The five papers in Part I address various ways that children have been and can be studied sociologically. Chapter 1, from Peter and Brigitte Berger’s introductory sociology book, presents in clear and thoughtful fashion the sociological concept of socialization. This concept has served as the fundamental orienting idea for the sociological study of children. Studies of socialization are certainly worthy of serious attention by anyone interested in understanding the social worlds that children inhabit. Socialization is a particularly useful topic to explore when one’s concern is with what adults do when their goal is to prepare children for life in the social worlds of which adults are a part. Whenever adults and children are together or when children are with other children, however, a great deal is going on that is not socialization. An exclusive focus on socialization obscures from view these other activities and processes in which children are involved.
In Chapter 2, I demonstrate some of the limits of the notion of socialization, ways that it distorts lived experiences in the social world and blinds us to other aspects of the social lives of both adults and children. Chapter 3, by Robert Mackay, continues the critique of socialization, providing ample evidence of how much children know that has not been explicitly taught to them by adults. Chapters 4 and 5 provide suggestions for the study of children that respond to the criticisms of socialization as a concept and an exclusive framework within which to study children.
As a whole, Part I establishes socialization as but one process in which children are engaged. It is to other processes, those far less frequently investigated but equally important in understanding the social worlds of children, that the remainder of this book is addressed. In order to understand those other processes, however, it is important to grasp the strengths and limits of the concept of socialization. With this knowledge, reading of the papers in Part II can become a critical endeavor and adult views can be examined as data rather than accepted as necessarily true; adult views and sociological insights are not the same thing. Similarly, the papers in Part III can only exist if the concept of socialization is suspended. The papers in Part I thus require careful attention, for they provide a perspective for reading Part II and make possible the kind of sociological studies chronicled in Part III.