Book Reviews -- Childhood as a Social Phenomenon Edited by Jens Qvortrup, Marjatta Bardy, Giovanni Sgritta and Helmut Wintersberger / Childhood Matters Edited by Jens Qvortrup, Marjatta Bardy, Giovanni Sgritta and Helmut Wintersberger

Article excerpt

Childhood as a Social Phenomenon (16 National Reports between 43 and 71 pages each), plus a Statistical Compendium (78 pp.), an Introduction (41 pp.), published between 1987 and 1994, and Childhood Matters: Social Theory, Practice and Politics, 1994, edited by Jens Qvortrup, Mjatta Bardy, Giovanni Sgritta, & Helmut Wintersberger (395 pp.). Vienna: European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research. Address: Berggasse 17, 1090 Vienna, Austria.

Childhood as a Social Phenomenon is the result of meetings and collaboration among scholars from 19 European and North American countries. This work was carried out under the stewardship of Jens Qvortrup (project director) and Helmut Wintersberger (codirector) and was sponsored by the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna. The project was initiated in 1987 and publications were completed in 1994. It resulted in the works discussed in this review. The goal of the project's rather monumental task was to map out childhood as a structural form in its own right to illustrate the place children occupy and the roles they play as social actors.

I will first review the series of National Reports. In order of ascending date of publication, researchers from the following countries produced a National Report: Norway, Italy, Denmark, the United States, Israel, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, the Federal Republic of Germany (just before reunification), Switzerland, Greece, Yugoslavia (before ethnic cleansing erupted), Czechoslovakia (before dividing into Czech and Slovak republics), Sweden, and, finally, England and Wales together. Demographic data are at the core of these reports, which, therefore, constitute an excellent source of information on the current living conditions of children (and their families) in the participating countries.

In spite of the cultural diversities involved, the editors of the project and the many participating authors were able to agree on a fairly uniform set of guidelines which have served as a framework for the 16 reports. The goal was to place children at the center of the statistics, as the unit counted rather than, say, their parents, as is generally the practice. The following information is found in most of the reports--subject to the availability of official statistics which the authors used quite creatively and frequently had to reanalyze. Topics include: the demographic place of children in each population; distribution of welfare resources to children and public support for children's families; income by type of household; private and public costs of raising children; parents' marital status and employment; housing conditions; mortality, morbidity, and health resources; the legal position of children; child abuse; activities children engage in, including school, organized activities, child work at home, and paid work; day care arrangements; number of siblings; and relationships with other children. Each report contains a good number of tables, charts, and graphs, and is clearly structured. Overall, this series should be of particular interest to demographers and to sociologists of childhood and the family who wish to obtain cross-cultural data or to compare the various countries involved on a range of indicators of the quality of childhood. The last volume in the series, A Statistical Compendium by An-Margarit Jensen and Angela Saporiti, condenses in graphic form cross-cultural comparisons for a few selected countries.

These reports are largely descriptive. In terms of contribution to critical analysis and/or theory of childhood, the following are of particular interest: the Italian report by Angelo Saporiti and Giovani Sgritta, the report on Czechoslovakia by Jiri Kovarik, and that on England and Wales by Judith Ennew. These three small volumes cover a wide range of theoretical questions and avenues for further research. The report on Germany by Angelika Engelbert and Petra Buhr, as well as the one on Scotland by David Oldman, also present interesting theoretical points. …