In recent years, childhood has become a far more contested phenomenon, with public commentary shifting between the reporting of its terminal decline through to the promotion of a new pluralized and culturally embedded version of the child. Arguably, it is clear now that policy makers and professionals have embraced the latter view, working alongside children and their families in providing them with the support needed to take more control of their lives (Mayall, 2002). In this chapter, the sociological basis of this approach, the social construction of childhood, is outlined. First, I discuss the importance of the cultural and social dimensions of childhood and go on to explore the implications this has for understanding children’s lives. I then discuss the social construction of childhood in terms of the different ways that we might view children’s lives. Here we can start to talk about the diversity of childhoods. Finally, I explain why an emphasis on the cultural and social realms can lead to insights on children’s identities as relatively independent, rights-bearing members of society. In the final section, by way of a critique of social constructionism, I briefly explore alternative ways of researching children and childhood.
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