The Future of Childhood

The Future of Childhood

The Future of Childhood

The Future of Childhood

Synopsis

In this ground-breaking book, Alan Prout discusses the place of children and childhood in modern society. He critically examines 'the new social studies of childhood', reconsidering some of its key assumptions and positions, and arguing that childhood is heterogeneous and complex. The study of childhood requires a broad set of intellectual resources and an interdisciplinary approach. Chapters include discussion of: * the changing social and cultural character of contemporary childhood, and the weakening boundary between adulthood and childhood * a look back at the emergence of childhood studies in the nineteenth and twentieth century * the nature/culture dichotomy * the role of material artefacts and technologies in the construction of contemporary childhood. This book is essential reading for students and academics in the field of childhood studies, sociology, and education.

Excerpt

This book grew out of my involvement with what have come to be known as the 'new social studies of childhood'. During the 1980s social scientists around the world began to express their growing dissatisfaction with the way in which their disciplines dealt with childhood. Among some, especially those in psychology, which has a substantial history of studying childhood, this took the form of a critique centred on the notion of 'development'. While not rejected, this concept was increasingly criticized for its lack of attention to the social and historical context of childhood and the highly variable circumstances in which children grow up. This attention to context led to certain aspects of conventional approaches being criticized. These included the assumption that childhood can be treated as a universal, biologically given phenomenon as well as the determinedly individual focus of mainstream child development studies. Both the form of childhood as a social and cultural institution and the process of 'growing up' became seen as dependent on their context rather than naturally unfolding processes.

Many of the sociologists and anthropologists who had also become interested in childhood shared these critical themes. Their disciplines were, of course, already primed to recognize the importance of social and cultural context. In their case, however, there was an additional concern about the general neglect of children and childhood in sociology and anthropology, an unease that was linked to dissatisfaction with the inadequacy of the concepts that dominated the (relatively little) sociological and anthropological thinking that had been done. Here too there was antipathy towards decontextualized ideas of development but in these disciplines the critique was focused on the concept of socialization. It was argued that this was too often treated as a one-way effect of (adult) society on individual children. This not only led to a neglect of children, because they were seen as not-yet-social beings, but was also inattentive to children's active social participation, their agency in social life and their collective life. Such critiques led to an upsurge of research activity in which childhood was examined as a social construction and children studied not as passive objects of socialization but as social actors in their own right. Because this effort

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