New Work on the Sociology of Childhood

A Conference Panel Report of the British Sociological Association Childhood Study Group on EYPS, children’s books and disability, ADHD, children’s achievements, loving relationships, gifted children, and twins

A one day Panel of the BSA Childhood Study Group was held on 9 July 2009 at Austin Court, Birmingham, as part of the UCB Annual Conference.  Jointly organised by University College Birmingham and the BSA Childhood Study Group a range of papers around the Sociology of Childhood brought together representatives from a number of academic disciplines and interests.

The Panel aimed to explore issues around the areas of health, education, family, and community in order to encompass the study of children and childhood from a number of different perspectives.  Launched at the BSA Annual Conference in April, the Childhood Study Group held this event as the first of our annual conferences.

Panel: Childhood Study Group

Chair: Chris Lancucki (Convenor – BSA Study Group) UCB

Chris Lancucki opened the Panel by welcoming delegates and introducing the recently formed Study Group. A brief outline of the purpose and focus of the group was given, followed by a brief overview of the planned activities for the year ahead. These include an annual conference, a series of half day seminars, and a dedicated website. It is anticipated that future developments will involve research updates, workshops, a postgraduate forum, as well as further development of web resources. The group aims to act as a point of contact for researchers, lecturers, professional practitioners, and children’s charitable organisations. This should facilitate collaboration and sharing of ideas with others working in this area.

Panel Papers

Individual panel papers and speakers were introduced by the chair. Each presentation was concluded with an open question and answer session where delegates were given the opportunity to raise questions and issues for further discussion.

1.  Ges Teager (University College Birmingham):  EYPS – Why?

Ges gave an overview of the upskilling agenda encompassed in the introduction of the Early Years Professional Status (EYPS).  An outline of the task of the Children’s Workforce Development Council in meeting the Government’s requirements for the early years’ workforce in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector was also discussed.

The focus of the research was the motivation of EYPS candidates and its effect on their professional development.  Full details of the research findings are reported in the September edition of Praxis (UCB).

2.  Karen Argent (Newman University College): Picture books and the theme of disability

Karen provided a summary of recent PhD research exploring how Early Years practitioners in nursery schools in one Local Authority make decisions about the selection of picture books to use with children aged 3 -5 years that relate to the theme of disability. Early Years practitioners, children’s book publishers and illustrators were interviewed in the course of the study – and individual responses to four selected picture books that approach disability themes were examined.

The power of the visual image in shaping attitudes to race and gender was discussed. It was suggested that practitioners make political choices in the selection of picture books that may influence young children, and that these play an important part in contributing to new constructions of disability.

Aesthetic preferences for styles of illustration are acknowledged whilst the research also takes account of wider structural influences – what drives the production and publication of picture books, as well as a socially constructed view of childhood.  It examines how practitioners perceive the role of picture books in the transmission of ideology and culture.  It also questions to what extent this is addressed through initial and subsequent training.

3.  Geraldine Brady (Coventry University): Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): children’s contribution to the health care division of labour

This paper explored the recent growing interest in the medically defined condition of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  It suggested that in debates surrounding the issue of ADHD the views of the scientific community and health care professionals have taken priority. The tensions which arise when children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties are medicalised were discussed.  Children who are given a diagnosis, labelled, and then treated with psychostimulant medication may be subject to unintentional damage yet, by providing no support or solution for children who are experiencing a difficult time, unintentional suffering may also be caused.

Sociology of childhood draws attention to the active role played by children and young people in the health care division of labour.  Children’s own perspectives, which often conflict with those of adults, demonstrate the positive and less positive affects of receiving a medical diagnosis.  Examples from qualitative research which used the ‘draw and label’ method and unstructured interviews were provided to demonstrate how children and young people are competent social actors, whose views should be included and valued by health care professionals, teachers and parents when considering the effect of medical diagnosis.

4.  Debbie Watson (Bristol University): Which Social and Emotional Dispositions and Skills?  Accessing the voices of Children’s Service Professionals in Wales

Debbie put forward the case for recognising that children and young people are more than just learners of academic knowledge; and that their wider achievements should be valued.  Yet there is little consensus on what such wider achievements or capabilities constitute.  Based on a three year project in Wales, it reported on the development and assessment of constructs that demonstrate ‘distance travelled’ for children and young people in areas of social and emotional dispositions and skills.  It puts forward an argument against ‘emotional intelligence’ and proposes methods to bring to visibility the ‘minoritarian fictions’ of children and professionals.

5.  Helen Davies, Gill McGillivary, Lin Treadwell, (Newman University College): Where is the Love?  An argument for relational/social pedagogy in the Early Years Foundation Stage

Recent developments in the Early Years curriculum in the United Kingdom which culminated in the introduction of the statutory requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2008 were discussed. This was said to refocus attention on fundamental aspects of provision for young children and to highlight the crucial importance of relationships to all aspects of children’s development and learning. Relationships underpin emotional well-being, positive dispositions, and all five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda.

The relationality in the Early Childhood Education Curriculum was explored and related to “social pedagogy” in a broader framework. It proposed questions around the holistic needs of young children and the extent to which aspects of relational / social pedagogy are emphasised within the Early Years Foundation Stage.

6.  Kate Bacon (University of Central Lancashire): Mapping Identity: an exploration of twins’ utilisation of bedroom space

The process of building, establishing, validating and resisting various identities takes place within and through specific spatial contexts. Drawing on a small-scale research project conducted with twins, this research examined how child twins of different ages draw on their bedroom space as a resource for constructing and displaying their identities at home.

Twinship is stereotypically constructed as embodying sameness, togetherness and closeness. However, twins utilise their bedroom spaces to variously play-up and play-down these dimensions of twinship. Space may be opened up and closed down in different situations and to reach different ends. Attention was drawn to the ambivalence of twins’ sibling relationships with each other and how they utilise each other to perform, resist and negotiate their sibling identities as ‘twins’.

7.  Jane O’Connor (Wolverhampton University): Is it good to be gifted? Media constructions of child prodigies in the British press

This paper explored the way in which child prodigies are presented in the British press in terms of their deviance from socially constructed norms around the themes of ‘giftedness’, ‘childhood’ and ‘good parenting’. The data set consisted of newspaper stories on a child or young adult who has been identified as a prodigy in music, sport or academic work. Stories were analysed in relation to socio-cultural theory around constructions of childhood and parenthood, and taking account of current educational initiatives for gifted and talented children. These interpretations of stories about ‘exceptional’ children were presented as being indicative of wider public attitudes towards children who are identified as highly competent in British society, and therefore to have relevance to the large group of children currently being labelled as gifted and/or talented in English schools.

Conference Close

The Chair drew the Childhood Study Group panel to a close by thanking all the contributors for such an interesting and diverse range of papers for this first annual conference. Delegates and participants were also thanked for their support. Hopefully this will be the first of many such events reporting on current research, exploring contemporary issues, and discussing societal perceptions of childhood.

Conference Contacts

Chris Lancucki  – School of Childhood & Education, University College,

Birmingham. 0121 604 1000 Ext. 435 [email protected]

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