ABSTRACT

Towards the end of the twentieth century there developed a pervasive sense that the social order was fragmenting under the pressure of rapid economic, social and technological change. Social theorists expressed this sense of change through terms such as ‘late modernity’ (Giddens, 1990, 1991) and the ‘risk society’ (Beck, 1992), arguing that it arose from the destabilization of the institutions holding modern social life together, which altered the bases of identity and meaning. In this chapter I will argue that childhood is also affected by this destabilization. In particular the distinction between adults and children, once firmly established as a feature of modernity, seems to be blurring. Traditional ways of representing childhood in discourse and in image no longer seemed adequate to its emerging forms. New ways of speaking, writing and imaging children are providing new ways of seeing them and these children are different from the innocent and dependent creatures that appeared to populate the first half of the twentieth century. These new representations construct children as more active, knowledgeable and socially participative than older discourses allowed. They are more difficult to manage, less biddable and hence are more troublesome and troubling (Prout, 2000a).