Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2009

Childhood: Changing Contexts

Lecturers: rofessor Chiara Saraceno, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB), Germany and;
Professor Arnlaug Leira, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway

Main disciplines: Sociology, Social Policy, Anthropology

Dates: 27 - 31 July 2009

Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants

Demographic, family and societal changes are strongly affecting the context of childhood, the experiences of children, the diversities and inequalities between children. Social class, gender, ethnicity, geographical location mark more or less clear divisions in childhood contexts, which children must negotiate not only with adults, but also between themselves. As children’s families are taking new forms, social and cultural norms defining ‘good’ childhood and ‘good parenthood’ are changing. In ageing societies, children may grow up with grandparents and great grandparents, but no siblings; they may grow up in stable households or experience discontinuity. Increasingly, children and childhood are part of the public discourse at the national and international level, sometime even in contradictory ways. In the western world, childhood is increasingly politicized, institutionalized and individualized. Depending both on the vantage point and of what children one is talking about, children may be too few or too many, they may be a cherished resource or a threatening menace. The confrontation between the different value assigned to children of autochthonous and migrant origin in the developed countries is a case in point.

Literature on childhood is still to a large degree divided in specialized fields. This course aims at offering an integrated approach to understanding childhood, using both micro and micro data, discussing social policy analyses but also theories on childhood and research on children. Mainly the focus is European comparative, but with attention for non European experiences and for the impact of globalization.


Essential readings:



Lecture 1: Setting the stage: diversities of childhoods across history and societies
This lecture gives an introduction to the changing contexts of childhood focusing mainly on post-industrial societies. Family, labour market and welfare state change has generated new settings for the early childhood years, and spurred academic interest in the social meaning of children and childhood. (69 pages)



Lecture 2: The sociology of childhood: theoretical perspectives
During recent past decades, the study of childhood has met with rising interest in sociology. Lecture 2 starts from the ‘new paradigm of the sociology of childhood’ launched in the 1990s, and further examines some of the main theoretical perspectives in current disciplinary discourse. (82 pages)



Lecture 3: Contemporary childhoods: social and family contexts
As families and labour markets are changing, the relationships between genders and generations are taking new forms. Lecture 3 examines the significance of childhood in post-industrial societies, with waning of the male breadwinner family, increase in mothers’ labour market participation, rise in parental split-up and divorce. ( 76) pages)



Lecture 4: Growing up in an ageing society: risks and opportunities
The fertility decline, which together with increasing life expectancy, is responsible for population ageing, has also reshaped families and kinships. Families have become leaner and taller, as aptly suggested by the beanpole family metaphor. Lecture 4 examines how this affects today’s children’s experience of growing up, while creating relatively new intergenerational roles and relationships. (62 pages)



Lecture 5: Children as a public good? - Different perspectives
Family change, together with an increasing focus on individual rights and welfare, has triggered state involvement in the framing of the early childhood years, as has a growing concern with children’s welfare and children’s right worldwide. Lecture 5 first outlines trends in the international codification of children’s rights, and next, compares different approaches to welfare state investment in the early childhood years. (81 pages)



Lecture 6: Child care policies
Lecture 6 examines trends in European childcare provision policies. Childcare policies, which involve both leave policies and the provision of services, have had different timing and framing in the welfare states of the west. Implicitly or explicitly, these policies include norms concerning children’s needs and gendered parental obligations. (74 pages)


Additional readings:


Lecture 7: Inequalities among children: Children’s poverty: indicators, consequences, policies
Taking a comparative perspective, this lecture examines persistent inequalities between children within the Western world, with a special focus on income inequality and poverty and on the impact of different policy packages. (104 pages)



Lecture 8: Inequalities among children: class, gender, ethnicity. migration
Lecture 8 examines inequalities among children due not only to social class, but also to gender, ethnicity, migration status. (80 pages)


Additional reading:


Lecture 9: Working children and child labour
Children have always worked and in many parts of the world they still start working very young. Social acceptance of child’s work, as well as definition of what constitutes child labour, has changed and these new concepts and norms have found their way in international agreements. It is one of the clearest instances of changing the meaning of childhood. This development, however, impacts on widely different situations, particularly in the developing countries. This lecture will focus on these developments and on these debates. (83 pages)



Lecture 10: Conceptual and methodological problems in doing research on children
There is an ample literature discussing conceptual, methodological as well as ethical issues involved in doing research on children and with children, particularly the younger ones. This lecture will discuss some of them. (76 pages)



Total reading list:
(Items listed with * is optional)


The lecturers
Chiara Saraceno is a Sociologist, Research Professor (since November 2006) at the Wisseschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, on the theme of Demographic development and social change. From 1990 until 2008, after having been previously at the University of Trento, she was full professor at the University of Torino, Italy, where she taught courses in sociology of family, sociology of gender and comparative social policies. She also chaired the PhD program in Comparative Social Research and the Interdisciplinary center on gender and women’s studies (CIRSDe) at that university. She has been for many years a member of the Italian Poverty Commission, chairing it during 1999-2001. In 1999-2001 she represented Italy in the Social Protection Committee at the EU and in the Working party on social policy at the OECD. She belongs to the network of excellence EQUALSOC (where she coordinates the FAMNET research group) and is a member of the MULTILINKS research group – both of which funded by the EU. She is the coordinator of an interdisciplinary group which prepares periodic reports on poverty and inequality in Italy. Among her publications: Social assistance dynamics in Europe (ed), Policy Press 2002; Handbook of Quality of Life in the European Union (ed. with J. Alber and T. Fahey), Routledge 2007; Sociologia della famiglia (with Manuela Naldini), il Mulino 2007; Povertà e benessere. Una geografia delle disuguaglianze in Italia (ed., with A. Brandolini), il Mulino 2007; Childhood: Changing contexts (ed. with A. Leira), JAI Press/Emerald 2008; Families, ageing and social policy (ed.), Edward Elgar 2008

Arnlaug Leira is Professor of Sociology, University of Oslo, Norway, and was formerly Research Director/ Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Social Research, Oslo. She has published extensively on family change and policy reform in Scandinavia, gender and work, and gender and care in modern welfare states. Arnlaug Leira has served on the Board of Directors of the Norwegian Research Council for Applied Social Research, chaired the Norwegian Research Council’s Committee for Sociology, served on the Joint Committee of the Nordic Research Council for the Social Sciences, and on the Executive Board of the European Sociological Association. In the Department of Sociology, she has for a number of years been a member of the elected Board, and headed the PhD-programme. From 1998 to 2008 Arnlaug Leira was one of the editors of the Yearbook of Comparative Social Research, she edited the 1999 volume on Family Change, and co-edited (with Chiara Sarceno) the 2008 volume Childhood: Changing Contexts; she has served i.a. on the Review Board of Contemporary Sociology and on the editorial board of Social Politics. She has participated in several European research projects and networks, e.g., Defining Family Obligations in Europe; Gender and Citizenship: Social Integration and Social Exclusion, and Mothers as Workers and Carers: Social Practices and Social Policies. Among her other publications is “Care: actors, relationships and contexts”, with C. Saraceno in Hobson, B., Lewis, J., Siim, B. (eds.), Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics. London: Edward Elgar 2002; Politicising Parenthood in Scandinavia .Gender relations in welfare states.(ed. with A.L. Ellingsæter) 2006; “Gendered Citizenship: the care of young children” with Anttonen, A. and Johansson, S. in Lister, R. and Williams, F. et al (eds.) Gendering Citizenship in Western Europe. Bristol: Policy Press 2007; “Childcare: Parental Responsibility and Social Right” in L'Homme, Zeitschrift für  Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft 2008.

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