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About this book

Addressing questions about the cultural specificity of childhood, the complementary value of psychological, biological and social understandings of children, and the impact of policy and law on how children are dealt with and perceived, this will be a core text for many courses related to childhood studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Disputed Child

Introduction: The Disputed Child

Abstract
Childhood is something about which most people have an opinion. We have all experienced it, and this seems somehow to endow us all with a degree of expertise. In addition to the vast pool of ‘common sense’ knowledge of the subject, and almost certainly because of the intense level of collective interest, it is a subject which is very widely researched and contested across a range of academic disciplines. Inevitably, as a consequence, different forms of substantive ‘knowledge’ about childhood have emerged. These do not necessarily coincide, either in the ways we think about childhood or in what we believe to be true about it. As a result, childhood is extensively ‘disputed’.
Roger Smith

Theoretical Aspects of Childhood

Frontmatter

1. Alternative Perspectives on Childhood

Abstract
Children and childhood are self-evidently both a matter of major social concern and of academic controversy. They represent the collective future of humanity, but at the same time their behaviour is often experienced as either baffling or threatening. Finding ways of making sense of children’s lives and their actions will continue to be a matter of keen interest to society, policy-makers, politicians, community leaders and academics for the foreseeable future. At the same time, children themselves have an obvious interest in the quality of their own lives and the ways in which they are affected by their individual experiences and wider social influences. One of the significant developments of recent years has been an emerging emphasis on children’s citizenship and rights, and the place of childhood as a distinctive life-stage, rather than merely as a rehearsal for adulthood. This is also a double-edged debate, with some advocates insisting that children have been oppressed for generations, and should be given a greater say over their own lives; while, on the other hand, there are those who feel that most of the world’s ills can be traced to a collective over-indulgence of children specific to contemporary society. They are, quite literally, ‘spoiled’, it is believed, not just by their parents, but by liberal modern social practices in general. The nature and experience of childhood thus constitute a hotly contested and highly politicized issue.
Roger Smith

2. Children and Time: Historical and Contemporary Ideas about Childhood

Abstract
There is a prevailing tendency to think about our knowledge and understanding of children and childhood as constantly moving in a progressive direction. Looking backwards, it seems as if there was a point at which the modern idea of childhood as a distinctive life stage emerged and began to be a subject of interest in its own right. Much of this attention focuses on the Middle Ages, and their distinct character. This era is assumed widely to represent both a break with earlier times, and an equally distinctive precursor of childhood’s modern-day manifestation. Part of the reason for this concentration on medieval times as pivotal is attributable to the work of Ariès (1962), who has been particularly influential in contemporary discussions of the subject.
Roger Smith

3. Children and Place: An Inevitable Source of ‘Difference’?

Abstract
Like the previous chapter, this one will consider the question of difference, and the extent to which children’s lives can (or cannot) be characterized by patterns of diversity. On this occasion, however, I will be addressing this issue across geographical, social and cultural divides, rather than through time. The ‘place’ of children, in their communities, in the class structure, in their economic roles and in the world is inevitably an important dimension of our wider discussion of identity and difference between them. ‘Location’, in this sense, is not simply a geographical form of representation, but also tries to capture the various ways in which children as a group may be positioned socially:
The fact of belonging to the same class, and that of belonging to the same generation or age group, have this in common, that both endow the individuals sharing in them with a common location in the social and historical process, and thereby limit them to a specific range of potential experience.
(Mannheim, 1952, p. 291)
At first glance, the array of cultures, contexts and forms of social organization known to us favours the thesis that childhood is predominantly determined by local circumstances, relationships and social structures.
Roger Smith

4. The Search for Common Ground in Accounts of Childhood

Abstract
In the previous chapters, the focus was very much on aspects of the contextual circumstances which have shaped children’s lives across different times and places. These reflections point towards the conclusion that childhood is a very diverse phenomenon, which is defined and experienced according to a range of contingent influences. These reflections appear to operate externally to the child, almost irrespective of the internal processes and mechanisms which may shape her/his growth and development. This chapter, by contrast, will shift the focus from wide-ranging studies of children’s experiences in a variety of settings to the more restricted terrain of the processes and characteristics operating within and between children individually and interpersonally. It is here that attempts have been made to explore and account for physical, biological, psychological and micro-social change as it impacts on children and is reflected in changing personal attributes and behavioural characteristics. Work based on this kind of disciplinary perspective has tended to seek out evidence of uniformity and regularity in the patterns of children’s lives, and to seek explanations in terms of internal processes which are measurable and predictable (Turmel, 2008), but this is not always the case, as recent neurological research indicates.
Roger Smith

Childhood in Context

Frontmatter

5. Children, the State and Social Policy

Abstract
In this part of the book, I will move from the predominantly academic focus on defining and understanding childhood to the rather different issue of the ‘construction’ and treatment of children in the social policy and welfare domains. This is not to suggest that these two ‘worlds’ have no connection. It is demonstrably the case that academic insights have on occasion informed child care policies (the Sure Start programme in the UK, for example). At the same time, persistent concerns about protecting, nurturing and controlling children have acted as the focus for large areas of policy-oriented research activity, as in the case of Bowlby’s (1953) extensive study into the question of ‘maternal deprivation’ and its consequences. Nonetheless, by distinguishing between these fields of inquiry and shifting attention to the pragmatic and the practical, we may gain further insights into the basis on which childhood is defined and shaped in a material and contextual sense.
Roger Smith

6. Children and the Market

Abstract
Having raised the question in the previous chapter of children’s capacity to articulate their own policy objectives as a collective interest, this chapter addresses similar issues from a rather different perspective, that is, the relationship between children and the market economy. Much recent attention has focused on this in two key aspects: children as consumers, and children as producers. Thus, the way in which children are seen as a potential market for goods and services has generated considerable academic interest, mirroring that of commercial concerns which have identified what appears to be a lucrative opportunity for profit. At the same time, and in ironic counterpoint, the experience of other children as sources of (often very cheap) labour to feed growing demand for consumer goods has also been a matter of growing debate and policy activity.
Roger Smith

7. Children and the Media

Abstract
Just as children’s relationship with the economy is important, so, too, it is essential to consider their interactions with the media, especially in our ‘digital age’. The recurrent questions of how childhood is defined and lived are highly relevant in this context, given the pervasive reach of a wide range of means of communication throughout children’s lives. They are clearly a target for specific economic reasons, such as the marketing of goods, activities and services, as we saw in the previous chapter. But beyond this, the media has a central role to play in learning and socialization processes, on the one hand; and, on the other, acting as a focal point for children’s own creativity and independent forms of communication and relationship-building. The various platforms available provide both a means of constructing and shaping childhood, and a vehicle for children’s own growing ability to express themselves autonomously and in their terms.
Roger Smith

Childhood: Universal or Contextual?

Frontmatter

8. Childhood: An Adult Conception?

Abstract
In this final part of the book, the aim is to develop a broader analytical understanding of the terrain of childhood, reflecting on some of the key debates and challenges in this area, and seeking to draw out common themes and key points of difference and diversity. This discussion is at least partly framed by considerations touched upon previously, based on a ‘generational’ analysis (Mannheim, 1952; Alanen, 2001). As acknowledged in the previous chapters, one of the central features of childhood is the way in which it is addressed by adult interests, in policy, in marketing and in the media. This might be indicative of a structural division between the generations, whose origins and dynamics need to be understood.
Roger Smith

9. What Do Children Think about Childhood?

Abstract
Inevitably, this book is written from an adult perspective, but this should not prevent us from trying to explore the meaning and experience of childhood from the viewpoint of children themselves. Indeed, if we are to consider properly some of the more contentious aspects of the subject, then it is important to give some space to their perceptions and accounts. To what extent, for example, should we value and give recognition to the meaning and value for children of living in the present (‘being’ in Lee’s terms, 2001), as opposed to the tendency to take the future-oriented view which is apparent in much developmental and educational literature?
Roger Smith

10. Childhoods: The Same, Only Different?

Abstract
In attempting to provide a summative discussion of the issues raised in so many different contexts, there are a number of significant challenges. It is clearly difficult to establish a common analytical framework for this exercise given the sheer range of disciplines involved in the study of childhood, and the extent of disagreement within and between them. However, without staking out some common ground, the problem of establishing a baseline for our concluding analysis becomes almost insuperable. Some compromises will have to be made in order to enable us to make progress. If so, what are these to be, and how will they impact upon our subsequent deliberations?
Roger Smith

11. Conclusion: What Should We Do About Children (and Childhood)?

Abstract
In this final chapter, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on what we have learnt about children and childhood, and to look ahead, in the sense of considering how these observations can and should be applied, not only to improve our understanding, but also to improve children’s lives. How we address of the subject is clearly not just an academic issue, but is also of critical importance given the extent of interest and activity directed towards them, both by statutory agencies concerned with education and well-being, and by other powerful forces, too, such as the markets and the media; and, of course, because of what they represent to us all.
Roger Smith
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