Childhood Studies Sociology of Childhood
by
Michael Wyness
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0011

Introduction

The sociology of childhood developed quite rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s as a critical discipline within the field of childhood studies. It has become a growth area in undergraduate teaching and learning, researchers are finding more innovative ways of working with children in the research process, and arguably, the new insights from within the field have informed policy and practice with children at national and global levels. One key area is sociological theory. Child scholars have provided a number of critical approaches that challenge the conventions in researching and theorizing on children and childhood but have also contributed more broadly to sociological analyses of social structure and agency by reworking the concepts of generational difference and power. The sociology of childhood is mature enough now to provide a range of general works and undergraduate textbooks. It has also diversified. There is a core of theoretical debate and material as well as important statements on the politics, the ethics, and the methodological aspects of researching children, one of which is the focus now on viewing children as both research subjects and collaborators. The diversity of research on children and childhood is illustrated in this bibliography through the discussion of the global dimension, the importance of children’s cultures, the role of the media, and the changing nature of family relations.

General Overviews

Two key edited collections on childhood were published in the early 1990s. Both attempted to establish a new conceptual and empirical field for the sociology of childhood. The first, James and Prout 1997, emphasizes the socially constructed nature of childhood, whereas Qvortrup, et al. 1994 focuses more on macro-structural approaches. A slightly later text, Hutchby and Moran-Ellis 1998, discusses empirical research emphasizing more micro-constructionist approaches. A second group of edited collections discusses the political and cultural dimensions of children and childhood. From a mainly UK perspective, Pilcher and Wagg 1996 explores the impact of neoliberal policies associated with Thatcherism on children and childhood. Stephens 1995 explores the political dimensions of childhood from a more global context. Christensen and James 2008 is a collection of articles regarding research approaches to children and childhood. Finally, Qvortrup, et al. 2009 provides a more up-to-date coverage of conceptual and empirical themes and issues.

  • Christensen, Pia, and Allison James, eds. Research with Children: Perspectives and Practices. 2d ed. London: Falmer, 2008.

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    Covers a range of topics related to the research process by researchers working in the field with children. It explores epistemological, methodological, and ethical issues as well as examines the role that children themselves can play within the research process. First edition published in 2000.

  • Hutchby, Ian, and Jo Moran-Ellis, eds. Children and Social Competence: Arenas of Action. London: Falmer, 1998.

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    Written by experienced researchers, this text explores how children in their everyday lives in small-scale settings demonstrate their social competence. The theoretical focus is children’s social action and agency and how this unfolds in a range of different settings, including the home, the street, the classroom, and institutional care.

  • James, Allison, and Alan Prout, eds. Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood. London: Falmer, 1997.

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    A classic book, widely cited within the field and setting out a new paradigm for the study of childhood. Its theoretical focus is social constructionism, offering a range of readings on children’s agency, policy-related themes, and challenges for professionals working with children in a range of distinctive settings. First published in 1990.

  • Pilcher, Jane, and Stephen Wagg, eds. Thatcher’s Children? Politics, Childhood and Society in the 1980s and 1990s. London: Falmer, 1996.

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    Explores the political context of children’s lives as they grew up through the period of Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s. It draws on a range of policy-related themes including child protection, the education marketplace, child labor, child poverty, and children and the media.

  • Qvortrup, Jens, Marjatta Bardy, Giovanni Sgritta, and Helmut Wintersberger, eds. Childhood Matters: Social Theory, Practice and Politics. Public Policy and Social Welfare 14. Aldershot, UK: Avebury, 1994.

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    Based on the Childhood as a Social Phenomenon project involving researchers from sixteen countries in Europe and North America. It takes a macro approach to children’s lives, drawing on themes including age and gender relations, children’s position within political and economic structures, and children’s use of space and time.

  • Qvortrup, Jens, William A. Corsaro, and Michael-Sebastian Honig, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2009.

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    Up-to-date collection of articles from key thinkers within the field. It sets out key concepts such as agency, structure, and generation. There are chapters on historical, economic, and global aspects of childhood. Also includes topics such as the body, leisure, the media, and the everyday world of children.

  • Stephens, Sharon, ed. Children and the Politics of Culture. Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    In this seminal text, authors from different countries discuss the political and cultural significance of childhood through the themes of globalization, rights, and risk. Among others, there are key articles on children’s cultural identity; childhood and national reconstruction; children and the free market; and children, school, and the state.

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