ARGUMENT – Prout traces how childhood has been constructed/understood historically and how this coalesced into the field of Childhood Studies. The nature-culture debate that has been ongoing for over a century is a false dichotomy and we must conceive of childhood in a more complex way. Draws on Actor-Network theory to suggest that childhood is a complex assemblage that is both biological and cultural.
Leading up to the 1900’s – Aries argues that childhood was a social construction that emerged some time between the 17th and 20th centuries. Prout describes how children were viewed at the turn of the 20th century:
“By the end of the nineteenth century, conceptions of children as innocent, ignorant, dependent, vulnerable, incompetent and in need of protection and discipline were widespread…[these ideas] supported and were, in turn, reinforced by the effort to construct the school and the family as the ‘proper place’ for children…The overall effect of these practices was the establishment of the idea that children do not properly belong in the public space but should be located in the private domestic space of home or in the specialized and age-segregated institution of the school” (pg. 23).
Prout breaks down the history of the field of childhood studies into three key phases: 1. Darwin’s Child Study Movement, 2. Pediatrics & Psychology, and 3. Social Constructionism.
- Darwin’s Child Study Movement
- Childhood is primarily a biological state, all animals go through a juvenile period as part of their development where they learn from adults in order to improve their survival rates.
- Pediatrics & Psychology
- Childhood is not natural – it requires the intervention of experts such as doctors, psychologists and the state. There are social and cultural ramifications.
- **Social Constructionism**
- 1980s -90s – Childhood is specific to social circumstance, changes across history and culture, and is open to frequent change. It is variable, culturally relative, and pluralistic (not dualistic nature-culture).
- Recognizes problems with previous approaches:
- Socialization (see also Cook 2010) – Renders children as passive, no agency,
- Developmentalism – children are judged deficient in comparison to adulthood, state of universal “becoming” instead of being
- BUT, it still focuses on culture and excludes nature
Conclusion – Reconfiguring Nature v.s Culture
We need to look to Actor-Network theory to explain that childhood is a complex assemblage that is both biological and cultural.
Actor-Network theory (see Latour 1992 and 1993)
Provides a useful overview of Social Constructionism and its strengths and limitations.
Prout describes why it is important to study toys and media to more fully understand childhood – they are actors in a complex network (pgs. 31-33). Provides a useful overview of Social Constructionism and its strengths and limitations.