AskDefine | Define childhood

Dictionary Definition



1 the time of person's life when they are a child
2 the state of a child between infancy and adolescence [syn: puerility]

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. the state of being a child
  2. the time when one is a child - between infancy and puberty
  3. In the context of "by extension": the early stages of development of something


the state of being a child
time when one is a child
(by extension) the early stages of development of something
  • Finnish: lapsuus
  • German: Kindheit

Extensive Definition

Childhood (being a child) is a broad term usually applied to the phase of development in humans between infancy and adulthood.

Research in social sciences

In recent years there has been a rapid growth of interest in the sociological study of childhood. Reaching on a large body of contemporary sociological and anthropological research, people have developed key links between the study of childhood and social theory, exploring its historical, political, and cultural dimensions.

Background and History

Philippe Ariès, an important French medievalist and historian, published a study in 1961 of paintings, gravestones, furniture, and school records. He found that before the seventeenth century, children were represented as mini-adults. Since then historians have increasingly researched childhood in past times.
Before Ariès, George Boas had published The Cult of Childhood.
Several historical events and periods are discussed as relevant to the history of childhood in the West. One such event is the life of Jesus Christ Christ taught that children were to be loved and revered, a departure from the ancients' attitude to children which was to be propagated in the Roman Empire during the next 400 years with the introduction of Christianity.
During the Renaissance, artistic depictions of children increased dramatically in Europe. This did not impact the social attitude to children much, however -- see the article on child labour.
The Victorian Era has been described as a source of the modern institution of childhood. Ironically, the Industrial Revolution during this era led to an increase in child labour, but due to the campaigning of the Evangelicals, and efforts of author Charles Dickens and others, child labour was gradually reduced and halted in England via the Factory Acts of 1802-1878. The Victorians concomitantly emphasized the role of the family and the sanctity of the child, and broadly speaking, this attitude has remained dominant in Western societies since then.
In the contemporary era Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg have constructed a critical theory of childhood and childhood education that they have labeled kinderculture. Here Kincheloe and Steinberg make use of multiple research and theoretical discourses (the bricolage) to study childhood from diverse perspectives—historiography, ethnography, cognitive research, media studies, cultural studies, political economic analysis, hermeneutics, semiotics, content analysis, etc. Based on this multiperspectival inquiry, Kincheloe and Steinberg contend that new times have ushered in a new era of childhood. Evidence of this dramatic cultural change is omnipresent, but many individuals in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have not yet noticed it. When Steinberg and Kincheloe wrote the first edition of Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood in 1997 (second edition, 2004) many people who made their living studying, teaching, or caring for children were not yet aware of the nature of the changes in childhood that they encountered daily.
In the domains of psychology, education, and to a lesser degree sociology and cultural studies few observers before kinderculture had studied the ways that the information explosion so characteristic of our contemporary era (hyperreality) had operated to undermine traditional notions of childhood and change the terrain of childhood education. Those who have shaped, directed and employed contemporary information technology have played an exaggerated role in the reformulation of childhood. Of course, information technology alone, Kincheloe and Steinberg maintain, has not produced a new era of childhood. Obviously, numerous social, cultural, and political economic factors have operated to produce such changes. The central purpose of kinderculture is to socially, culturally, politically, and economically situate the changing historical status of childhood and to specifically interroge the ways diverse media have helped construct what Kincheloe and Steinberg call "the new childhood." Kinderculture understands that childhood is an ever-changing social and historical artifact—not simply a biological entity. Because many psychologists have argued that childhood is a natural phase of growing up, of becoming an adult, Kincheloe and Steinberg coming from an educational context saw kinderculture as a corrective to such a "psychologization" of childhood.

See also


Further reading

  • Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.
  • Boas, George. The Cult of Childhood. London: Warburg, 1966.
  • Brown, Marilyn R., ed. Picturing Children: Constructions of Childhood between Rousseau and Freud. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002.
  • Buckingham, David. After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. Blackwell Publishers, 2000. ISBN 0745619339.
  • Bunge, Marcia J., ed. The Child in Christian Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001.
  • Calvert, Karin. Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600-1900. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.
  • Cleverley, John and D.C. Phillips. Visions of Childhood: Influential Models from Locke to Spock. New York: Teachers College, 1986.
  • Cannella, Gaile and Joe L. Kincheloe. "Kidworld: Childhood Studies, Global Perspectives, and Education". New York: Peter Lang, 2002.
  • Cunningham, Hugh. Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500. London: Longman, 1995.
  • Cunnington, Phillis and Anne Buck. Children’s Costume in England: 1300 to 1900. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1965.
  • deMause, Lloyde, ed. The History of Childhood. London: Souvenir Press, 1976.
  • Higonnet, Anne. Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1998.
  • Immel, Andrea and Michael Witmore, eds. Childhood and Children’s Books in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Kincaid, James R. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • Knörr, Jacqueline, ed. Childhood and Migration. From Experience to Agency. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2005.
  • Müller, Anja, ed. Fashioning Childhood in the Eighteenth Century: Age and Identity. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.
  • O’Malley, Andrew. The Making of the Modern Child: Children’s Literature and Childhood in the Late Eighteenth Century. London: Routledge, 2003.
  • Pinchbeck, Ivy and Margaret Hewitt. Children in English Society. 2 vols. London: Routledge, 1969.
  • Pollock, Linda A. Forgotten Children: Parent-child relations from 1500 to 1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Postman, Neil. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage, 1994.
  • Schultz, James. The Knowledge of Childhood in the German Middle Ages.
  • Shorter, Edward. The Making of the Modern Family.
  • Sommerville, C. John. The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
  • Steinberg, Shirley R. and Joe L. Kincheloe. Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood. Westview Press Inc., 2004. ISBN 081339157.
  • Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.
  • Zornado, Joseph L. Inventing the Child: Culture, Ideology, and the Story of Childhood. New York: Garland, 2001.
childhood in Danish: Barndom
childhood in German: Kindheit
childhood in Spanish: Niñez
childhood in Esperanto: Infanaĝo
childhood in Serbian: Детињство
childhood in Swedish: Barndom

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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