Sociology of Childhood

For many years sociologists studied children primarily in terms of socialization and within the context of the family. Introductory sociology textbooks continue to adopt this focus. There is also a tendency for sociologists to rely on psychological theories of development to explain childhood. These emphases impose an adultcentric perspective, obscure an understanding of children's lived experiences, and fail to make use of the full range of available sociological resources.

There has been, however, a growing interest in studying children from a purely sociological perspective, what is referred to as the "new" sociology of childhood. This approach recognizes that children inhabit more than one world, worlds that may well conflict: those of adults, those of children's own making, and those that children create with other children. Sociological exploration of social worlds as children understand and experience them expands understanding of children beyond the limits of the concepts of socialization and developmentalism.

The growth of my interest in the sociology of childhood has been facilitated by my commitment to phenomenological sociology, which directs attention to experiences from the perspective of the participants themselves. In my work I have found it productive to suspend the notion of "socialization" altogether, in part because of the vagueness of the concept itself and in part because of its neglect of children's perspectives (see my chapter "Beyond Socialization" in Studying the Social Worlds of Children). Such suspension necessitates the specification of exactly what one is studying, for example:

My interest in the sociology of childhood began in 1977 when a group of college seniors learned that a course in which they had enrolled would not be offered because the professor had resigned. I could not teach the topic of that course so offered students a choice of three other topics. They chose sociology of childhood. I, rather naively, thought that although the topic was new to me, there wouldn't be too much difficulty in finding readings. I was very wrong. I found the available literature sparse, focused on an adultcentric view of children, and almost entirely lacking in an understanding of children's perspectives. With extensive hunting I found some articles that met my criteria for what a sociology of childhood should look like. In succeeding years I continued to look for articles, wrote some myself, and in 1991 published Studying the Social Worlds of Children based on the readings used in class, each article introduced by my comments drawn from questions students raised in class. Creating this course led to my continued work in the sociology of childhood, and I wrote The Little Trials of Childhood and Children's Strategies for Dealing with Them, a number of articles, and presented papers at conferences.

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Every year from its creation to my retirement I offered a course called Studying the Social Worlds of Children. I also created an advanced course called Sociology of Childhood: Recent Works. I continued to search for new materials and found the following works especially valuable.

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