What is a child? How do children differ from adults? How are they similar? What do children know? What do they do? How do they view the world? Are children merely incomplete adults or do they have their own identity and their own culture? Do they have their own rules, both for themselves and for adults? When adults are rearing, caring for, teaching, disciplining, and otherwise acting towards children, what are those children doing and thinking? Are children simply objects in the social world or are they actors as well? All these questions and more emerge as the social worlds of children are explored.
There are many reasons for seeking to understand children and the social worlds they inhabit. Those responsible for child care, teaching, and a range of other child-related activities constantly look for answers to the everyday questions that arise. An extensive body of common-sense knowledge has been developed to guide practical activities involving children. Scientific knowledge has also been developed in answer to practical needs as well as in response to scientific curiosity. Biology has devoted many resources to the study of childhood in a range of life forms. The study of children holds a central place in psychology. Anthropology has considered childhood all over the world. History has studied childhood through time.
The status of the sociological study of children, however, is curious. The process of socialization, whereby children become members of adult society, is central to sociological theory. Studies have been done and theories constructed that provide extensive evidence of this process. Children, however, commonly appear as objects of this process rather than as actors in it. Until recently, socialization has been almost exclusively studied from the perspectives of adults, with little recognition of the possibility that children themselves may have their own—and quite different—perspectives.
When I was asked to develop a sociology course for students preparing for careers working with children, I sought materials that would acquaint students with the kinds of insights about children that can be provided by sociology. Books and articles on the topic of socialization were readily available but those that focused on children and their experiences from any other sociological perspective were far less common and widely scattered. Thus originated the idea for this book. I began to gather sociological materials