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Lost and Found: The Sociological Ambivalence Toward Childhood

Posted: 21 Dec 2007  

Suzanne Shanahan

Duke University - Department of Sociology


Recent social scientific research on childhood is oddly ambivalent. Despite much theoretically creative and empirically innovative work, the sociology of childhood, as a subfield, is often uncomfortable with its own object of inquiry. I identify three possible sources of this sociological ambivalence. First, much work does not fully differentiate children from childhood. Second, much of the literature conflates the notion of childhood as a social construct with childhood as a social good. And third, the construction of childhood in some of the literature is incommensurate with the social policies designed to protect or empower children. This review further illuminates this threefold equivocation with a schematic review of the sociological literature on childhood written since the 1980s. I conclude by briefly suggesting how recent insights from historical and poststructural approaches have begun to alleviate this ambivalence.

Keywords: children, social construction, social policy

Suggested Citation

Shanahan, Suzanne, Lost and Found: The Sociological Ambivalence Toward Childhood. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 33, August 2007. Available at SSRN:

Suzanne Shanahan (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Sociology ( email )

United States

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