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SOC2071 : The Sociology of Childhood (Inactive)

  • Inactive 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


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.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists