ABSTRACT

This book grew out of my involvement with what have come to be known as the ‘new social studies of childhood’. During the 1980s social scientists around the world began to express their growing dissatisfaction with the way in which their disciplines dealt with childhood. Among some, especially those in psychology, which has a substantial history of studying childhood, this took the form of a critique centred on the notion of ‘development’. While not rejected, this concept was increasingly criticized for its lack of attention to the social and historical context of childhood and the highly variable circumstances in which children grow up. This attention to context led to certain aspects of conventional approaches being criticized. These included the assumption that childhood can be treated as a universal, biologically given phenomenon as well as the determinedly individual focus of mainstream child development studies. Both the form of childhood as a social and cultural institution and the process of ‘growing up’ became seen as dependent on their context rather than naturally unfolding processes.