It will be useful at this point to discuss what is meant by children and childhood. Possibly, defining the child is less challenging than defining childhood. If a simple definition of the word is all that is required, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a child as:
“A young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority” (www.oxforddictionaries.com)
However, it seems clear that this definition causes certain problems, including the fact that the onset of puberty not only differs between boys and girls, but between individuals as well. Secondly, the age of majority varies between countries, and even within different regions of the same country. In spite of the fact that the United Nations adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (www.un.org), a separate declaration was adopted in 1989 that specifically covered the rights of the child, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Lee, 2001). Here, separate rights were established for all under the age of 18 years old (www.unicef.org). It has been argued that if children are indeed human beings in there own right, then is there any need for a separate convention covering their rights? Of course, this distinction between children as human beings or human becomings is contentious still (Qvortrup et al., 1994). However, for the sake of this discourse, we shall consider anyone less than 18 years of age as a child.
The concept of childhood is a relatively recent phenomenon, with little written on the subject, until the advent of the French historian Phillipe Aries in the 1960’s, with the publication of his book, Centuries of Childhood (Ariès, 1962). Aries argued that it is only from the 13th century onwards that modern notions of childhood, the idea that childhood is a distinct phase of life from adulthood, begin to emerge. Essentially Aries is arguing that childhood, as we understand it today, is a relatively recent ‘invention’.
In the new paradigm of social studies, descriptions of childhood all move away from the socialisation or enculturalisation theory of children. This previously dominant account of children and childhood is centred on socialisation. In this view, children were seen as natural, universal, and irrational; the child was becoming, not being. Prout (2005), posited that this theory of childhood started with Darwin, whose research lead to an increase in the biological aspects of childhoods. Darwin kept notes on his own child, allowing him to closely observe and to speculate on what behaviour was instinctive and what was acquired. This Darwinian model lead to an increase in interest in children and their study, culminating in the Child Study Movement from the 1880’s to the 1920’s. Here, Sully (1895) claimed that childhood studies should be afforded the same status as any of the sciences. Science was an important element in the consciousness of the nineteenth century. The universal laws of science which could be verified by experiments and observation was an important part of the Victorian awareness. Children were viewed as being primitive, or indeed, savage; suiting the imperial politics of the time. In this view of Augustus Comte, children were seen as a precursor to modern man.
The introduction of compulsory schooling in the late 1880’s and 1890’s, once again increased the visibility of children, however they were often seen in the terms of a national resource, available for both the military and as an asset for economic competition. Hendrick (2015), described them as “children of the nation”. Paradoxically, children were no longer seen to occur naturally, but rather as a product of education.
Another movement leading to the increase in awareness of children as a group of individuals worth studying was that of paediatric medicine. As medicine and dispensary developed, children were seen more. In France at the turn of the twentieth century, children were important players in the studies of the family (Donzelot, 1979). The Society for the Study of Diseases was founded in 1901, and the British Paediatric Society was founded in 1928. Following World War 2, the Child Health Survey was introduced. This panoptical, longitudinal study ran for four main surveys in 1946, 1958, 1970, and 2000, and it continues to track the cohorts and their descendants to this day. This, along with other data from the many studies carried out all over the world have lead to a massive amount of data, all of which could be used as a template against which the abnormal could be identified.
The discipline of Child Psychology also emerged during the twentieth century to challenge the Child Study Movement. Child Psychology had many different strands from the Stimulus-Response-Behaviourism approach of Skinner, to the psychoanalysis of Freud, the Attachment Theory of the mother-child tie, to the pre-eminent approach of Piaget. In this approach, children were thought of as developing cognitive ability, especially the powers of formal reasoning. By the end of the twentieth century we witness the rise of the social, where society has come to play an important part in the area of children and childhood studies.
However, this is not to say that children and childhood were absent throughout history; on the contrary, James, A. et al. (1998) and Jenks (1996), identified five distinct categories of pre-sociological children: the evil child, the innocent child, the immanent child, the naturally developing child, and the unconscious child. In the following section, I will look at each of these pre-sociological models in turn.
The first model, termed the “evil child”, drawing on reference from records within the fields of criminology, public moralising and pedagogic practice. In this view, the child is seen as inherently evil and childhood is the space in which this evilness can be contained, constrained, and indeed, ultimately eliminated altogether. The idea of the evil child can clearly be traced back to the bible story of Adam and Eve and the wilfulness of humans needing to be curtailed, and for them to be set upon the path of righteousness. In fact, childhood can be seen as the body of the child which acts as the bonds supressing the universal desire to do wrong (James, A. et al., 1998; Jenks, 1996).
The second model of the innocent child is a direct contrast to the previous construct (Coveney, 1957). Here, following on from the romantic view of Blake and Wordsworth, children are seen as pure, angelic beings capable of no wrong; adults should be there to protect these innocents from the evils of the world. According to the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 1760’s, God made all things good and it is man who interferes and makes them evil (Rousseau, 1979). In this view, the child is placed firmly at the centre and is seen as our investment in the future of mankind, as objects to be nurtured through education in a child-centred environment. The innocent child idea should seem very familiar to our twenty-first century view of student-led learning in schools (James, A. et al., 1998; Jenks, 1996).
The third pre-sociological model of the immanent child was imagined almost fifty years before Rousseau, John Locke, in 1693, published an article, “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”, as a post-script to his earlier work of 1689,”An essaypro.com?tap_x=ZQaCDvQxuz6mVdnUddBuGn">Essay on Human Understanding” (Locke, 2000). In this view of the pre-sociological child, Locke does not see the child a wholly innocent being, nor does he envisage it as an entity born evil. He does, however, see the child as a “no-thing”; this is not to disregard the child, but to view it as a blank canvas ready to take on the ideas and characteristics of others. In “An essaypro.com?tap_x=ZQaCDvQxuz6mVdnUddBuGn">Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, Locke (1836) wrote:
“Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how come it is to be furnished? Whence comes that vast store, which the bust and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer in one word, from experience: in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself. (Book 2, ch. 1, sec. 2)
As with Rousseau, children are not viewed as partially-formed adults, but as beings with individualised needs different from those of adults, where knowledge is only gained from experience. This model of a motivated child with a thirst for knowledge could be seen as an early forerunner of what we now consider to be child-centred learning (James, A. et al., 1998; Jenks, 1996).
The fourth pre-sociological model to be considered is one which incorporates nature, so far overlooked in the previous models discussed. In the naturally developing model, nature and science combine in the form of development psychology. In this view, children are seen as natural, and not social, this state of being natural is a core component of the process of a child maturing towards adulthood. The chief architect of this naturally developing child construct, based on biology as opposed to sociology was Piaget (2005), who attested that a child has the potential to be specifically something, in contrast to a random anything. In this model, children develop along a pre-determined, time-orchestrated line. Starting not long after birth and continuing until adulthood, a child will experience sensory-motor intelligence, pre-conceptual and intuitive thought, until finally arriving at adult operative intelligence, allowing independent, logical thought processes to thrive, in the absence of previously experienced situations.
The challenges to this naturally developing construct centre around the idea that here, childhood, is being viewed from a pre-eminently Western perspective (Archard, 1993). In addition, critics point out that human maturation cannot be adequately described through a set of biologically pre-determined stages that a child must pass through, to be ranked and/or graded, before moving onto the next level (Morss, 1990). Yet, it is somewhat ironic, that, in part, this Piagetian model endures, exactly because of the ability to measure, rank, grade, and assess a child’s development. The attraction for the capacity for empirical measurements to be employed as we consider the development of children and childhood, can be seen clearly in the current fascination with school league tables and the evaluation of a child’s development compared to an existing set of stages or goals to be reached by a certain age (James, A. et al., 1998; Jenks, 1996).
The fifth and final model to be taken into account in the pre-sociological view of childhood is that of the unconscious child. At the turn of the twentieth century, with the onset of Freudian thinking, the idea of childhood turned to the past. In the analysis of Freud (2018), with the emphasis on the id, ego and super-ego; aspects of the evil, innocent, and immanent child can be observed. These childhood “building blocks” can be held to account later in life as the basis on which adult consciousness is formed. In fact, the propensity for criminals, for example, to blame their current actions on the record of their past, could stem directly from the Freudian school of thought. However, this final model also describes the child as a state of becoming, almost pushed along, without agency towards adulthood, through a series of “drives and instincts”, centred on sexuality (James, A. et al., 1998; Jenks, 1996).
The sociological child
In the model of The Tribal Child, the focus of attention moves clearly, to the agency of children. Here, childhood is seen as a permanent feature of social structure, in the same way as class or gender (Qvortrup et al., 2009).The world of the child, from imagined playground games and other such childish pursuits, form a separate space from the world of the adult. In this space, children construct their own version of reality, and therefore, their own childhood, separated from the bonds of adulthood (Opie and Opie, 2000). These childhood worlds are not necessarily supposed to be understood by adults, but through research, they can be revealed as what are; distinct social spaces created by children influenced by the adult world, but not a part of it. The problem with this approach is the propensity for children’s accounts to be taken as a fairy tale world of no real or significant consequence. This approach would be erroneous, as these whimsies and notions of the child deserve examination as, maybe not a full construct, but as an aspiration to one, with children experiencing a variety of local interactions in different arenas. This approach is particularly useful in analysing the language of children, how it is used in the playground, and how it is acquired and adapted for use in their created social space.
In The Minority Child idea, we see the politicisation of childhood, as feminist writers align childhood with the theories found in Women’s Studies.
Oakley (1994) stated:
“This chapter considers the emerging field of childhood studies from the viewpoint of the established discipline of women’s studies. Women and children are, of course, linked socially, but the development of these specialist academic studies also poses interesting methodological and political questions about the relationship between the status of women and children as social minority groups and their constitution as objects of the academic gaze. (1994: p 13)
This highly political idea of childhood and the child being aligned with the “plight” of women as a minority group only serves to highlight the model as being based on morality rather than taking a demographic viewpoint where women tend to make up the majority of populations. By giving childhood the same standing as race, gender, sexuality, age and mental and physical ability, the role of the child takes centre stage, and childhood is seen from a children’s viewpoint. However, this, by implication, tends to highlight the difference between adults and children by creating childhood as a separate, stand-alone category. Allowing children, in the context of the Minority Child model, a voice, demanding to be heard, creates division between the world of the adult and the world of the child.
Finally, The Social Structural Child could be seen as the most common sense approach to childhood, recognising that children are a permanent fixture of all social worlds, and exist in a very real and tangible way. Even though these may differ in different cultures, children are a group of social actors; citizens with their own set of needs and rights. Here, childhood is a social phenomenon, with universal children existing in different contexts of time, space, economics etc. Yet, children share the same characteristics across the differing social groups and age groups, allowing comparisons to be made over time (Qvortrup et al., 1994). Childhood is seen as the period of time when human beings are children, and as such, are able to transcend the social structures of society, and are therefore universal, existing within a fixed structure of characteristics. This approach, by implication, tends to play down the activity of the actors, for example, adults and children.
According to Burr (2015), there is not one clearly defined set of assumptions to describe what is called Social Constructionism. Based on development psychology, many concepts found within this construct will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of psychology. However, Burr does introduce According some key assumptions accredited to Gergen (1985): a critical stance toward taken-for- granted knowledge, historical and cultural specificity, knowledge is sustained by social processes, and knowledge and social action go together.
Considering these four assumptions in turn; firstly, it can be said that Social Constructionism encourages us to critically assess all that we may take for granted in the world around us by using positivism or empirical evidence to challenge often deep-rooted assumptions. In other words, to apply a more critical approach, one which is more scientific in nature, as we would in physics and biology (Burr, 2015).
Secondly, our pre-determined view of the world around us can be challenged as it is a result of human construction. According to this assumption, it is essential that we approach the study of childhood, for example, with eyes wide open, acknowledging that what we see must be placed in historical and cultural context. Social Constructionism argues that Psychology has imposed a Western approach to how other nations and cultures are perceived; indeed an almost imperialistic attitude often prevails. This assumption challenges our view of what we expect from children and parents. The usual understanding of this relationship has changed and this behavior becomes increasingly difficult to be described as “natural” (Burr, 2015).
Thirdly, the assumption that knowledge is sustained by social processes is summed up by the concept that language and discourse are key. Ideas and knowledge are constructed and reinforced due to social interactions between people. One person sharing knowledge with another can lead to a new and different way of viewing the world; the creation of a new social construct. As knowledge changes, so will our outlook on the world around us and these social constructs will evolve; by either becoming embedded in popular culture, or by disappearing altogether (Burr, 2015).
The final assumption, that knowledge and social action go together, suggests that when it comes to human behavior, Social Constructionism allows for different to exist and change over time. Burr (2015), uses the example of alcohol consumption and perceptions toward it. Before the Temperance movement, the choice to consume alcohol was seen as a specific choice made by rational individuals. Therefore, any unlawful or anti-social behavior, whilst under the influence of alcohol, was placed squarely as the fault of the person concerned. Yet, following the advancement of the Temperance movement in the nineteenth century, perceptions in the USA and UK began to change. Alcohol became the problem, turning previously innocent people into addicts, and any associated bad behaviour was the fault of alcohol and not the individual.
However, this view differs from mainstream psychology, which tends to class humans as individuals with all the benefits that entails; where individuals can react to and influence the behaviour of others. This view assumes people are pre-existing, self-contained individuals whose interaction with others leads to social consequences (Allport, 1924). Social constructionists argue that humans are not pre-destined or pre-determined, but are influenced by, and influence, their surroundings or environment. This is not, however, to say that social constructionism takes the side of nurture in the nature/nurture debate; here nurture is seen to uncover some already definable and discoverable characteristics. The essentialism of psychology is opposed by the views of social constructionism, where essentialism is confines individuals to pre-determined traits and personalities with little opportunity for change (Burr, 2015).
Finally, for social constructivism, language plays a vital role; allowing thoughts to be verbalised leads to the social interaction which underpins the construct. Yet, language unique to a nation or culture allows concepts such as “hyyge” in Danish to exist, for which there is no equivalent in English, for example, the closest translation being “cosy” (Burr, 2015).
According to Prout (2011), the new social studies of childhood has at least three precursors; the Interactionist Model of the 1960’s, especially in the USA, where children are seen as active agents in the creation of meaning through their interactions with adults and other children (Dreitzel, 1973). The Structural Sociology of the 1990’s particularly in Europe, where childhood is seen as a permanent feature of society, in the same way we view class or gender (Qvortrup et al., 1994). This view can easily be coupled with the feminist inspired writers of the same period who portrayed children as a minority group, subject to oppression by adults (Mayall, 1994). And finally, Social Constructionism which was seen in both the USA and Europe during the 1980’s, where the construction of childhood is seen through discourse (Jenks, 1996). The new social studies of childhood combines elements from these three movements presented in a new and different construct (James, A. et al., 1998; James, A. and Prout, 1997).
James, A. and Prout (1997) identify six key characteristics of the new and emergent paradigm:
“1. Childhood is understood as a social construction. As such it provides an interpretive frame for contextualizing the early years of human life. Childhood, as distinct from biological immaturity, is neither a natural nor universal feature of human groups but appears as a specific structural and cultural component of many societies.
2. Childhood is a variable of social analysis. It can never be entirely divorced from other variables such as class, gender, or ethnicity. Comparative and cross-cultural analysis reveals a variety of childhoods rather than a single and universal phenomenon.
3. Children’s social relationships and cultures are worthy of study in their own right, independent of the perspective and concerns of adults.
4. Children are and must be seen as active in the construction and determination of their own social lives, the lives of those around them and of the societies in which they live. Children are not just the passive subjects of social structures and processes.
5. Ethnography is a particularly useful methodology for the study of childhood. It allows children a more direct voice and participation in the production of sociological data than is usually possible through experimental or survey styles of research.
6. Childhood is a phenomenon in relation to which the double hermeneutic of the social sciences is acutely present (see Giddens, 1976). That is to say, to proclaim a new paradigm of childhood sociology is also to engage in and respond to the process of reconstructing childhood in society.” (James, A. and Prout, 1997, p. 8)
James, A. and Prout (1997) are clear this represents just a starting point for the new social studies of childhood, recognising further work needs to be done in this area before it can be fully incorporated into mainstream thought.
This new or emergent paradigm evolved during the 1980s and 1990s, and attempts to give children a voice or agency; unlike the old sociology where children were viewed as empty vessels waiting to acquire the qualities of adulthood through socialisation (Knapp, 1999). In this model, children are seen as active participants; with the ability to make sense of, and affect their societies. Viewing children as social actors moves us away from the idea of socialisation. As researchers distance themselves from the socialisation models, more evidence is emerging about how children are conscious, thinking individuals who have the capacity to shape their world in a variety of ways by reflecting on their situation and the choices available to them at any given time. In this way, we observe children actively constructing their own worlds and realities (Matthews, 2007). One important finding from this body of research is how children interact with their age peers (Adler and Adler, 1998; Corsaro, 2011; Fine, 1987).
James, A. and James (2004) expanded on the earlier work of James, A. and Prout (1997) and James, A. et al. (1998) in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps in the agency/structure debate. They elaborated on the idea that social change and social continuity are key elements in childhood. They also argued that multiple childhoods exist in different places throughout the world and that these could be considered as a single entity within childhood studies. The cultural politics of childhood; the concept of national and cultural identities, social practices and political processes all contribute to the existence of childhoods in different places and different time periods.
In response to this, Qvortrup (2005) attempted to temper the friction becoming apparent within childhood studies, arguing the multiple childhood approach obscured the importance of the marginalisation of children by mainstream politics and social policy. In essence, we have the beginnings of the plurality/singularity debate; should childhood studies focus on areas of common concern or should the multiple childhood theory take precedence? This echoes similar arguments found in the works of feminist writers of the same period, where womanhoods, in plural, were seen to coexist without undermining the feminist movement as a singe project. However, due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the new social study of childhood, the outlook for childhood studies to be identified as a single project has become somewhat hampered (James, A.L., 2010).
As a consequence of the introduction of paediatrics and psychology to the debate around childhood studies, the importance of the social came to the fore in the 1980’s. However, this was seen as an addition to the established ideas of nature and psychology. The problem was trying to fit this new social aspect into the already existing models, and crucially, how much of each should be present in any emergent theories.
Cole (1998) identified three dualistic models in the nature/culture arena. The first, accepts the importance of the role of both biology and culture, but places most significance on the role of biology in the child’s development. The general direction and momentum of development will continue to advance due to heritable biological processes, but the social environment may influence its timing or intensity.
In the second idea identified by Cole (1998), the previous theory is in effect reversed. Here the biological aspect is seen to be a lump of clay shaped and moulded by the social environment of its surroundings. This is the behaviourism theory of psychological thought.
In the final model, the ideas of Piaget are well represented in a sophisticated, yet essentially still, a dualistic model. Biological and social factors are given equal importance, and in fact, they interact well together. It is worth noting that Piaget saw the individual as shaping their development as they adapt to changing environments (Cole, 1998).
As we move towards the descriptions of a post-modernist approach to children and childhood studies, the new social studies of childhood presents several challenges. Set against the economic, social, and technological change at the end of the twentieth century, the new paradigm was caught lacking. Childhood had started to fragmentise and many traditional ideas debunked. The shape of the family was changing, for example, and it was not unusual any more for the nuclear family of two adults and two children to cease to exist. Coupled with an increase in the inequality of income distribution around the world, more children are being brought up in poverty. The near collapse of the banking systems of many developed countries, due to the largest credit bubble burst yet seen will have consequences for a long time to come (Turner, 2010).
The problem of the new social studies was that, it seemed to be moving in the opposite direction to mainstream sociological thought at the end of the last century. The two most important aspects of the new paradigm, agency and structure, were assumed to be problematic. Agency leads us towards the study of children, whereas structure leads towards the study of childhood. In a critique of a theory he helped to conceptualise, Prout (2011) acknowledges that the new social studies of childhood emerged during a period of significant social change towards the end of the twentieth century. He uses the term “post-modernity”, amongst others, to describe a time of massive social and economic upheaval. These changes, in part, were as a result of the radical supply-side economic policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan in the 1980s and 1990s in the UK and USA. During this period, individualism replaced collectivism as the norm in many parts of the world. At the same time, the emergence of the newly industrialised economies of China, India and Brazil; along with the financial crisis at the end on the twentieth century, is and will in the future, impact on all our lives, including those of children (Turner, 2010).
For many reasons, especially in the developed world, children increasingly find themselves living in non-standard households, those with a mother, father, and possibly siblings. This change in living conditions implies a shift in the perceived norms of childhood (Prout, 2011).
It seemed that childhood studies was going against the tide of modernist sociology by placing the child at the centre of a socially constructed world, whereas other disciplines were engaging with concepts such as diversity, mobility and fluidity (Prout, 2011). It could be said that the “new” social studies of childhood was already old before it was fully established.
The new paradigm was dichotomous in nature, and scholars often emphasise the dualities of childhood sociology: children as agents vs childhood as a social structure (the plurality/singularity debate), childhood as a social construct vs childhood as natural, and childhood as being vs childhood as becoming (Prout, 2011).
Turning to the first of these, children as agents vs childhood as a social structure; depicts childhood as unified, particular to a nation state or culture. This allows childhood to exist without the constraints of time and space. Conversely, children as agents portrays children as plural even within a social structure; and are more diverse and localised in nature, due to the interactions between human agents (Prout, 2011).
Secondly, childhood as a social construct vs children as natural lead to a separation of the natural and social sciences. Nature joined science whereas culture and society became the social sciences (Latour, 1993). Childhood has often eluded classification due to the fact that it finds itself at the centre of the nature/culture debate. It has, however, found a place within the social sciences, for now (Haraway, 1991).
Finally, the opposition between human beings and human becomings is often discussed in relation to childhood. Yet, not all academics view this opposition as so problematic, arguing that this division is useful only if “beings” are thought of as existing in time, with a remembered past and an expected future (Christensen, 1994). Lee (1999) contends that the being/becoming argument made sense in the modernist view of sociology, however, this distinction becomes increasingly blurred in our post-modernist world. Changes to employment and families mean adults are also becomings in nature, due to the instability of twenty-first century life. The new social studies of childhood can no longer maintain that children are beings in their own right when this is no longer true of adults (Prout, 2011).
Due to the dualistic approach of the above debates, there is a gap between the opposing positions; the “excluded middle”, whose place is found lacking by existing approaches. One way forward, proposed by Latour (1993), is the actor- network theory (ANT) which includes materialities and places them at the centre of attention. In this construct, the dichotomies of the new paradigm become a by-product of the newly centralised materials and practices (Prout, 2011).
Moving beyond the new social studies of childhood, and possibly looking towards the future, what will childhood studies look like moving forward?
As interest in childhood studies increases, so does the wide diversity of projects being undertaken in its name (James, A.L., 2010). According to James, A. (2007), the large volume of work in this area has acknowledged:
“… the voices of children, revealing things that are important to them. Personalized and individualized, the children tell us about their everyday experiences of the social world and reveal…the hidden hurts and humiliations that many children experience and which adults often dismiss as unimportant or regard simply as playground rough-and-tumble.
This kind of work has been replicated in any number about any number of topics by any number of social scientists.” (James, A., 2007, p.264)
James, A.L. (2010) argues that any continuation of studies which reach similar conclusions; that childhood is socially constructed and children are active participants in its construction, will not advance the study of childhood further. He suggests these studies do not take the subject forward and provide no new theoretical frameworks within the field.
Prout (2011) proposes that any re-interpretation of the new social studies of childhood are characterised by five distinct categories: interdisciplinarity, symmetry, networks and mediations, mobility, and relationality.
Firstly, the multi-disciplinary nature of childhood studies should be extended taking in arts and humanities, and possibly biological and medical sciences which play a role today. Childhood studies should be recognised as a complex subject, Latour (1993) considers these “hybrid” childhoods exist due to the heterogeneous networks of the social which arises “simultaneously real, like nature, narrated, like discourse and collective, like society” (Latour, 1993, p.6).
Considering symmetry, there is no need to separate children from adults, indeed, the different versions of childhood and adulthood and adulthood exist due to the complex relationship between them and the variety of materials around them (Prout, 2011).
Thirdly, in the actor-network theory childhoods are seen as a complex ordering of networks, which can vary in size and intensity. Against the backdrop of this network, equally varied actors exist. This theory allows new childhoods to be created when new networks appear, for example the rise of the internet as a new technology.
Fourthly, looking at mobility; societies in the post-modern era are less stable and therefore more prone to changes over time. As children become increasingly mobile; locally, nationally and even globally, their childhoods also need to become more mobile in response. Distinctions are also made between the childhoods of the rich and poor, with affluent childhoods globally having a similar pattern, which is very different from those of children found in poorer parts of the city. Indeed, the concept of “home” has become fluid and no longer refers to the stable bricks and mortar but to a more complex idea of a communal family space with differ people passing through at different times (Christensen et al., 2000).
Finally, Alanen (2001) theorised the concept of “generational relations”, which is a similar concept to the class and genders order often used by sociologists. Here, generations are understood as socially constructed and the places of children and adults are precisely ordered. These relationships are more permanent and therefore less receptive to time influences. Childhood is created within a set of relations and not essentialized, and therefore includes the “excluded middle” (Prout, 2011).
These five possible re-interpretations of the new paradigm seem to be more in tune with the destabilised and pluralised nature of our post-modern society.
Further models may come to light as we move away form the dualities of the socially constructed childhood and its deterministic biological models of child development; cognition, psychological, and physical; social and cultural structure and agency; family and kin relations, both adult and peer groups; time and space; relativism, universal and local; diversity and the plurality of childhood/childhoods.
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It will be useful at this point to discuss what is meant by children and childhood. Possibly, defining the child is less challenging than defining childhood. If a simple definition of the word is all that is required, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a child as: