In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children's Views of Childhood

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Journal Articles
  • Reports
  • Methodology
  • Childhoods in the Majority World
  • Childhoods in the Minority World

Childhood Studies Children's Views of Childhood
Kate Adams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0167


In the 1990s, the new sociology of childhood brought a fresh theoretical lens to studying childhood, a field that had previously been dominated by developmental psychology. The discourse now viewed childhood as a social construction in which children themselves played an active role in negotiating their lives. There was an emphasis on valuing the child as a being (who they are now) rather than becoming (who they would be in the future). The field gained momentum particularly in the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which afforded children a range of rights, including the right to have their voice heard. Sociologists problematized childhood, highlighting multiple understandings of child, children, and childhood, which vary across cultures and within cultures over time. Interdisciplinary approaches drawing on anthropology, children’s geographies, and education (among other disciplines) further enhanced the scholarship in this area. However, despite this progression in understanding, children’s views of childhood were often omitted in texts particularly in the early phases, although empirical studies of children’s views have significantly increased in number in the early 21st century. The inclusion of children’s views about childhood has not in itself become a distinctive area in terms of general overviews; rather, research is often located within childhood studies and appears in aligned areas with specific foci such as play and education or in anthropological and ethnographic studies. These range from large-scale, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches to small-scale, qualitative studies. This article helps readers locate those texts in their various forms and discusses the specific methodologies that have grown around them. From those studies, Themes in Children’s Views of Childhood can be isolated and examined. Themes of play and family recur in the literature and are detailed here. Children’s Inner Worlds (e.g., imagination, religion, and spirituality) are fundamental definers of identity in childhood; and although these comprise a relatively small field of study, they are are of considerable importance to children. Education (herein defined as “schooling”) is also addressed, given the amount of time many children spend engaged in it, and the inclusion of the child’s voice within a wide range of educational studies. Childhood Diversity also emerges as an area of study, with recognized facets such as gender, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, and ethnicity being research topics in their own right. Within the minority world particularly, many children interact with a range of services that affect their lives on a daily basis and raise political and practical issues pertaining to the rights and needs of such children. Finally, recognizing that there is no universal definition of childhood, and acknowledging the vast range of life experiences that children have globally, studies from both the majority world and minority world highlight, and sometimes challenge, conceptions of the diverse lifestyles of children across the globe.


Textbooks on childhood abound, mostly interrogating theory but many omitting the voices of young people. Smith 2010 bridges the gap between theory and voice to an extent, offering a clear theoretical introduction to the sociology of childhood, which includes a literature review–based chapter on children’s views of childhood, thereby providing useful signposting. All other texts in this section incorporate children’s views alongside theoretical exposition. Historically, the author of Corsaro 1985 undertook one of the earliest sociological investigations of children and childhood in the 1970s, focusing on children’s relationships with peers in their early years. Using research from the 1950s onward, Opie and Opie 2001 is an extensive work exploring children’s rules and rituals of play in Britain. Although now dated in terms of the content of the children’s games, it remains a classic and provides an interesting comparison with Brooks 2006, which has broader narratives of the lives of nine young people in contemporary Britain. International perspectives, demonstrating the diversity of childhoods globally, are offered in Hopkins 2010, Cregan and Cuthbert 2014, and Corsaro 2015.

  • Brooks, Libby. The Story of Childhood: Growing up in Modern Britain. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.

    Brooks interviews and observes nine young people, aged between four and sixteen, from different backgrounds. Each chapter is devoted to one child and presents each child’s narrative of his or her own childhood.

  • Corsaro, William A. Friendship and Peer Culture in the Early Years. New York: Praeger, 1985.

    A much-cited book that details the findings of a year-long ethnographic study of a nursery school, focusing on the social and communicative processes that help create the world of young children.

  • Corsaro, William A. The Sociology of Childhood. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2015.

    Corsaro’s text provides an accessible overview of social theories of childhood. It draws on research with children and young people to detail the range of cultural and societal issues they face in different countries.

  • Cregan, Kate, and Denise Cuthbert. Global Childhoods: Issues and Debates. London: SAGE, 2014.

    An accessible textbook comprising two sections. The first section discusses theoretical approaches to studying children and childhood, and the second contains case studies on the meaning of children and childhood, including themes such as child labor, child soldiers, and home, school, and work.

  • Hopkins, Peter E. Young People, Place and Identity. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2010.

    An accessible textbook covering theoretical and practical issues pertaining to undertaking research with young people, before detailing empirical work with those aged sixteen to twenty-five. The voices of the young people, from a range of geographical contexts, illustrate how they negotiate their identities.

  • Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren. New York: New York Review of Books, 2001.

    In this classic text, originally published in 1959 by Oxford University Press, the Opies detail the rules and rituals that children created through play that they mediated themselves. The authors illustrate how children’s creativity is manifested through a wide range of games including riddles, rhymes, songs, and taunts.

  • Smith, Roger. A Universal Child? Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    Chapter 9 What do Children Think about Childhood?, offers an overview of literature that incorporates children’s views, contextualized by the theory detailed in the other chapters.

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