Academic journal article Thymos

The Changing Nature of Childhood and Boyhood: A Metabletic Study

Academic journal article Thymos

The Changing Nature of Childhood and Boyhood: A Metabletic Study

Article excerpt

Although there is a realization in Western society today that childhood is changing, the topic remains clouded in confusion and contradictory view-points. The central question, if and how the nature of childhood itself has changed, has led the author to conduct a metabletic inquiry. Metabletics or the science of change is a human science research approach that incorporates phenomenological methods and seeks to understand a phenomenon by taking its historical development, its social cultural context and relevant synchronistic developments into account. In exploring the changing nature of childhood, historical, metabletic, and phenomenological studies were consulted as well as some selected sources from literature, art, and entertainment that portray the lives of children and, in particular, of boys in the past and in the present. First, a brief historical perspective on the changing nature of childhood from traditional to modern times is presented. This is followed by the concept of modern childhood and its transition to a postmodern childhood. The author aims to describe the essential characteristics of childhood with a focus on boyhood as lived in different historical time periods in order to contribute to a clearer understanding of its changing nature. The present study is exploratory and opens a vast domain that awaits further detailed investigations.

Keywords: boys, metabletics, change, phenomenology, childhood

In Western society today, the meaning and the status of our cherished and long-embraced modern concept of childhood is debated within and across various disciplines, including developmental psychology, pedagogy, sociology, and cultural history. Several alternative views have emerged, ranging from one extreme that childhood is dead or has disappeared, to the other that childhood is very much alive with children today being empowered and liberated as never before. Some scholars claim that the concept of childhood is a cultural invention and primarily a product of the adult imagination. Until recently, very few systematic studies have been undertaken that combine various disciplines to throw light on the nature of childhood and how it has unfolded over the course of time.

The author conducted a metabletic study posing the question of whether the nature of childhood and, in particular, of boyhood has changed, and if so, how it manifests itself in our contemporary Western society in comparison to previous historical times (see Appendix).

The word metabletics was coined by Jan Van den Berg (1956) and is derived from the Greek verb that means "to change." Metabletics is a qualitative human science research approach that can be described as a science of the changing nature of phenomena in human life as lived and experienced. It is historical phenomenology in that the nature of a specific phenomenon is traced as it reveals itself in the everyday human life-world in a particular historical time and place. It further holds that a change in one field of human activity tends to go hand in hand with a change in related fields. This perceived synchronicity in human life lies at the heart of metabletics (see Appendix).

Van den Berg (1999) differentiated between homogeneous and heterogeneous synchronisms. A homogeneous synchronism occurs when a similar discovery of a new phenomenon is made independently by different researchers. A heterogeneous synchronism points to the simultaneous emergence in time of very different but related phenomena. A shift in a metabletic sense indicates a significant change in a phenomenon that manifests itself in a new meaning, a new structure, and a new way of life.

To understand the phenomenon of childhood, including boyhood, from a metabletic point of view, its historical development as well as its specific social and cultural context has to be taken into account, and possible synchronistic developments need to be explored. It raises whether a metabletic shift and thus a significant change has taken place in childhood as it is lived today in comparison to previous historical times, and of whether this change is simultaneously expressed in related fields of human activity. …

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