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Book part
Publication date: 22 June 2001

David A. Kinney

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Sociological Studies of Children and Youth
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-0-76230-051-8

Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Madeleine Leonard

Childhood is often defined in contrast to adulthood. Each becomes meaningfully linked so that it is difficult to understand what childhood is without looking at adulthood…

Abstract

Childhood is often defined in contrast to adulthood. Each becomes meaningfully linked so that it is difficult to understand what childhood is without looking at adulthood or vice versa. Each becomes what the other is not. In a similar vein, structure and agency are often characterised in contrast to each other. The meaning of each becomes dependent on the meaning of the concept which it is set against. Hence, structure becomes defined as ‘constraint while agency becomes defined as freedom, structure is regarded as static while agency is regarded as active; structure becomes defined as collective while agency becomes defined as individual’ (Hays, 1994, p. 57). This way of conceptualising structure and agency often underplays the interconnections between the two. Up until the 1980s, children were primarily considered within developmental psychology and functionalist socialisation frameworks. The former presented childhood as a natural and universal phase of human life with adulthood being seen as the logical endpoint of childhood. The latter adopting teleological frameworks viewed childhood as a preparation for adulthood and focused in particular on the importance of socialisation in reproducing stable adult personalities. In both approaches, children were considered mainly in terms of presumed future outcomes. In breaking with these approaches, the ‘new sociology of childhood’ sought to emphasise children's agency and to consider children's lives in the here and now rather than as future projects. This has resulted in a plethora of qualitative studies that highlight children's position as active agents. Indeed, in developing a new paradigm for the sociology of childhood, Prout and James (1997) specifically recommend ethnography as a preferred method for uncovering and understanding children's daily lives. This has led Qvortrup (1999, p. 3) to express concern that the ‘adherents of the agency approach are gaining the upper hand’. Qvortrup warns that researchers also need to employ structural approaches to fully understand and illuminate the broader landscape of childhood. He reminds us that childhood is a particular and distinctive form of every society's social structure. Rather than a transient phase, it is a permanent social category shaped by macro forces. While of course children practice agency throughout their childhood and ethnographic studies have been crucial in challenging adults’ conceptions of children as irrational, immature and so on, nonetheless, Qvortrup argues that these studies have been less useful in illuminating the position of childhood in macro societal structures. These wider societal forces position children as a minority group conditioned by resilient power relations based on generation, and they have been relatively immune from children's individual or collective agency. In other words, children act as agents under specific structural conditions. Of course, this does not render children's agency as meaningless. Like adults, children actively produce certain forms of social structure, while simultaneously, social structures produce certain types of childhood (see the chapter by Qvortrup, this volume). Hence, structures are enabling as well as constraining (Giddens, 1984). Indeed over the past two decades, adults are becoming increasingly aware of childhood as a structural form and of the durability of power differentials between adults and children and are increasingly working with children to develop a rights-based agenda to further their collective interests. This could be seen as an example of the collective agency of children although it also illustrates how this agency takes place against a backdrop where existing hierarchies between adults and children structure the conditions under which children practice their agency. One could question whether participating in these recurring forms of social interaction make children agents (Hays, 1994, p. 63).

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Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Jens Qvortrup

Thirty years ago, Richard H. de Lone wrote a remarkable book that appears to have sunk into oblivion. The context and aim of this volume is a good opportunity for reviving…

Abstract

Thirty years ago, Richard H. de Lone wrote a remarkable book that appears to have sunk into oblivion. The context and aim of this volume is a good opportunity for reviving the book because it represents an excellent application of a macro-sociological perspective. Its main thesis is that it is children, who are the bearers of the American dream, and that it is they who shall rescue the nation from inequalities. Over and over again throughout US history, the recipe has been investments in education in the hope that these measures eventually will solve inherent tensions between economic rationality (market capitalism producing inequalities) and political aims (favouring equality). In other words, de Lone argues, rather than approaching structural problems with positive bearings on childhood here and now, children are expected to have their individual lot improved in the hope that equality appears in the next generation. In this sense, children are instrumentalised for solving deep-seated tensions in society. This is the wrong order, as de Lone suggests it in the book's concluding chapter: Instead of trying to reduce inequality by helping children, we may be able to help children by reducing inequality (de Lone, 1979, p. 178).

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Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Jens Qvortrup

This chapter is not about the development of the child; I am making this clear from the outset because the title could easily be misinterpreted that way by the readers who…

Abstract

This chapter is not about the development of the child; I am making this clear from the outset because the title could easily be misinterpreted that way by the readers who are unacquainted with social studies of childhood. Although ‘development’ and ‘child’ are familiar concepts, which combined in notions of ‘development of the child’ or ‘child development’ are parts of a century long, successful and dominant discourse, the notion of ‘development of childhood’ is rather begging questions, such as if there at all is such a thing as a theory of childhood development and if we need it. To my mind the brief answer to the first question is ‘no’, but quite a few authors have made thoughtful formulations about it and about generational relations without necessarily having intended to be theory builders (cf. Alanen, 2009). The answer to the second question is ‘yes’, I believe we need such a theory to come to terms with how children's life worlds have changed and how they have related to contemporaries belonging to other generations – adulthood, youth and old age.

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Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Abstract

Details

Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Abstract

Details

Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Abstract

Details

Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Vegard Johansen

The causes and variations of social and material welfare form a widespread theme. Classical sociology attended primarily to social class, whereas modern sociology looks at…

Abstract

The causes and variations of social and material welfare form a widespread theme. Classical sociology attended primarily to social class, whereas modern sociology looks at variables such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality and physical and mental ability. Generation or age is proposed as an additional variable to social and material inequalities. Statistical offices have divided income by age brackets and accounted for ‘age-related’ public spending for decades, but it is only relatively recently that generational variations have been theorized. Structure-oriented scholars within social studies of childhood have suggested comparing and confronting the condition of children vis-à-vis the condition of adults and the elderly.

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Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Maria Carmen Belloni

Major merits of New Childhood Sociology are that it has introduced into sociology three fundamental points: (a) studying children as social actors, contrary to the view…

Abstract

Major merits of New Childhood Sociology are that it has introduced into sociology three fundamental points: (a) studying children as social actors, contrary to the view customarily held of them; (b) defining childhood not as a transitional phase, a state that people leave behind, but as a permanent structure of society – wherein, however, constant turnover occurs, so that childhood changes over time and in different types of society (James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998; Qvortrup, 1991, 2004); (c) considering children as essential part of a historically and socially constructed relationship with adults (Alanen, 2001), following the generational perspective already indicated by Mannheim (Mannheim, 1952).

Details

Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

Content available
Book part
Publication date: 12 August 2009

Abstract

Details

Structural, Historical, and Comparative Perspectives
Type: Book
ISBN: 978-1-84855-732-1

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