In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Childhood Studies in France

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • History
  • Geography and Urban Ethnography
  • Philosphy and Law
  • Methodology and Ethics

Childhood Studies Childhood Studies in France
Camille Salgues
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0261


This article deals with research on childhood and children in the social sciences in France, which has contributed to bringing childhood out of the field of education and psychology—that is to say, roughly what would be called “childhood studies” in English. This expression, however, is not easily translated into French. It is not widely used in France, where the scientific field is not organized by studies but by disciplines. When the expression appears, it is in English in the text, to designate works from the Anglosphere, sometimes with a critical distance. When dealing with “childhood studies in France,” it is essential to keep this in mind and to follow disciplinary frontiers. Sociology and anthropology—two closely related disciplines in France—have arguably played the most important role here. Central here is a current of thought that rose from the year 2000 onward and that in fact considers itself as a French-written version of English childhood studies. Although it intends to be multidisciplinary, this current is centered on sociology and, to a lesser extent, anthropology, so that it is reasonable to refer to it as a “socio-anthropology of childhood.” It has engaged in a dialogue with other subfields, such as the sociology of the family and the anthropology of kinship, the sociology of socialization, Africanist anthropology or Americanist anthropology, and sociology, among others. Its influence is also felt today in other disciplines, especially history, geography, or law and philosophy. However, even as the main ideas from this current were progressively integrated into the social sciences, controversies arose, particularly among sociologists, about the soundness of this field of research. Does childhood, in all its diversity, constitute a coherent research topic? Paradoxically, while scientific work on “childhood” is now subject to some suspicion and tends to become more fragmented, methodological work on children has recently experienced a certain boom, suggesting an evolution of the scientific discourse that may be specific to the French field. Finally, a caveat is in order: in French research on childhood and children, importance was given from the outset to the French language that brings together researchers from France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Quebec among others. The present article focuses on France: it does not pretend to be comprehensive of “Francophone childhood studies.” However, it makes sense to include important contributions to the scientific debate in France originating from other places in the Francosphere.

General Overview

There are few reference texts insofar as French childhood studies represent a relatively small current. Also, the necessity in the French field to speak in terms of disciplines makes it complicated to offer an interdisciplinary synthesis. Sirota 2010 and Delalande 2008 represent two overviews written at the time when Francophone childhood studies were in full expansion, by its two most emblematic figures—two texts that go beyond the single disciplinary framework in which they are apparently formulated. Sirota 2006 is still the only collective work to date that attempts to offer a complete and representative panorama of research on childhood in France. Razy, et al. 2012 offers an introduction to a journal issue focused on Francophone anthropology, but which again has a broader scope, in terms of disciplines and national borders. Court 2017 offers a comprehensive work, centered on sociology, that gives an opposite point of view to that offered by Sirota or Delalande: the author is critical of childhood studies (both French- and English-written), locating the main body of work on childhood that she discusses outside this field.

  • Court, Martine. Sociologie des enfants. Paris: la Découverte, 2017.

    DOI: 10.3917/dec.court.2017.01

    This overview, which is in line with the sociology of Durkheim and Bourdieu and has numerous bibliographical references, was released in a key publishing house for social sciences in France. It has contributed to the consolidation of the opposition lines on childhood in the French field. The volume emphasizes the socialization approach but without omitting other works.

  • Delalande, Julie. “Enfance (socio-anthropologie de l’).” In Dictionnaire de l’éducation. Edited by Agnès Henriot-Van Zanten, 248–251. Paris: PUF, 2008.

    Probably the most effective and clearest synthesis of childhood studies in France, written by an emblematic author.

  • Razy, Élodie, Charles-Édouard de Suremain, and Véronique Pache Huber. “Introduction (Eng).” AnthropoChildren 1 (2012).

    AnthropoChildren, a journal supported by a Belgian university which focuses on anthropology, is the only predominantly French-speaking journal created in the wake of childhood studies. The first issue, however, was written almost entirely in English. It offers an overview of the anthropology of childhood in several areas outside of the Anglosphere such as Germany, South America, and China, and useful perspectives, including bibliographies, on the French field.

  • Sirota, Régine, ed. Éléments pour une sociologie de l’enfance. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2006.

    A vast panorama of research on childhood in France at the time the book was published, with several contributions on the place and the genealogy of childhood studies in France. Sirota’s introduction includes a short comparison between Francophone and English-written childhood studies.

  • Sirota, Régine. “French Childhood Sociology: An Unusual, Minor Topic or Well-Defined Field?” Current Sociology 58.2 (2010): 250–271.

    DOI: 10.1177/0011392109354244

    One of the very few existing syntheses in English, written by an author who was instrumental in the rise of childhood studies in France. The main focus is on sociology.

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