The Anthropology of Childhood

Childhood anthropology is a relatively new field for anthropological study that emerged in Britain during the 1970s and contrasts with earlier studies of culture and personality conducted by American anthropologists such as Margaret Mead during the 1940s and 50s . These studies were mainly interested in exploring how the processes of socialization and cultural transmission take place during childhood. However, in these accounts, little attention has been paid to children’s own active role in these socializing processes. Instead, the focus was on the mechanisms through which culture passed between generations.


Contemporary work on childhood, by contrast, views children as social actors in their own right and seeks to document their perspectives and participation in the social world. This approach recognizes that children experience different types of childhood in different societies and question whether childhood should be viewed as a cultural universal. Contemporary anthropological studies of childhood also recognize that while children cannot occupy central social, political, and economic functions in society, it is important to see that they can and do make an active contribution. This can take place through, for example, membership in peer and family groups and participation in leisure, work and schooling.

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