Studying the Social Worlds of Children: Sociological Readings

By Frances Chaput Waksler | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Conceptions of Children and Models of Socialization

Robert W. Mackay

Commentary

In this article Mackay provides a new perspective for looking at children, based on recognition of an adult perspective as one way rather than the only way to do so. He begins by offering fundamental criticism of the concept of socialization, casting doubt on its very validity. He suggests that ‘socialization’ is an adult formulation or creation based on the taken-for-granted assumption that adults are knowledgeable and competent actors in the social world while children are incomplete, incompetent, and lack knowledge. He argues that by focusing on socialization, researchers and theorists have failed to notice the rich and varied interactions that take place between adults and children as equally social beings. Similar criticisms might also be directed to the more psychological formulations of child development, which tend to embody an implicit notion of adult superiority.

Mackay’s article is intellectually very radical, with some perhaps disturbing practical implications. He is suggesting that children can be viewed as fully social beings, capable of acting in the social world and of creating and sustaining their own culture (a point that is documented by Iona and Peter Opie in Chapter 10). He does not suggest that children must be viewed only in their own terms. He does, however, provide an option to the commonsense assumption, embodied seemingly without investigation into sociological and social science thought, that children are only ‘incomplete’ adults and that adulthood is the goal of childhood. This new option is exemplified in the set of readings provided in this book, Part II considering children from an adult perspective while Part III takes the perspective of children themselves.

The previously published version of this article included an Appendix in which is presented a conversation between a teacher and a student about the story of ‘Chicken Little’. I have set this conversation at the beginning of the article so that readers can compare their initial impressions of it—perhaps

From H.P. Dreitzel (ed.), (1973) Recent Sociology, No. 5, Macmillan, pp. 27-43 and revised by the author for R. Turner (Ed.), (1974) Ethnomethodology, Penguin, pp. 180-193. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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