Children of a New World
The United States invented neither the faith in the expanding market that underwrites what we usually mean by “globalization” today, nor the image of childhood which haunts it.1 But it has made powerful contributions to the momentum of both and it practically invented modern adolescence and youth. It is therefore important for us to understand something of America's historical experience in these areas as we think about children, youth, and globalization. A clearer grasp of these matters can dispel mistaken notions that sometimes vex discussions of globalization, including the idea that globalization necessarily means the exploitation of children, or that globalization will lead inevitably to the re-creation of childhood in the rest of the world along the lines of the West. Indeed, while the valorization of childhood and an expanding market were both part of nineteenth-century American development, their parallel evolutions, though not completely fortuitous, were also not fatefully interdependent. And this history can alert us to the difficulties in the concept of globalization that describes it as unalterable, foreordained, and coherent. I will argue that in the United States, on the contrary, the modern idea of childhood came to represent a reprieve from the market and that its preservation today will require a renewed commitment to the hopes that it once enshrined. Childhood, as we know it, will not come with a world-encircling market. Youth as a modern Western experience, on the other hand, seems to have a life of its own in today's world and is deeply embedded in its commercial energy. It is necessary therefore that we understand the historical evolution of the several aspects of our concern as we wrestle with their implications in today's world.
Historians may still be uncertain whether the United States in the nineteenth century can be best described as a postcolonial or postimperial soci