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Unit information: Constructing Childhoods in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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. Roy
Open unit status Not open




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


What is a child? Childhood is a universal experience - we have all been children - yet our understanding of why a child is defined as a ‘child’ and not an ‘adult’ varies depending on time, space and place. This unit explores the construction of childhood through history. It aims to enable students to recognise that childhood is dynamic, fluid and culturally subjective. The unit explores different ways that children and young people have been conceptualised, understood and treated within historical and contemporary contexts.

Drawing on history, sociology, psychology and criminology, students on the unit will be encouraged to critically engage with and challenge narrow definitions of ‘childhood’. The unit explores a diverse range of childhood experiences and understandings of childhood through history. By drawing on a wide range of primary sources such as official documents, statistics, diaries, novels, artwork, and oral histories, different representations and experiences of childhood will be compared.

Intended learning outcomes

Intended Learning Outcomes

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

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

Teaching details

Lectures, seminars

Assessment Details

Critique of oral history (1000 words) (25%)

Essay (2000 words) (75%)

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 (particularly chapters 1 and 2)
  • Kehily M J (ed) (2015) An Introduction to Childhood Studies (3rd ed), Maidenhead: Open University Press (particularly chapter by Gittins ‘The historical construction of childhood’ pp34-47)
  • Qvortrup J, Corsaro W A and Honig M-S (2011) (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (particularly chapter by Hendrick ‘The evolution of childhood in Western Europe c1400-c1750’ pp99-113)
  • Wyness M (2018) Childhood, Culture &Society in a Global Context London: Sage (particularly chapters 1,5,8)