Child welfare
across borders
  Session 3 - A social justice framework



Who 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 child.

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 'child'

A helping theory in the deconstruction of childhood is social constructionism for which Blurr (1995) identifies a number of key features.


A critical stance towards taken-for-granted knowledge

Be cautious 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?


Historical 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 and immaturity.


Knowledge is sustained by social processes

For practitioners 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?


Knowledge and social action go together

Depending upon 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.

This perspective 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.

(Article 1 - United Convention on the Rights of the Child)


Next You are now advised to go to Exercise 1.