Childhood and Society: Growing Up in an Age of Uncertainty

Childhood and Society: Growing Up in an Age of Uncertainty

Childhood and Society: Growing Up in an Age of Uncertainty

Childhood and Society: Growing Up in an Age of Uncertainty


• What happens to childhood when the nature of adulthood becomes uncertain?

• What impact is globalization having on adult-child relationships?

• How are we to study 'growing up' today?

Traditionally, children and adults have been treated as different kinds of person, with adults seen as complete, stable and self-controlling, and children seen as incomplete, changeable and in need of control. This ground-breaking book argues that in the early twenty-first century, 'growing up' can no longer be understood as a movement toward personal completion and stability. Careers, intimate relationships, even identities, are increasingly provisional, bringing into question the division between the mature and the immature and thereby differences between adults and children.

Childhood and Society charts the emergence of the conceptual and institutional divisions between adult 'human beings' and child 'human becomings' over the course of the modern era. It then examines the contemporary economic and ideological trends that are eroding the foundations of these divisions. The consequences of this age of uncertainty are examined through an assessment of sociological theories of childhood and through a survey of children's varied positions in a globalizing and highly mediated social world. In all, this accessible text provides a clear, up-to-date and original insight into the sociological study of childhood for undergraduates and researchers alike. It also develops a new set of conceptual tools for studying 'growing up'.


Collectively, the social sciences contribute to a greater understanding of the dynamics of social life, as well as explanations for the workings of societies in general. Yet they are often not given due credit for this role and much writing has been devoted to why this should be the case. At the same time, we are living in an age in which the role of science in society is being reevaluated. This has led to both a defence of science as the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and an attack on science as nothing more than an institutionalized assertion of faith, with no greater claim to validity than mythology and folklore. These debates tend to generate more heat than light.

In the meantime, the social sciences, in order to remain vibrant and relevant, will reflect the changing nature of these public debates. in so doing they provide mirrors upon which we can gaze in order to understand not only what we have been and what we are now, but to inform possibilities about what we might become. This is not simply about understanding the reasons people give for their actions in terms of the contexts in which they act and analyzing the relations of cause and effect in the social, political and economic spheres, but also concerns the hopes, wishes and aspirations that people, in their different cultural ways, hold.

In any society that claims to have democratic aspirations, these hopes and wishes are not for the social scientist to prescribe. For this to happen it would mean that the social sciences were able to predict human behaviour with certainty. One theory and one method, applicable to all times and places, would be required for this purpose. the physical sciences do not live up to such stringent criteria, whilst the conditions in societies which provided for this outcome, were it even possible, would be intolerable. Why? Because a necessary condition of human freedom is the ability to have acted otherwise and thus to imagine and practice different ways of organizing societies and living together.

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