Anthropology of Children and Childhood
What was Phillip Aries’ understanding of childhood in the middle Ages? How did he think the idea of childhood changed between the middle Ages and the 20th century?
Philip Aries is credited with revolutionizing the art in which children and childhood are studied. Through his book Centuries of Childhood, he explores the different meanings of childhood from the middle ages up to the twentieth century. He came to the understanding that the concept of childhood was never in existence during the medieval period but began coming into existence in the upper classes of people in the 17th century and gaining momentum in the 18th century. It is only in the late 19th century, and early 20th century that the concept of childhood took root in all classes of people be it the lower classes or the upper classes (Aries 19). During the early centuries, he does accept that there were young children but he says that they were seen as adults and not viewed as children. Using art as his form of evidence, he depicts how the mannerisms, physique and expressions of children in art are those of adults and not children. However, all this changed in the 20th century when childhood was viewed as innocence that needed protection from adult reality.
We have looked at several studies which examined children’s work in several different societies, including the United States. How is children’s work treated and understood in different societies? Why does Elizabeth Kolbert seem so alarmed by the problem of children’s work in her article in the New Yorker? Is her alarm justified?
Elizabeth Kolbert examines a number of societies and how kids are treated in each. What she finds is alarming. First and foremost, she notices that kids in Matsigenka were encouraged to be useful people in society and kids as young as three-year-old could cut using a machete. In addition, kids in France were also taught similarly in that they were taught how to accept a no answer and taught how to behave. On the contrary, kids in the United States could not do simple things such as tying their shoe laces and needed their parents to aid them. Such was the alarm, and it is justified since most of the kids will end up not being prepared for life as an adult. Most of the American kids cannot even change a light bulb and will end up as adults not knowing the basic human processes needed to survive for example cooking.
This is a class in the anthropology of children and childhood? Based upon your readings from Montgomery and others what do you believe anthropology and the idea of culture contribute to the study of children and childhood? What is distinctive about the anthropological approach to this subject?
Anthropology and culture have a great bearing or inclination in the study of childhood. The culture and background a child is born into influences how his childhood will be since different cultures value kids differently. Some people and cultures use things such as childhood manuals to raise the kids while others simply use life experiences to raise their kids. Some societies value kids as a minority and incompetent, others see kids as a nuisance while others see kids as an integral part of the community with clear and distinct roles (Lancy et. al. 38). In addition, some even view their kids as an economic investment but all this trickles down to anthropology and the study of culture. The culture of the people influences their way of understanding things and childhood is no different.
Aries, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.
Classen, Albrecht. Childhood in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: The Results of a Paradigm Shift in the History of Mentality. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005. Print
Lancy, David F, John C. Book, and Suzanne Gaskins. The Anthropology of Learning in Childhood. Walnut Creeek[Calif.]: AltaMira Press, 2010. Print.