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In the past few decades, childhood has received extensive academic attention from sociology. Previous studies on the topic have approached childhood primarily from a psychological perspective. They have especially focused on childhood as a time for cognitive development and psychological maturity. In the discipline of sociology, the area of childhood has not been fully neglected, but rather marginalized until relatively recently. Children have typically been portrayed as adults in training, so their individual needs, motives and desires have been ignored. In fact, children s needs and desires have been associated with crime and deviance. Sociology of childhood has emerged as an important area of study in the past few decades. Instead of looking at childhood as a universal experience of cognitive development, sociology of childhood focuses on the role of societies and different cultures in defining and shaping childhood experiences. This approach also focuses on the role of socialization.
The first interest in sociology has come from feminist scholars and scholars of gender studies. Especially studies of subordinate groups such as women and minorities started including another subordinate, marginalized group: children. Secondly, traditional gender roles have associated women closely with children.
The most substantial body of work in childhood has been in the area of socialization. Socialization refers to the process during which children learn and internalize the rules of society. The process of socialization has been studied from the perspective of two different paradigms.
The first paradigm, the deterministic model, assumes children are passive creatures. The initial assumption in this paradigm is that children are new, inexperienced members of society, who need to be taught the rules of that particular society. In this paradigm the children do not contribute to their education and socialization, but are rather passive recipients.
The second paradigm, the functionalist model, focuses more on creating order in society. The main assumption in this view is that children are disruptive and chaotic by nature. Their disruptive nature poses a threat to society s order and stability. That is why they need to learn the rules of society. Socialization, according to functionalists, provides the education process for children to learn and obey the rules of society. This process is crucial to ensure the order and stability of society. While the functionalist model was popular particularly in the 1950s, this view has lost its popularity.
The third paradigm, the reproductive model, moved the debate on childhood away from the role of socialization in maintaining order to sustaining inequalities. Some sociologists argue that socialization of children becomes a mechanism to reinforce and sustain existing social inequalities. Especially through parental resources and education, many theorists argue children are socialized intro privileged social roles.
Today, there are three trends in the contemporary sociological literature on childhood. First, a burgeoning literature on childhood focuses on children as actors. While previous literature has studied childhood from the perspectives of parents, educators and adults, the views and perspectives of children were rarely acknowledged. A recent wave of research acknowledges children as actors with distinct motivations and aspirations instead of simply seeing them as passive recipients. In this sociological view children are not portrayed as smaller, unformed adults, lower in the developmental chain, but rather as distinct actors.
Another new approach in contemporary sociological literature focuses on social inequality among children. Instead of categorizing all children together, this view opts for exploring the inner differences within and between them. Some theorists point to the role of race, class and gender in understanding inequality among children in the USA. Many theorists also offer cross-national comparisons in children s relative deprivation and poverty.
Finally, contemporary sociology explores the boundaries of childhood. Some sociologists point to the blurred line between childhood and adulthood. Especially due to work and consumption, childhood is shortened. New research argues, however, that while the period of childhood might be shortened, transition to adulthood is taking longer than ever before.
- Corsaro, W. A. (2005) The Sociology of Childhood. Pine Forge Press: Thousand Oaks, CA.
- Liebel, M. (2004) A Will of Their Own: A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Working Children. Zed Books: New York.
- Zelizer, V. A. (1985) Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. Basic Books: New York.
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