31.8.15 James James 2004.pdf

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<ul><li><p>James, A. and James, A. L. </p><p>Constructing Children, Childhood and the Child </p><p>James, A. and James, A. L., (2004) "Constructing Children, Childhood and the Child" from James, A. and James, A. L., Constructing Childhood: Theory, Policy and Social Practice pp. 10-28, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan </p><p>Staff and students of Strathclyde University are reminded that copyright subsists in this extract and the work from which it was taken. This Digital Copy has been made under the terms of a CLA licence which allows you to: </p><p>* access and download a copy; * print out a copy; </p><p>Please note that this material is for use ONLY by students registered on the course of study as stated in the section below. All other staff and students are only entitled to browse the material and should not download and/or print out a copy. </p><p>This Digital Copy and any digital or printed copy supplied to or made by you under the terms of this Licence are for use in connection with this Course of Study. You may retain such copies after the end of the course, but strictly for your own personal use. </p><p>All copies (including electronic copies) shall include this Copyright Notice and shall be destroyed and/or deleted if and when required by Strathclyde University. </p><p>Except as provided for by copyright law, no further copying, storage or distribution (including by e-mail) is permitted without the consent of the copyright holder. </p><p>The author (which term includes artists and other visual creators) has moral rights in die work and neither staff nor students may cause, or permit, the distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work, or any other derogatory treatment of it, which would be prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author. This is a digital version of copyright material made under licence from the rightsholder, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Please refer to the original published edition. </p><p>Licensed for use for the course: "Educational Perspectives and Policies". </p><p>Digitisation authorised by Ralph Weedon </p><p>ISBN: 0333948912 </p></li><li><p>CHAPTER 1 </p><p>Constructing Children, Childhood and the Child </p><p>In die contemporary media, all kinds of images and representations of children's childhoods are to be found. In the world of adver-tising and marketing, for example, children constitute a rich and abundant pool of new consumers. They can be targeted as custom-ers not only of traditional children's toys, pop music and computer games but, as has occurred more recently, as health-conscious dieters and drinkers of bottled water (The Independent, 21 April 2002). They are an audience to be wooed and enticed, not only for what they represent now, but also in their immanence as the next generation of adult consumers. </p><p>For the current UK government, by contrast, children seem to represent an ever-present danger to the moral fabric of con-temporary British society, as a social group in need of control and containment. In April 2002, for instance, not only were policemen introduced to patrol school playgrounds (The Independent, 14 April 2002) but new measures were also announced by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to lock up more 'young offenders', defined as those young people, aged between 12 and 16 years of age, who repeatedly commit crimes while on bail. And, in the same month, parents were accused of fostering cycles of disrespect amongst their children, attitudes that manifest them-selves at school in ill-disciplined pupil behaviour (The Independent, 25 March 2002). Meanwhile, a strong public sentiment focused on the innocence and vulnerability of children continues to pervade the pages of the press: the compassion and sadness expressed over the violent death of the young boy, Damilola Taylor, in </p><p>10 </p></li><li><p>CONSTRUCTING CHILDREN, CHILDHOOD AND THE CHILD 11 </p><p>November 2000 was followed 2 years later by the public outcry and mass m o u r n i n g for the m u r d e r of two little girls in Cambridgeshire. </p><p>Such contrasting and contradictory images of children have a long history, harking back to at least the 17th century (James etal. 1998). They reveal a deep-rooted ambivalence about the nature of childhood and, by implication, of children themselves. It is an ambivalence, however, which does not simply manifest itself in words and pictures. As we explore in this book, it is also present in the many and various laws and policies through which children's lives are governed and controlled, laws which, ironi-cally, often ignore differences between children's experiences by riding rough-shod over the diversities of childhood with which we are all so familiar! </p><p>This is one of the conundrums with which this book engages in its exploration of the cultural politics of childhood: the tension between the changes and continuities of childhood across time and space. Put simply, then, the cultural politics of childhood asks about the outcomes for children, who may live very different lives and whose everyday experiences may be quite diverse, of inhabiting a unitary 'childhood' that is regulated and ordered by sets of laws, policies and social practices that work to sweep aside any differences between them. </p><p>Unravelling the complexities of this process and the impli-cations and outcomes these have for children is the aim of this book. As outlined in the introduction, this will involve demonstrat ing the importance of the cultural determinants and discourses of childhood (including the influence children themselves have over the social status of childhood) and an attempt to identify the polit-ical mechanisms and processes through which these are given expression at any given time. Taken together, it will be argued that these cultural determinants, political mechanisms and the discourses they produce work to construct childhood and thereby control , or at the very least constrain, what chi ldren do . Such an approach to childhood does not, therefore, just pose a series of challenges to traditional unders tandings of children and childhood th rough its avowedly social constructionist framing, it goes on to offer a new perspective - the cultural politics of childhood. From within this, as we shall show, all children and their childhoods can be analysed and understood, whatever the cultural context. </p></li><li><p>12 TOWARDS A CULTURAL POLITICS OF CHILDHOOD </p><p>In this first chapter, we begin by outlining some of the key issues and debates with which this approach must engage. We must be concerned, for example, not just with the fact that childhood is socially constructed, but with the precise ways in which this occurs in any society and the specificity of the cultural context to that construction. We must also explore the changes and continuities in the particularity of that construction and be attentive to the implications these have for children, for their childhoods and for the societies in which they live. We need, too, to seek out the extent of children's own contribution to the construction of childhood and to remain alert to the diversities as well as the commonalities that give shape and structure to children's everyday experiences. We need, therefore, also to be quite clear about the conceptual tools we employ and the theoretical contexts within which this discussion takes place. We shall begin then at the beginning - with the social construction of childhood. </p><p>Childhood as a social construction It was Aries (1962) who first highlighted the socially constructed character of childhood in his historical research into children's lives from the Middle Ages onwards. Through his assertion that 'in mediaeval society childhood did not exist' he argued that, although younger members of the species clearly existed in the Middle Ages, they were not granted a special or distinctive social status (1962:125). Once weaned, they participated in society according to their abilities just as adults did. Aries argued that such practices existed because of the lack of any awareness that children might require a different and specific kind of social experience. This awareness, he suggested, only gradually emerged from the 15th century onwards. In his view, therefore, the dawning consciousness of children as being 'different' and 'particular' is marked out, over time, in the gradual social, political and economic institutionalisation of the idea of children's needs. This can be illustrated for the UK in the late 19th century by, for example, the rise of universal schooling (Hendrick 1997b) and the development of paediatrics and specialist children's clinics (Armstrong 1983). </p><p>Though the precise details of Aries' claim have been, and still are, subject to critique (see for example, Wilson 1980; Pollock 1983), the broad framework of his argument remains foundational to </p></li><li><p>CONSTRUCTING CHILDREN, CHILDHOOD AND THE CHILD 13 </p><p>childhood studies. Notwithstanding some serious objections to both his methods and his interpretation of the historical record, Aries' thesis, as Hey wood (2001) argues, at least provided scholars with a platform from which to 'mount a radical critique of thinking about children in their own society' (2001: 12). What Aries offered, above all, was a taste of cultural relativity across time. This alerted researchers to the diverse, rather than universal, nature of con-ceptions of childhood. </p><p>Core to this are two key propositions. First, that 'chi ldhood' cannot be regarded as an unproblemat ic descriptor of a natural biological phase. Rather the idea of childhood must be seen as a particular cultural phrasing of the early part of the life course, historically and politically contingent and subject to change. Second, Aries' thesis under l ines the point that how we see children and the ways in which we behave towards them neces-sarily shape children's experiences of being a child and also, therefore, their own responses to and engagement with the adult world. </p><p>In sum, therefore, what has been central to the development of chi ldhood studies is also central to the cultural politics of childhood - that is, the twin recognition that 'childhood' is, at one and the same time, common to all children but also fragmented by the diversity of children's everyday lives. That is to say, childhood is a developmental stage of the life course, common to all children and characterised by basic physical and developmental patterns. However, the ways in which this is interpreted, understood and socially institutionalised for children by adults varies considerably across and between cultures and generations, and in relation to their engagement with children's everyday lives and actions. Finally, and most importantly, as we shall see later, childhood varies with regard to the ways in which concepts of child-specific 'needs' and 'competencies' are articulated and made evident in law and social policy, as well as in the more mundane and everyday social inter-actions that take place between adults and children. Here , then, is the social construction of childhood, depicted as the complex interweaving of social structures, political and economic institutions, beliefs, cultural mores, laws, policies and the everyday actions of both adults and children, in the home and on the street - and herein, therefore, lie the essential ingredients of the cultural politics of childhood, the na ture of which is developed th rough the chapters of this book. </p></li><li><p>14 TOWARDS A CULTURAL POLITICS OF CHILDHOOD </p><p>Childhood, children and the child With the socially constructed character of childhood firmly in mind, we turn first to consider with more precision what is meant by the terms 'childhood', 'children' and ' the child' and to making clear the analytical distinctions between them, since these terms are so often used almost interchangeably in everyday discourse. But why does this matter? After all, we all can easily recognise a 'child' and know well enough who amongst us are 'children'. In the course of our everyday conversations we apply these descriptive labels without too much difficulty, often using visual clues such as size and sexual immaturity as evidence upon which to make our judgments . Our views can then - if there be any further doubt -be firmed up using more culturally based evaluations, such as young age, immature behaviour or necessary exclusion from the world of work. But given that 250 million of the world's children (aged between 5 and 14) are estimated to be economically active, the inherent difficulty in trying to apply these more culturally based criteria for the purposes of analysis, or even more generalised description, becomes immediately apparent . Since we wish to use these concepts, therefore, we need to be clear what - or who - exactly we are talking about. </p><p>Moreover, it is also the case that the terms 'childhood', 'children' and 'child', actually do represent rather different concepts and raise rather different analytical issues.1 Thus , although we shall flesh these out in more detail th roughout the course of this volume, we need, right at the start, to provide some initial points of departure. Put simply, in ou r view 'childhood' is the structural site that is occupied by 'children', as a collectivity. And it is within this collect-ive and institutional space of 'childhood', as a member of the category 'children', that any individual 'child' comes to exercise his or her unique agency. </p><p>Thus, the common - but uncritical - use of the term 'the child' in social science literature and government policy is, we suggest, misleading, while yet, of course, being highly revealing of con-cepts of and attitudes towards childhood through its misuse! A singular term, 'the child', is often used to represent an entire category of people - 'children'. This happens in a way that would never occur in relation to adults, except ironically, in other polit-ically marginalised groups such as 'the elderly'. Indeed the idea of a concept - ' the adult', which could be used to speak of adults, in </p></li><li><p>CONSTRUCTING CHILDREN, CHILDHOOD AND THE CHILD 15 </p><p>general - contradicts the very notion of the individual that, in the UK and in many other societies, is a fundamental constituent of adulthood itself. For young people, on the other hand, such gen-eralisations are, traditionally, seen as unproblematic. Children, it would appear, can be united under a singular umbrella term ' the child', their individuality dismissed and d is regarded. Such a formulation thus not only dismisses children's uniqueness but also, by collectivising children in this way, reduces their significance as agents with individual contributions to make. And that this usage is seen as unproblematic - viz. the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - is precisely because of our strange obsession with the physical and developmental stage through which, as we shall go on to explore, 'childhood' itself is most often conceptualised. </p><p>That these subtle distinctions are not only analytically important but have practical implications for children themselves can be illustrated by...</p></li></ul>