Sociology of Childhood

Discipline: Sociology
Instructor: Pugh
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1550
End: 1710
Field Work: Day 2 - Antwerp - Monday, 15 September | Belgium Download Syllabus

What if “age inequality” was as potent a source of injustice as gender, race or class inequality, those mainstays of sociological analysis? What if we take seriously the ways that society is organized to benefit adults, who are in power, and disenfranchise children, who are not? This class will introduce students to the “new social studies of childhood,” and the central idea that the experience of childhood is a social construction, not a string of biological facts. This is a new paradigm for childhood studies, as it has until recently been dominated by “socialization” theories suggesting that the main point of children is that they are future adults. After a brief orientation, we will consider each of the three tenets of the new subfield: that childhood varies by social context, that children are active social actors, and that children are not innocent victims. We’ll look at variations in childhood across cultures and situations, and include studies of childhood in the countries we visit. We’ll examine children’s active participation in work and care, in constructing inequality, and in managing family breakups. We’ll investigate social problems such as racism, homophobia, child labor and domestic abuse, and analyze the social causes and consequences of innocence and exploitation as prisms on childhood. We’ll conclude by weighing the impact of new ways of seeing children on children’s lives, children’s rights and children’s politics.

Field Work

Country: Belgium
Day: 2 - Antwerp - Monday, 15 September

Urban environments have always had children in them, but children have not always been part of urban planning.  In the United States, suburbs are often thought to provide childhood ideals of green space and safety, but they also rely upon particular notions of childhood, involving, for example, adult control over transport and adult-organized activities.   How might an urban environment be made more child-friendly?   What kind of childhoods do urban settings reflect and produce? In this lab, students will visit Rotterdam, the city with the youngest population in the Netherlands.  They will meet with city staff charged with implementing the “child in the city” program, a seven-year effort of child-centered urban planning aimed at reversing a trend of families moving out of the city.  They will make a bus tour of some of the 11 neighborhoods in which the program was piloted including some of Rotterdam’s new playgrounds, neighborhoods with 3-meter sidewalks and safe traffic routes, and green space with climbing trees. Students will also fan out in small groups with a scavenger hunt-style list of children’s challenges and accommodations to observe and record.  Along the way we will have lunch in a local restaurant. Assignment:  Students will record their observations of child-friendly accommodations in a concise 2-page reflection graded on a check plus/minus basis, and they will compare these observations to those of two other cities we visit along the way.  They will write a 3-4 page report on their comparisons, and as part of the exercise, design a mock neighborhood with children in mind.  Guidelines will be posted. Academic Objectives:

  1.    Reflect upon the possible conflicts and convergences between urban life and children’s needs;
  2.    Observe the implementation of the “child in the city” program, a multi-pronged international effort to make cities more child-friendly;
  3.    Evaluate the tensions between certain conceptions of children’s needs: for safety, for nurture or for social, economic and political inclusion.