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July 10, 2008 / C H Thompson

How is childhood represented in our culture?

So how is childhood represented in our culture?

First of all we need to agree what we mean by the words culture and representation.

In order to understand what representation is draw a tree on the wipeboards and let’s analyse what we see.

Now that we’ve addressed representation let’s look at culture. What is our culture? Make a list of the components parts of our culture.

Now let’s go back to the main question at the start of this lesson. How is childhood represented in our culture?

Two books were written before the 1960s which epitomised two clearly differing representations of childhood. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies saw children as untamed barbarians who needed adults to socialise them into civilised behaviour.

In contrast Enid’s Blyton’s Famous Five idealised children and childhood as being a time of wonderment and innocent adventure, tinged with the odd inconvenient moment.

Famous Five film clip:

Lord of the Flies film clip

So in what way do you think childhood represented in contemporary media? Does this next clip give you any clues to answering this question?

Do any of the following words portray children/childhood as either sinful, violent, carefree or happy. In the same way let’s analyse the social construction of adulthood, how are adults represented?

  1. What does this tell you about the social construction of childhood?
  2. Is there a relationship between social policy and the social construction of childhood?
  3. And finally what role might ideology play in the social construction of childhood?

Wendy Rodgers 2001, argues that both images of children as being caught between innocent and wicked. These representations create images which have been socially constructed in order to help design social policies on the basis that adults should take responsibility for their child’s upbringing so they will learn to conform to society’s norms and values. Everyone is in broad agreement with this view; therefore ideologically this allows governments to create laws which control children for example education policy means children must go to school.

Nick Lee supports Wendy Rodgers by claiming 20th century childhood was socially constructed in order to create to very distinct types of person. As we found adults are socially constructed as being responsible and stable people when compared to the irresponsible and unstable mannerisms of children.

However Lee argues this construction of adulthood has now been eroded.

  1. Why might Lee argue this, are adults no longer stable, reliable and responsible people?

Lee believes adults are no longer stable, reliable and responsible people because the world is no longer a stable place. Jobs and relationships are highly unstable as jobs and relationships for life have vanished to the extent we now live in what Giddens’ terms as an age of uncertainty where the old certainties of life have vanished to we all now have to adapt ourselves to the changing circumstance of life.

From this children are now treated differently by adults, to the extent children are socially constructed as being very similar to adults to the point they now have their own rights. This evident in the Children Act of 1989 (UK) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Effectively both these acts put the feelings and needs of children first which changed divorce proceedings as the court now asks the child what they want rather than telling them which used to happen.

Next lesson children & work an independent study assignment about children and work



Leave a Comment
  1. Aimee / Sep 19 2008 9:08 am

    1) Indentify several ways outsider pressure groups try and get their point across?
    • Outside pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Fathers for Justice, form protests and campaigns outside the houses of parliament to get their point across, hoping important MPs will listen.
    • Greenpeace recently climbed a nuclear power plant to hang banners for a protest. This shows many of these outside pressure groups have to go to extreme and often illegal measures to get the Governments attention. It is very usual for pressure groups to use massive demonstrations to get the publics and Governments attention.
    • Gaining public support is massive way of getting the Government to listen. If the public is supporting your claims the harder it will be for the Government to ignore you. Pressure groups use the mass media to advertise events and will often have support with regards to fundraising. this is often easier for insider groups, as ideologically they might attract more support.
    • Non-violent direct action is another method used by pressure groups. Often pressure groups will be present during a fox hunt to get their point across, purposely disrupting it. In 2001 pressure groups blocked roads during the petrol strike.

    2) Indentify the many ways inside pressure groups exert their power.
    • Inside pressure groups such as CBI have the opportunity of approaching MPs on a regular basis and it is easier for them to get their opinions heard as they are already within the Governments “inner circle”. Inside pressure groups do not have to go to such extreme measures as they already have the respect from many MPs.
    • Recently Greenpeace won a campaign against EON, who are a member of CBI. Greenpeace were demanding EON place catalyst converters inside nuclear power chimneys to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere. Although Greenpeace won this case it is already estimated EON will soon divert the power back round to themselves. They can build more power stations and buy cheap catalyst converters without going back on their “promise”.

    3) What is the difference between promotional and protective pressure groups?
    • CBI and TUC are examples of PROTECTIVE pressure groups. These pressure groups main aim is to protect their own interests not those belonging to anyone else. CBI protects the interests of business and TUC protects the interests of trade unionists.
    • Greenpeace are an example of a PROMOTIONAL pressure group. Their aim is to promote a cause which they feel is neglected by MPs and the Government. They wish to make a change everyone else will benefit from.


  1. What is childhood? « Sociology at Twynham School

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