is a child? Social construction of childhood
An appropriate beginning
for this section that ably demonstrates the significance of contested
discourses is with a brief articulation of the dilemmas of defining a
Already in this course
you may have noticed the use of the term 'children and young people'.
This is the start of an attempt to deconstruct the symbolism of the term
A helping theory
in the deconstruction of childhood is social constructionism for which
Blurr (1995) identifies a number of key features.
critical stance towards taken-for-granted knowledge
of the traditions of positivism and empiricism that in traditional
science have 'objectively' defined the world and given privilege
to one set of categories and ideas over others. For example why
is gender perceived as such an important social distinction - is
it because men historically led the agenda of linking attributes
and status to these distinctions?
and cultural specificity
This is very
important in a course that seeks to look at issues across national
boundaries. It is ill conceived to attempt to universalise understandings
and perceptions of society and people. We need to use the lens of
social, historical and cultural relativity to make sense of current
experience and issues.
A fine example
is looking back at childhood two hundred years ago in many European
and North American societies. Childhood as the extended period marked
by the social transitions we now have, significantly the schooling
pathway, did not exist and with it the attachments of dependency
is sustained by social processes
looking for practical theories to inform practice this notion is
significant. Meanings and ways of viewing the world are shaped by
the daily interactions between the people we encounter. It is possible
to develop a particular set of views that go unchallenged if alternative
realities do not present. Clearly the use of inter-country investigations
in this course are designed to give access to new ways of defining
and understanding situations, problems and issues. For example why
might a child in a particular situation be seen as in need in one
country and at risk in another?
and social action go together
the ways issues are defined and understood possible responses and
perceived responsibility for them will also vary. Social constructionism
implies knowing is linked to doing and that the relationship between
understanding and social action is symbiotic.
can help, for example, looking at child welfare problems and issues
and making decisions and based upon notions of accountability. If
an individual rather than the state is seen as responsible for their
poverty this will lead to a very different set of responses.
As a way of situating
the theory of social constructionism in a practical context Exercise 3.1
will look at images of childhood. You are advised to do this exercise
next. To end this section, however, a categorisation of a child will be
provided for the purposes of setting limits in this course.
A child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless,
under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
1 - United Convention on the Rights of the Child)