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Sociological Studies of Children and Youth

ISBN: 978-0-76231-183-5, eISBN: 978-1-84950-329-7

ISSN: 1537-4661

Publication date: 2 June 2005


Although there has been much psychological research about children's sibling relations, it has been a neglected area of study in sociology (exceptions are Brannen et al., 2000; Kosonen, 1996; Mauthner, 2002). This paper, based on empirical research on siblings in Scotland, explores the nature of the generational power structure within families from children's perspectives. Childhood is a relational concept which forms part of the generational order. Alanen explains this as “a complex set of social processes through which people become (are constructed as) ‘children’ while other people become (are constructed as) ‘adults’” (2001, pp. 20, 21). Generational processes shape the nature of child-parent relations (Mayall, 2002). Alanen states that:one position (such as the parental position) cannot exist without the other (child) position; also what parenting is – that is, action in the position of a parent – is dependent on its relation to the action “performed” in the child position, and a change in one part is tied to change in the other (Alanen, 2001, p. 19).In other words, child-parent relations are based on the understanding that childhood is relational with parenthood (see also Mayall, 2002). Alanen (2001) argues that the social construction of childhood and adulthood involves a process, including the agency of both children and adults, which she refers to as a set of “practices”:It is through such practices that the two generational categories of children and adults are recurrently produced and therefore they stand in relations of connection and interaction, of interdependence (Alanen, 2001, p. 21).These practices of generationing may be “childing” practices through which people are constructed as children or “adulting” practices through which a distinct adult position is produced. The ways in which children in the present study talked about the differences between their relationships with their parents and their siblings indicated that there are a range of generationing practices that take place within families. They referred to particular kinds of behaviour that were acceptable to engage in with other children (in this case with their siblings) but not with their parents. Overwhelmingly the key issue which children highlighted as distinct between their relations with parents and siblings was the differential nature of power in these relationships. Whilst it is not surprising that children perceive the distribution of power to be more unequal between children and parents than between siblings, the aim of this paper is to explore the nature of this power and how it is experienced from children's point of view. In particular the paper discusses the ways in which children perceive child-parent relations compared with their sibling relationships in relation to the giving and receiving of power within the home.


Punch, S. (2005), "THE GENERATIONING OF POWER: A COMPARISON OF CHILD-PARENT AND SIBLING RELATIONS IN SCOTLAND", Bass, L. (Ed.) Sociological Studies of Children and Youth (Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Vol. 10), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 169-188.



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