Module Catalogue 2020/21

SOC2071 : The Sociology of Childhood

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Judy Richards
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module aims to introduce students to the critical analysis of childhood from a range of
sociological and historical perspectives. Students will be made aware of current debates in this sub-field and will be encouraged to draw upon a number of established sociological theories in order to understand and critically explore issues surrounding ‘childhood’ and ‘the child’. Students will also be made aware of the ethical and practical issues associated with researching children.

The module also aims to introduce students to a variety of substantive issues surrounding childhood and ‘the child’ including: childhood and criminality; children as consumers; childhood and risk, childhood and paid work; and childhood and the family. These issues are designed to encourage students to look beyond the contemporary Western model of childhood towards the plurality of childhood experiences across time and space.

A further aim is for students to be made aware of four overarching themes that link together the substantive issues covered in this module:

Firstly, childhood is understood as a socially organised age category as opposed to a natural or inevitable life stage that precedes adulthood;

Secondly, emphasis is placed upon the plurality of childhood experiences, rather than assuming a single universal childhood experience;

Thirdly, this module challenges ‘common sense’ understandings of childhood and the child by following the historical development of childhood since the middle ages, thus unsettling the commonly held assumption that childhood is both a natural or inevitable part of the life span;

Finally the child is recognised as a social actor who interprets, challenges and shapes the social world, rather than a passive receptor of a social world created by adults.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module casts a critical sociological eye over ‘childhood’ in order to unsettle common
understandings of childhood as a natural, universal, fixed and inevitable life stage. The topic is introduced by exploring what is meant by ‘childhood’ and ‘the child’. Cultural understandings are considered alongside the emblematic nature of childhood as, for example, an indicator of the (future) health of society. Also critically explored are ‘expert’ definitions of childhood and child such as Piaget’s model of child development. The question being asked here is, ‘what kind of child is brought into being by such categorisation?’

The module then moves on to give a general overview of the historical development of childhood to reveal how contemporary Western understandings of childhood came into being. Also considered are a range of historical narratives of childhood including ‘new history of childhood’ in which children’s voices are becoming increasingly important.

Building upon this introduction, the module is organised around a number of substantive issues:

Childhood as a life stage is placed within the context of the life course as a whole, including its relationship to other life stages, in particular adulthood and old age. Closely considered is the often contested boundary between childhood and adulthood by looking at Neil Postman’s work on the ‘End of Childhood’ thesis. Postman’s work is brought up to date by considering ‘Tween culture’ and its’ perceived threat to both childhood and the child

The plurality of childhood experiences is considered within the specific and often contentious issue of children who work. The term ‘child labour’ suggests that children need protection from the perceived exploitation of market forces and yet in some parts of the world children view paid work as a necessary and valuable part of their lives. A range of perspectives are considered here which move away from considering the Western model of childhood as the model the rest of the world should aspire to.

The relationship between children and consumer culture is explored as children are becoming powerful consumers in today’s markets. Children’s consumption of IT is also explored, raising the complex dilemma of protecting the child from potential harm on the one hand and encouraging the perceived ‘autonomous spaces’ IT provides for children (the use of social networking sites for example) on the other.

Children and crime is explored, in particular the murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993 by two ten year old boys. We look in detail at the moral outcry following this trial and the models of childhood which were unsettled as a result of this crime. Also consideration is given to how understandings of childhood are enshrined both within the law and the practice of state agencies.

The child is placed within the context of the family. Considered here is state intervention within the family in terms of the construction of the ideal family and the ‘right way to mother’ a child. The work of Foucault and Rose is used to understand how State power works within the four walls of the family home and a study by Walkerdene and Lucey is drawn upon which highlights how democracy begins ‘in the Kitchen’

The module draws upon various research studies involving children but what are the specific issues that arise when researching with children? Finally the methodological and ethical issues associated with research with children will be discussed in the light of the current emphasis upon listening to and valuing the voice and agency of the child. Issues include, representing the voices of children; gaining informed consent from the child; ‘child-friendly’ innovative research methods; and children interviewing children.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the end of the module, students will:

Have a knowledge of the main current debates within the sociology of childhood.
Will be able to apply a range of sociological theories to inform a critical analysis of childhood and the child.
Will have a knowledge of the methodological and ethical issues associated with researching with
Will have knowledge of a range of substantive issues associated with childhood and the child.

Intended Skill Outcomes

•       Critical engagement and evaluation of relevant literature and their sources
•       Presentation to an audience and interpersonal communication (including listening skills)
•       Organisation and time management
• Writing skills
• Problem solving and initiative

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture12:002:00Assessed essay feedback
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture12:002:00Exam preparation session
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion164:0064:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00Seminars, assumes 4 groups of max. 15 students
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery20:000:00Drop in sessions for assessment feedback. Students sign up for slots.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study199:0099:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will provide students with knowledge of the main current debates within the sociology of childhood. Using the perspectives gained in the lectures, students will be able to critically analyse current topical debates involving childhood and the child. They will also be able to apply a range of sociological theories to inform critical analysis.

Students will have a knowledge of the methodological and ethical issues associated with researching

Finally students will gain a broad understanding of a range of substantive issues associated with childhood and the child and be able to apply this understanding to contemporary topical issues as they arise.

Seminar discussion will encourage students to verbalise their arguments/opinions of an issue, listen to the counter-arguments/opinions of others and consolidate their understanding further. Seminars are structured around specific substantive topics which will encourage students to read in more depth and present what they have read to fellow students. Finally, seminars will encourage students to consider and critically analyse contemporary issues in the media around childhood and the child.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination902A50Seen written examination
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M50Assessed essay. 2,000 words
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay2MEssay Plan, Optional
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

An assessed essay encourages students to read widely around a topic and critically engage with the literature. Writing an essay will also teach students how focus upon and order the material that they have read around a particular question. Students will also be expected to both explain and apply a range of perspectives and theoretical arguments to the question.

The essay gives students the opportunity to present a logical, well argued and clearly constructed piece of work on their chosen topic. Assessed essays develop students essay writing skills and aid the development of their own academic writing style.

An examination assesses students’ broader understanding of the module without the immediate support of academic texts and within a specific time frame. Students are encouraged to develop their own revision strategies and manage their time carefully in order to revise effectively. This includes reading widely and being able to apply material to the question set. The examination tests students overall absorption of course material and the appropriation of this material in their own words.

Students can complete and submit an optional essay plan on their chosen essay title.

An alternative form of assessment will be set for exchange students from Non-English speaking home institutions replacing the examination. The alternative assessment is set in accordance with the University Assessment tariff.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2020/21 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2021/22 entry will be published here in early-April 2021. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.