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Childhood . Definition. ‘A State, which is both socially, and biologically constructed’ The period of time where a person has not yet reached adult status. Arguments . Arguments as to whether it is biologically constructed or socially constructed

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‘A State, which is both socially, and biologically constructed’

The period of time where a person has not yet reached adult status



  • Arguments as to whether it is biologically constructed or socially constructed

  • Arguments as to whether it is historically constructed or not

  • Arguments that childhood is culturally specific



  • Functionalists argue that childhood should be explained in a biological sense

  • Children have and always will be passive

Socially constructed

Socially Constructed

  • Interactionist argue that society makes up our idea of childhood

  • Childhood is dependent on time and culture you are in

  • Types of acceptable behaviour, length and how children should be treated are all evidence of this

Historical arguments

Historical Arguments

  • Aries ’62 – childhood did not exist in medieval Europe

  • Used diaries, letters, other documents and paintings of the time to emphasis this

  • Children were depicted as little adults, involved in adult activities such as sex, fighting and work

Aries cont

Aries Cont……………

  • The emergence of the modern child:

    • Began in 16th century with Upper Classes and education

  • Working classes still involved in child labour

  • Early industrialisation saw children in factories etc

  • 19th century introduction of various laws stopped this



  • Introduction of laws stopped children being treated as adults

  • Factory Acts prevented children from a certain age working

  • Education Acts ensured children up to a certain age were educated

  • 20th century childhood now applies to all classes

Always been around

Always been around

  • Pollack – used diaries between 16th and 20th century. Found childhood did exist because children were subject to physical and emotional abuse

  • Cunningham – Renaissance art portrayed children as innocents

  • Functionalists and Psychologists – mental and physical developments should play a key part

Contemporary cross cultural differences

Contemporary Cross-Cultural Differences

  • Eidenstadt: Childhood is socially constructed and therefore culturally specific

  • Bilton – childhood is experienced differently in the Western world compared to the East.

  • Western world has childhood, Eastern world still sees children working in factories

Evidence cont

Evidence Cont….

  • Malinowski – Trobriand Island children are much freer sexually

  • Turnbull – The Mountain People similar to Ik tribe, children could survive even when abandoned

  • Firth – Tikopia Island Tribe – carried out dangerous tasks when they/adults felt they were ready

Decline of childhood

Decline of Childhood?

  • Lee – 20th century notion of childhood was that of unstable and incomplete humans.

  • Move to 21st century no longer complete when we reach adulthood, still sense of uncertainty

  • Adults are becoming more like children

  • Children have increased rights – children have more say over what happens to them



  • Notion of childhood has disappeared

  • Childhood can only occur if they are separated from adults

  • Merging of roles, children have rights, access to same levels of media

  • Boundaries have blurred

Childhood is still here

Childhood is still here

  • Childhood is a long way from disappearing

  • Now a major economic force – clothes, toys, food etc

  • Buckingham – children have a major say on what is produced and purchased

  • Lee – not disappeared become more complex and ambiguous

  • Although can have a say what they want, they are still dependent on parents purchasing power

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