Conceptualizing Childhood As Located within Subaltern, Modern and Postmodern Theory

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Mariam MEYNERT, member of RC 53, ISA, Sweden
In this paper I conceptualize childhood as seen from the perspectives of subaltern, modern and postmodern theory. I argue that the concept of childhood is a social and cultural construction. Childhood was a short period in medieval times. Childhood as we know it today was invented within the modern discourse following The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. I argue that in the wake of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, two contrasting trends emerged regarding children, viz. the notion of child centeredness (among the emerging middle classes), and increasing proletarianization of children (among the lower classes). Modernity brought about change in how childhood was understood where the notion of the original sin gives way to the idea that children were innocent, close to nature, uncorrupted and pure, and the importance of shaping young minds early. There was a sharp contradiction between a romantic idealized view of childhood rooted in eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the brutal reality of most children’s lives. The subaltern status of the proletarianized children continues into the 20th and 21 st centuries even as the Welfare state and the “Century of the child” triggered off the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and the new Sociology of Childhood creating spaces for constructing notions of children and childhoods that understands the child as a unique complex, individual subject, rich in potential, strong, powerful and competent. Finally the postmodern discourses of children go beyond the notion of integrated agency of children and locate childhood in a variety of domains and are located in a number of communities because they engage with different sets of people in different social settings, are seen to find multiple expressions of self – multiplicity of voices,. Difference, change and fluidity become the starting points in analysis of childhood.