Lecture 3: Ideas about childhood – the west and the rest
•Looking at history denaturalizes how we see childhood in the present
•Key shifts have dramatically changed experiences of many children
•The UN CRC reflects specific ideas about childhood
•The UN CRC is a key policy document – with strengths and weaknesses
I/ Historicizing western childhood
A) Challenge of historical data
•Limited data- in general, not everybody kept records. Records that were kept were
institutional, churches, etc.
•Children’s voice- we can see and hear things, but we don’t know how they felt.
Some voices of upper class children that kept diaries and art.
•Interests of those producing documents- why were they created, but others weren’t?
•Making inferences- assumptions and beliefs don’t match the people that were
actually painting or being painted. We have to recognize where it is actually coming from.
B) Shifts in ideas: the invention of childhood?
1) Philippe Aries – Centuries of Childhood: French scholar of people in France in the
-Thesis: “our modern conception of childhood is something that did not exist in the middle
ages. Childhood did not really exist.”
He said if you look at the middle ages, you don’t see paintings of kids looking like kids,
they look more like adults. He also argued there were not unique games/toys for kids,
adults and kids played same games. There were also no special laws in place for kids,
adults and kids were equal. Adults and children also dressed the same. By the 15th century,
we see a shift where children become their own category.
2) Debates with Aries
•On the evidence- people have said he makes his statement based on a specific place and
selection of people (Bourgeois population, France). He focused on paintings that
actually made children looked older, which suggested they would be a good match to
parents looking to have children. Children dressing the same as adults can still be said
today… we just see their clothing are “different”.
•On the causes of shifts- Base is what has really been changing
•Agreement the form that childhood takes is socially and historically specific
- Yes, Aries has made it clear that the form childhood takes is socially and historically