How Far Do Theories of Childhood Development Take Account of Social and Cultural Factors?

Topics: Childhood, Developmental psychology, Child development Pages: 7 (2046 words) Published: August 18, 2010
Throughout the history of our Western culture the ways in which we have viewed childhood has changed dramatically. Woodhead (2005) recognises that childhood has been viewed as both a natural process and as a social and cultural process, as well as being viewed as an interactive process between the two. These changeable and evolving attitudes confirm James and Prout’s (1997) assertion that “childhood is constructed and reconstructed”. This essay will take in to account four theorists, who have contrasting views of how a child develops, these theories stem from three opposing philosophies; Hobbes, an authoritarian; Rousseau, a nativist; Locke, a rationalist; Kant, an interactionist. Even to this day there are still differing views on what childhood is, which will be shown in Whiting and Whiting’s (1975) cross cultural study, the ‘six culture project’, and explained through Super and Harkness (1986) theory on the ‘developmental niche’. By comparing and contrasting the origins of the four main psychological perspectives of child development, and taking in to account certain cultural studies and theories, this essay will conclude that theories and studies put forward have shown that although nature plays an essential part of the development of the childhood, it’s society and culture that provide the major influences.

It was Philippe Aries (1962) who proposed that ‘childhood’ is a recent invention in itself. In his studies of historical literature and paintings, Aries concluded that in mediaeval times childhood didn’t exist, in that, children were seen as miniature adults (Woodhead, 2005). However, Aries was heavily criticised by Shahar (1990), who believes that Aries research is flawed, as Aries only took in to consideration the lives of wealthy or noble children. The problem being that the wealthy or noble children were in the minority and the largest group of children, which would have been the poor, were not represented. Be that as it may, the broad framework of his argument, which was the socially constructed nature of childhood, is the foundation of subsequent studies.

There are three opposing philosophies of childhood, through this four contrasting perspectives have branched. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) were both nativists, they believed that the child developed naturally, and that culture could shape them. However, Rousseau believed that children we’re naturally innocent an hobbes believed that children were naturally sinful, he also believed that the child should be controlled and disciplined, where as Rousseau believed that the child should be allowed to develop in natural stages. John Locke (1632-1704), an empiricist, believed that children had a ‘tabua rasa’ (blank slate), to be written on by experience; this supports the theory that childhood is a social and cultural process. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed that children were born with the specific ability of being to interpret information and interact with the environment; Through interactions Kant sets the tone for the did not view childhood as exclusively a natural or exclusively a social process, but a combination of the two, which led to the ‘transactional models’ of development (Woodhead, 2005).

Although these theories originated within Western societies, they can be applied globally, to study children in diverse societies and cultures. Whiting and Whiting (1975) performed six studies to discover how children develop in a similar way in different cultures as they do in the west. They discovered many differences, especially in the ages at which children were considered capable of adult responsibilities. These themes are illustrated by examining the place of work, play and learning in the lives of young children, drawing on the concept of the developmental niche (Super, and Harkness, 1986).

Thomas Hobbes a rationalist, believed that knowledge was innate, he argued that all human beings were born sinful,...

References: Aries, P. (1962), cited in Woodhead (2005) p.18
Hendrick, H. (1990), cited in Woodhead (2005) p.20
James A, and Prout, A. (1997), cited in Woodhead (2005) p.15
Mackinnon, D. (2003), cited in Woodhead (2005) p.20
Shahar, S. (1990), cited in Woodhead (2005) p.18
Super, C. and Harkness, S. (1986), cited in Woodhead (2005) pp. 44-45
Whiting, B. B. and Whiting, J. W. M. (1975), cited in Woodhead (2005) pp. 35-37
Woodhead. M. (2005). ‘Children and Development’, in Oates, J., Wood, C. and Grayson, A. (eds) Psychological Development and Early Childhood, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University.
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