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Unit information: Constructing Childhoods in 2017/18

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Unit name Constructing Childhoods
Unit code SPOL10023
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Jo Staines
Open unit status Open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


What is a child? Childhood is a universal experience, in that we have all been children, yet our understanding of why a child is defined as a child and not an adult will vary depending on the time, culture and context we are considering. This unit provides an introduction to childhood as a social construct and unpicks different theories of childhood. It aims to enable students to recognise that the construction of childhood is dynamic, fluid and culturally subjective, and to explore different ways that children and young people can be conceptualised within historical and contemporary contexts. Drawing on history, sociology, psychology and anthropology, this unit challenges age/stage theories of childhood and narrow definitions of the universal child, instead exploring the diversity of ideas about childhood. A wide range of resources including official documents, statistics, diaries, novels, artwork, and oral histories will be used to compare different representations and experiences of childhood.

The unit aims to consider:

  • The concept of childhood as a social construction
  • Different theoretical models of childhood and the interaction of many factors in its construction.
  • The use of primary sources to research and study childhood
  • The impact of gender, ethnicity, social class and culture on ideas of childhood

Intended learning outcomes

Intended Learning Outcomes

After successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the concept of childhood as a social construction
  • An understanding of the historical development of the concept of childhood
  • Knowledge and understanding of the variety of theoretical perspectives on childhood
  • An understanding of the appropriate use of primary sources to investigate childhood.

Teaching details

Lectures, seminars

Assessment Details

Formative assessment is by:

(a) a seminar presentation of a small group project which has been jointly researched, and

(b) an essay of not more than 2,000 words

Summative assessment is by 3,000 word essay

The assessments will assess all of the intended learning outcomes for this unit

Reading and References

  • James A and James A (2012) Key Concepts in Childhood Studies (2nd ed), London: Sage
  • James A, Jenks C and Prout A (1998) Theorizing Childhood, Cambridge: Polity Press
  • Kassem D, Murphy L and Taylor E (eds) (2010) Key Issues in Childhood and Youth Studies, London: Routledge
  • Kehily M J (ed) (2009) An Introduction to Childhood Studies (2nd ed), Maidenhead: Open University Press
  • Qvortrup J, Corsaro W A and Honig M-S (2011) (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan