The New Sociology Of The Childhood Sociology Essay Example
The New Sociology Of The Childhood Sociology Essay Example

The New Sociology Of The Childhood Sociology Essay Example

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  • Pages: 10 (2720 words)
  • Published: July 30, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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While sociology's focus on childhood is not a new concept, there has been a sudden surge in sociological attention on the topic in recent years within this country (Brannen 1999). This renewed interest in childhood is unique in that it aims to examine childhood as a separate concern rather than being subsumed under the broader concepts of family or education, which was previously the norm in such studies (Scott 2005). This shift in perspective on children is attributed to a systematic effort to democratize modern society, including the dismantling of any remaining forms of hidden stratification (James et al 1998:21). Whereas classical sociology primarily focused on social class stratification, modern sociology is now exploring all areas that were previously considered "natural" or merely aspects of "human nature" (Jenks 2001). As a result, race, gender, age, physical and mental abilities are all


now being examined and found to derive their significance from their social context (Jenks 2001). Though late to gain attention, childhood has now also become a focus of this movement (James et al 1998:31).The traditional view of childhood as a transient phase in human development, influenced by social constructs and developmental paradigms, has been challenged by a new approach that recognizes childhood as a unique position in society. This perspective sees children as active social actors and promotes a new sociology of childhood. The socialization theory, which assumes uniformity and predictability in the actions of society's members, involves the internalization of societal norms and values into the consciousness of individuals. This process is known as socialization and is influenced by society's impact on children. While acknowledging the biological nature of humans, sociologists have embraced

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this new perspective on childhood that emphasizes children's agency and distinctiveness as a social group.The socially developing child model, according to James et al (1998:23), shares chronological and incremental traits with the natural development model. However, sociological history resists explaining development solely in terms of innate tendencies and temperaments. The socially developing model focuses on society's expectations of the child rather than the child's inherent nature. Sociologists have extensively used socialization to describe how children and adults learn to conform to social norms, as Elkin and Handel (1972) argue. Socialization ensures societal reproduction and continuity, a crucial aspect of sociologists' understanding of social order, as James et al (1998:23) suggest. Transferring culture from one generation to another is essential for societies to thrive over time. Ritchie and Kollar (1964:117) define socialization as the primary concept in sociological childhood approach, which implies that children acquire their group's culture through socialization.According to James et Al (1998), children should not be seen as fully capable individuals in a complex adult world, but rather as beings with the potential to easily interact with human beings. Sociologists have conceptualized socialization in two ways. The first is the "Difficult way" or the "over-socialized concept of man" as referred to by Wrong (1961). This view suggests that socialization is the internalization of social constraints and occurs through external regulation. This construct derives from structural sociology and Parson's systems theory. He defines socialization as the process of child development. However, there is another reason for focusing on the socialization of children, which is because major value-orientation forms are laid down in childhood and are stable and enduring. According to Parsons' theory of the

societal system, there is a stable and consistent correspondence between individual actors and their specific responsibilities, which is reflective of society as a whole. Both are shaped by a common pattern.The James et al. (1998) study discusses how achieving catholicity in both the pattern and experience of childhood is important, as the content of socialization takes a backseat to the signifier of socialization in each instance. However, this can limit the child's intentionality due to the constrained number of choices available in social interaction, referred to as pattern variables by Parsons. This model portrays a generalized sense of the child at an abstract level, determined by structure rather than agency. Moreover, based on developmental strategy, the child is viewed as unqualified or possessing incomplete, uninformed, or pro-competencies. Therefore, any research that follows from this model can only produce a diagnosis for remedial action and cannot address the everyday world of children or their accomplishments in interaction and worldview. Another way sociologists conceive of the socialization process is through interaction as an essential component for individuals striving to become part of a group through transactional dialogue.The socialisation theory founded on symbolic interactionism by G.H. Mead and the Chicago school focuses on group dynamics in social psychology, primarily in adult socialisation. In contrast, child development studies predominantly rely on an unspecified behaviorism to explain language and interactive skill acquisition. The ultimate goal of adult socialisation is to achieve a balanced 'self' versus the 'other,' similar to Freud's theory of the triumph of the ego over the id. This approach has produced sensitive ethnographic research that complements Parsons and structural sociology's socialisation theories. Unfortunately, this emphasis largely ignores

childhood, and children are typically studied only under the broad umbrella of family sociology. Consequently, the various manifestations of socialisation theory rarely allocate sufficient attention to children.

Children in Sociology

Sociology has traditionally viewed children's socialization deterministically, often within the functionalist model (Silva & Smart 1999:146). The study of childhood has reflected this trend, with a lack of focus on children themselves. Classic sociological texts and North American journals rarely mentioned children, instead subsuming them under the header of Socialization, Child Rearing or Education (Ambert, 1993). The concepts of family socialization and childhood are often seen as inseparable, with family ideology deeply implicit in children's defining characteristics (Makrinioti, 1994). However, children are often objectified as the reason for adult family life, rather than viewed as independent agents within it. Young and Willlmott's (1997) study on family and kinship in east London explores the roles of adult family members, including work on child-raising.The gendered nature of child-rearing, parental methods, and aspirations for their children's future education and careers are discussed by parents, who mainly view their children as the reason for family life. This approach of immersing children in their families has been referred to as the "familialization" of childhood. Children are often presumed to belong to their parents, with their social identity reflecting that of their parents. The family is typically viewed in functionalist or essentialist terms, equating it solely with parental agency. Children are seldom consulted in research or policy discussions about family life because it is assumed that parents can speak for them.The traditional view of childhood has been to consider children as a byproduct of the family unit, rather than as distinct

individuals in their own right (Qvortrup 1997). Consequently, children have been merged with their parents into an idealized, inseparable family unit. This perspective has led to the marginalization of children in the field of family sociology. However, challenges to this view emerged in the 1970s from disciplines such as anthropology, social history, feminism, sociology and phenomenology, establishing the social status of children and highlighting their capability to act and influence social worlds. These perspectives were consolidated into a new sub-field of childhood studies, an interdisciplinary subject incorporating psychology, history, pedagogy, social policy and legal thinking about children (Brannen 1999). The essence of childhood studies is the recognition that childhood is not merely a biological or universal state but also a culturally variable social construct (Prout ; James 1997).The subsequent section will delve into a contemporary trend in sociology about childhood, referred to as social constructionism. This approach has been explored by various authors, including Jenks (1982), Stainton Rogers et al. (1989), and James and Prout (1990). Social constructionism became popular in tandem with the rise of liberalism ad relativism in academia following the 1960s, when the philosophical paradigm shifted from dogmatic philistinism to an idealism inspired by Husserl and Heidegger's works (James et al. 1998: 26). To claim that childhood, or any phenomenon, is socially constructed is to question its taken-for-granted meanings. Although we may have a general understanding of childhood, for social constructionists, this is not a knowledge that can be relied upon entirely. Our understanding of children and their reality depends on our sensitivity to the political, historical, societal, and cultural contexts we are in. The aim is to investigate how they come

into being within our conscious awareness. In a socially constructed idealist world, there are no inherent forms or limitations (James et al. 1998: 27). Therefore, childhood does not exist in a finite or identifiable form.Rams (1962), Margaret Mead and Martha Wolfenstein (1954) have displayed the multifaceted constructs of childhood in their work, highlighting the issue of variability that social constructionism emphasizes. Rather than promoting a singular construct, this approach foregrounds diverse buildings and is dedicatedly hermeneutic, eroding conventional standards of opinion and truth (James et al 1998:24). Therefore, judgments on issues such as child abuse or infanticide cannot be universally defined and are comparative to our worldview. Social constructionism's connection with cultural relativism is demonstrated through questioning the morality of certain practices in non-western societies and their relation to western beliefs. This approach supports the analysis of various discourses that shape childhood as variable and knowing, rather than being an ideal type (James et al 1998:27).The opposition to the socialisation theory of childhood asserts that there is no universal child to be accountable for. Advocates of this viewpoint require a high level of self-reflection. Social constructionists are more likely to believe that children are not molded by natural or social forces, but rather they create their own meaning through interactions with adults, in opposition to positivist methods and assumptions. The significance of social constructionism is its political role in studying childhood. It is well-suited to free children from biological determinism and align them with social phenomena. It is more than a theoretical concept. The practical application of constructed mental concepts, as well as their impact on the generation of humanity and real-world outcomes, should not

be overlooked (James et al. 1998: 28). We will now delve into the studies conducted with this approach and the insights they provide.

This new perspective presented numerous possibilities. Recognizing the social aspect of childhood enabled people to think beyond the developmental/socialization model when it came to understanding children. This approach has since become one of the prominent ways of conceptualizing childhood.A growing field of research began examining children's role in society and how they actively participate. This research has focused on how children negotiate rules, relationships, and balance their autonomy with interdependence. Children are seen as strategic actors who take responsibility for their own well-being and the well-being of others. This shift has resulted in children being visible as workers, soldiers, consumers, caregivers, counselors, and clients of various services. Childhood researchers have focused on exploring children's informal settings, such as streets and playgrounds where they exert their agency freely. (Smart et al 2001:12; Brannen 1999, 1996)Studies on the employment of children in illustration have revealed their significant contribution to contemporary domestic economies and the labor market (Morrow, 1994) and have reconceptualized their schooling as unpaid work that they must undertake on a daily basis (Qvortrup, 1985). Due to exposure to family disruption and diversity, children may engage in more emotional labor at a young age, including supportive roles such as providing parental support (Scott, 2005). Solberg's (1990) study of unsupervised children who spend long periods of time at home found that they negotiate an enhanced "social age" by taking care of themselves and contributing to the household. However, while Solberg views children's independence positively, Hochschild (1997:229) sees it in a less favorable light. She

argues that using the excuse of children's independence to justify parental absence is another way to avoid the issue of time constraints, which ultimately forces children into a faster-growing process.The research on children's work focuses on children's present existence. In both the US and UK, there has been significant work conducted on the causes and effects of child poverty. Previous research primarily examined "what works for kids," but now recognizes that children's interests, family involvement, and social engagement may differ. For example, policies aimed at reducing poverty may not align with strengthening family ties or prioritizing parental care for young children. One study found that children as young as seven are skilled in persuading parents to buy what they want, even though parents often make financial sacrifices to shield their children from the visible aspects of poverty. However, children still experience relative deprivation as their consumption ideas are influenced by affluent media and comparisons with more fortunate peers. Another study entitled "Children's Perceptions of Family And Family Change" explores how children respond to the changes they face during the second demographic transition wave.In his research, the author interviewed children regarding their emotions surrounding parental separation, domestic violence, conflict, living in single-parent households, and their attitudes towards marriage. The author concludes that children's understanding of these topics follow a clear developmental progression, beginning with physical comprehension and leading to psychological understanding. Children demonstrate remarkable adaptability and resilience when navigating familial changes. The author suggests that informing children about the causes of family disruption, such as explaining the reasons for divorce or separation, can aid in their ability to cope. The author's research also highlights the role

of grandparents as a source of support for children whose parents are struggling with the effects of family breakdown. By studying children's experiences during times of societal and economic upheaval, researchers can identify factors that exacerbate or mitigate their risk factors and build resilience. This can be seen in Elder's (1999) study, Children of the Great Depression, which examined archival data on children born in Oakland, California.The impact of economic depression during the Great Depression was primarily experienced by children, resulting in alterations to family relationships, changes in labor distribution, and increased social tension. Elder conducted a comparative study on children born in Berkeley, eight years apart in 1920-21 and 1928-29. The research revealed noticeable differences in how the Depression affected the two birth cohorts. The Oakland children were exposed to the adversities of the Depression after experiencing a securely established period during their early childhood in the 1920s, while the Berkeley group faced stress and instability from an early age. The detrimental effects of the Great Depression were more severe for the Berkeley group, especially for boys. Unlike the Berkeley cohort, the Oakland children were ready to take on work outside the home and enhance their status within their families, which was crucial in times of economic distress. This study underscores the importance of recognizing children's role in shaping their family experiences and considering the various relationships that impact family adaptations to challenging times (Scott 2005).This new way of thinking has opened up the opportunity for childhood and household research to be combined in a fruitful manner. The focus of research has shifted towards studying the "children's household" rather than just households with children,

indicating a new perspective that considers children's viewpoints. Research has delved into the values children hold regarding family life, their perceptions of family structures, roles and relationships, and how they actively contribute to and impact family life. While this approach has received some criticism for blurring boundaries between childhood and adulthood and facing methodological limitations, it is seen as a valuable way to understand family dynamics from a child's perspective. However, Scott argues that viewing children solely as future adults can diminish their importance as children, and interviewing very young children may pose methodological challenges due to cognitive and linguistic limitations. Therefore, age could be a factor in determining data quality.


The way in which childhood is perceived, in a particular time and place, shapes our knowledge and understanding. In sociology, children were historically viewed as being under the control of families and were considered as actors in their own right. This socialization theory was rooted in Functionalist sociology. However, the post-modern view has led to a new sociology of childhood that emphasizes children as agents who exert influence on the lives of others around them. Children have the ability to make choices within the opportunities and constraints of contemporary life. These are the main themes explored in the essay, along with discussions on studies conducted by writers and researchers utilizing this new approach, and their insights into the realm of childhood.

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