Studying the Social Worlds of Children: Sociological Readings

By Frances Chaput Waksler | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5

Studying Children: Phenomenological Insights

Frances Chaput Waksler


In this article I detail some of the fundamental biases that adults have towards children. By favoring one interpretation of children’s behavior over others without empirical grounds for doing so, these biases impede sociological understanding. The articles in Part II, Children in an Adult World, provide data to document the existence of these biases; the articles in Part III, Children in a Child’s World, exemplify the kinds of insights that can emerge when these biases are set aside.

The first bias I describe involves, among other things, taking socialization as a fact rather than as merely one way of thinking about children and their activities. The criticisms of socialization offered in Chapter 2 serve as a background for the somewhat more detailed ones offered here. The second bias refers to what children are said to know and not know. (In philosophical terminology, this concern with knowledge is called epistemology.)

As was noted in the introduction to Chapter 4, it is important to distinguish between understanding children and working with children. The former is a scientific undertaking, the latter an activity in the world of everyday life. In science our concern is with truth; in everyday life our concerns are likely to focus on practicality, truth at times being less relevant than what works. Adult biases towards children have certain advantages in the world of everyday life, advantages that may account for the existence, use, and tenacity of these biases. That biases have advantages, however, does not mean that they are valid but only that they can be useful. Thus there may be practical, political reasons for maintaining these biases when working with children even if these biases are questionable or incorrect.

Since initially it may seem odd to claim that in everyday life fiction may prove more useful than truth, I will provide an example of how a bias with questionable validity can be of practical use. As a teacher trying to gear my teaching to the intellectual abilities of my students, I could seek what is taken

From Human Studies 91:71-82 (1986). © Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht. Printed in the Netherlands. Reprinted by permission of Kluwer Academic Publishers.


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