In this book Chris Jenks looks at what the ways in which we construct our image of childhood can tell us about ourselves. After a general discussion of the social construction of childhood, the book is structured around three examples of the way the image of the child is played out in society:

  • the history of childhood from medieval times through the enlightenment 'discovery' of childhood to the present
  • the mythology and reality of child abuse and society's response to it
  • the 'death' of childhood in cases such as the James Bulger murder in which the child itself becomes the perpetrator of evil.

Part of the highly successful Key Ideas series, this book gives students a concise, provocative insight into some of the controlling concepts of our culture.


I have been in the childhood business for quite a long time. I first published The Sociology of Childhood in 1982 at which point few people seemed particularly committed to this area of study and indeed Dillons, then the premier London university bookshop, systematically (and ironically) stocked my work under developmental psychology. I could be seen, on a weekly basis, transporting the remaining volumes up two flights of stairs to relocate them under sociology, and so it went on. Initially the book sold so few copies that I very nearly wrote to each purchaser thanking them for their wise investment. Eventually things began to move, interest grew and I even got invited to a few conferences. the book was republished in 1992 by which time childhood was an emergent topic and new scholars to the field were referring to me, if at all, as an ‘old pioneer’. Much as I resented the implicit and grossly inaccurate ageism I re-emerged from my new interest in the sociology of culture and started to write on childhood again; in fact I think I became part of the ‘new sociology of childhood’. This book, Childhood, was first put together in 1996 at which point I was delighted with it. the book was well received, people seemed to like it and it has subsequently been reprinted five times. Most of this success I modestly put down to the delightful cover image of two of the most beautiful children in the world. in this second edition I have redrafted the text extensively, updated the references, changed the footnoting into Harvard referencing and added two completely new chapters on children and space, and children and transgression. I am equally delighted with this edition and if this one succeeds it will be in some part due to the new appealing cover. I hope all new readers find pleasure and ideas in the work and I wish you well in pushing this field of research forward into new and exciting areas.

Chris Jenks

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