Examine the ways in which childhood can be said to be socially constructed (24 marks)
Timed 20 minutes
A social construction is used to describe something that is created by society. It differs from place to place, culture to culture and time to time. Childhood is seen as a social construction as there is no ‘fixed’ experience of childhood, what kind of childhood a child in the UK goes through will be drastically different to the kind a child in Kenya, or middle age UK went through. Therefore, childhood is not universal but constructed by society and in our culture, many different factors contribute to this construction.
One of the most notable things to examine when looking at what causes childhood to be socially constructed is the work of Aries (1960). Aries used secondary sources and paintings to study middle age childhood in Britain. He found that children were essential mini-adults and that the law often made no distinction between children and adults. Children worked, they were required too and were seen as an economic asset. This is drastically different from our notion of childhood today and therefore we can see how childhood adapts to fit the culture it is in. In the middle ages, pre-industrial Britain, more workers were needed in factories and so children were workers. As children were workers, they did not require an education, and just needed to do labour like adults. Their responsibilities were the same as adults which made them adopt this ‘mini adult’ status. So, it is easy to see that the needs of society economically are a factor that contribute to the construction of childhood. If we need children to work, we will adapt childhood so that it is seen as a norm to have children as workers. While Aries work is influential in examining how childhood is socially constructed, it has been criticised for using these secondary sources, meaning that it makes it harder for us to be clear Aries got the correct interpretation. If not, then we have a wrong...