Children and the Changing Family: Between Transformation and Negotiation

Children and the Changing Family: Between Transformation and Negotiation

Children and the Changing Family: Between Transformation and Negotiation

Children and the Changing Family: Between Transformation and Negotiation

Synopsis

This timely and thought-provoking book explores how social and family change are colouring the experience of childhood. The book is centred around three major changes: parental employment, family composition and ideology. The authors demonstrate how children's families are transformed in accordance with societal changes in demographic and economic terms, and as a result of the choices parents make in response to these changes. Despite claims that society is becoming increasingly child-centred, this book argues that children still have little influence over the major changes in their lives. This book breaks new ground by researching family change from the child's point of view. Through combinations from childhood experts in Scandinavia, the UK and America, the book shows the importance of studying children's lives in families in order to understand how far children are active agents in contemporary society. Students of childhood studies, sociology, social work and education will find this book essential reading. It will also be of interest to practitioners in the social, child and youth services.

Excerpt

Central to the social study of children is what Barrie Thorne has termed the 'conceptual autonomy of childhood'. This theoretical move constitutes childhood as a phenomenon in itself and reverses the tendency to study children and childhood from the perspective of some other social institution such as the school, the welfare system - or the family. Alanen addressed a related issue when she wrote about the importance of breaking open a triangle of concepts (childhood, socialisation and the family) as one of the main tasks on the new sociology of childhood. Separating childhood from the family (and indeed other social institutions) has been, therefore, a very fundamental part of constructing a distinct conceptual space for childhood.

One initial response to this, especially from family sociologists, was to deny the necessity of a separate sociology of childhood, arguing that childhood is an aspect of the family. This was, and still is, unconvincing. In the first place children and childhood remain quite empirically marginal to much family sociology and much more attention is still given to the lives and interests of adult family members. Second, childhood is clearly a distributed phenomenon. It is practised and constructed in many different social locations, including but not exclusively the family, and focusing on childhood in itself reveals this very clearly. Third, conceptually separating childhood from the family follows the logic that has disaggregated family members' interests and experiences, a step that has produced a rich and important literature on women (and latterly men) and the family.

However, insisting on the conceptual autonomy of childhood does not have to mean denying the actual, empirical importance of the family for children. This would be absurd. Most children live in families and their family relationships (with parents and other adult kin as well as with siblings and other child kin) form one very important context of their lives. More fundamentally, no social institution is independent of others but is rather constituted in relation to them. Investigating the play between these institutional settings is a very important part of the social study of childhood. In an important sense The Future of Childhood is about this and that fact is evident across the titles that make up the series.

Over the last decade family sociologists have increasingly come to recognise these arguments and have taken part in a productive dialogue with childhood

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