Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 5

Another beautiful morning for reading and writing. I have this on the headphones if you want to share the groove.

Ok so where were we…. a bit more about Edward Shorter’s views…

Cunningham goes on to make some statements about how Shorter sees the role of capitalism in all of this, which I am going to come back to at a future time because what is available in the intro here isn’t enough for me to fully grasp what his thoughts were, and the issue of capitalism  and the experience of childhood and parenthood is too important to just skim over. (p9)

Now Cunningham moves on to Lawrence Stone, who wrote The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977). Stone’s work focused on “the middle and upper sections of society” (p9), and he identified three types of family: “the ‘open lineage family’ in the period 1450-1630, the ‘restricted patriarchal nuclear family’ in the period 1550-1700, and finally the ‘closed domesticated nuclear family’ in the period 1640-1800” (p10). He thought that the “‘intensified affective bonding of the nuclear core at the expense of neighbours and kin’ was well established in the ‘key middle and upper sectors of English society’ by the middle of the C18th” (p10).

Within the ‘open lineage family’ Stone argued the parent/child relationship was remote, with upper classes sending babies to wet-nurses, and upper bourgeois and professional classes sending them to boarding school at 10. Under “‘restricted patriarchal nuclear family’ there was ‘a fierce determination to break the will of the child, and to enforce his utter subjugation to the authority of his elders and superiors, and most especially his parents.'” (p10) with brutal corporal punishment the norm, the 16th and 17th centuries being “‘the great flogging age'” (p10).

Stone identifies change from 1660, with a move over one and a half centuries to a “‘child oriented family type'” p10. He identified 6 different modes of childrearing, “only one of which, the ‘child-oriented, affectional and permissive mode’ within ‘the upper bourgeoisie and squirearchy’ was fully modern. And even within that social strata there was an alternative ‘child-oriented but repressive mode.'” (p10)

Cunningham quotes Stone: “‘The only steady linear change over the last four hundred years seems to have been a growing concern for children, although their actual treatment has oscillated cyclically between the permissive and the repressive.'” (p11).

Something that I think is interesting about the authors that I have been considering so far in Cunningham’s introduction – Ariès, de Mause, Shorter and Stone, is that they are all writing in the 1970s, in the window between the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). It’s this ‘era’ that the formal study of the ‘history of childhood’ emerges. ‘Gender history’ also emerges in this same time period.

I would like to see the history of childhood framed within a context of social justice movement and the history of human rights. Where stone says:

“‘The only steady linear change over the last four hundred years seems to have been a growing concern for children, although their actual treatment has oscillated cyclically between the permissive and the repressive.'” (p11).

What happens when we change the word ‘children’ for ‘people’?

We can not separate the history of childhood from the history of the the progress of social justice movement, because the treatment of children and their lived experience is the nexus of the construction and perpetuation of inequality and injustice. Within that we need to consider the impact of theory vs. practice – ideas vs lived experience -as referred to in my last post about parental ‘love’.

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the criticisms of Ariès, de Mause, Shorter and Stone that emerged from the 1980s onwards.

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One thought on “Notes and thoughts: Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, by Hugh Cunningham (Introduction) part 5

  1. Your piece raises questions about how the interpretation and writing of histories cannot be separated from the time in which it is written, although Foucault states (somewhere) about the difficulties of writing our own histories (as we are ‘inside’ them) though in his ‘genealogy’ concept (borrowed and developed from Nietzsche) is interested in writing ‘histories of the present’ (which is useful when thinking about today’s childhoods, children and their relations to parents, the state and authoritarian/permissive regimes) – see also Tamboukou for Foucauldian conceptual writing. Writing ‘histories of the present’ focuses on what is being said at the specific time without searching for underlying meanings (a particularly Western Enlightenment practice) but remaining ‘at the surface’: that which is said/written. Once the key concepts are evident/apparent the writer is better placed to trace their point of emergence (possibly as a result of a ‘rupture’ or ‘episteme’ (Foucault’s term for an epoch)). So, for example, we might think of childhood today in light of the web/internet and how that has reconstructed (let’s say) the presentation of childhood self e.g. Facebook/Instagram, but only after we have done the work of ‘that which is said and (literally) written (on Facebook and so forth).

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