussions:

The child as a social actor: This approach derives from youth sociology as well as ethnography. Focusing on everyday life and the ways children orientate themselves in society, it engages with the cultural performances and the social worlds they construct and take part in. Theory and research methodology approach children as active participants and members of society right from the beginning. Thus they are neither analyzed as outsiders to society nor as merely ‘emergent’ members of society. Therefore, the sociology of childhood distinguishes itself from the established concepts of socialization research and developmental psychology of the last decades.

The generational order: The second approach centers on socio-structural and socio-theoretical questions concerning social equality and social order in a society, which categorizes their members by age and segregates them in many respects (rights, deeds, economical participation, ascribed needs etc.). These issues can be summarized under the overall concept of the “generational order”. Thus the categorization of societal members by age is far from being an innocent representation of natural distinctions, but rather a social construction of such a “natural truth”. It is, therefore, a relevant component of social order and deeply connected to other dimensions of social inequality. Social and economic changes and socio-political interventions thus become central topics in childhood sociology. The analysis of these issues has increased awareness of the generational inequality of societies.

Current Tasks

Questions about socialization practices and institutions remain central in childhood research. But, they are being dealt with in a new, more sociological way. To analyze socialization processes means, therefore, to reconstruct the historically and culturally varying conceptions, processes and institutions of disciplining and civilization of the offspring. In addition, the strategies of habitus formation and the practices of status (re-)production are considered. The sociology of social inequality and the sociology of the family and private life are, therefore, important fields for childhood sociologists. Children's own action, their resistance, cooperation, and collective action among peers has to be taken into account. Meanwhile widespread anthropological assumptions concerning a universal human nature , based on a view of individual and society as opposed to each other, should be omitted from the conceptual repertoire of sociological childhood research. They are the legacy of the older socialization approach and they legitimate some forms of childhood and education practices as indispensable and even as a “natural” requirement of society, while devaluing others. In this way they generally legitimate western middle class childhood and mask social inequality and the interests of social order.

See also

Literature

Alanen, L. and Mayall, B. (Eds.) (2001): Conceptualizing Child-adult Relations, London.

Bass, L. (Ed.) (2005): Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Vol. 10, Amsterdam.

Buehler-Niederberger, D. (1998): The Separative View. Is there any Scientific Approach to Children. in D.K. Behera (Ed.), Children and Childhood in our Contemporary Societies. Delhi: Kamla-Raj Enterprises, pp. 51-66.

Corsaro, William (2005). The Sociology of Childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Edgar, Don & Patricia (2008), The New Child: in search of smarter grown-ups, Wilkinson Publishing, Melbourne, Australia

Jenks, Chris (2005): Childhood (2nd edition), New York

Parsons, Talcot. (1955). Family, Socialization and Interaction Process. Robert F. Bales and James Olds. Free press.

Prout, A. (2004): The Future of Childhood. Towards the Interdisciplinary Study of Children, London.

Prout, A. and Hallett, Ch. (Eds.) (2003): Hearing the Voices of Children: Social Policy for a New Century, London.

Qvortrup, J. et al. (Eds.) (1994): Childhood Matters. Social Theory, Practice and Politics. Wien, Avebury.

Zelizer, Vivianne A. (1985): Pricing the Priceless Child. The Changing Social Value of Children. New York.

Links

  • [1] Research Committee 53 Sociology of Childhood of the International Sociological Association
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