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Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

On-line version ISSN 1445-7377
Print version ISSN 2079-7222

Indo-Pac. j. phenomenol. (Online) vol.11 n.2 Grahamstown Oct. 2011 

Childhood as a mirror of culture



Willem Koops




Inspired by J. H. Van den Berg's book 'Dubious Maternal Affection' the author illustrates the changing nature of the concept of 'child'. Throughout history, opinions and ideas about child development and pedagogy have changed dramatically. These normative views are shaped by the cultural context of the time. An understanding of cultural history, rather than a focus on linear scientific progress, is needed to understand such changing opinions concerning the approach towards children and their behaviours. Beginning in the thirteenth century there has been an on-going increase in the length of infancy. This increasing infantilisation can be observed in the representation of children in historical paintings. Empirical findings provide evidence for this by showing that children, depicted in paintings between the thirteenth and the twentieth century, have become increasingly infantile. The eighteenth century marks an enlightened approach towards the child with a focus on keeping children separate from the adults' world. Spontaneous development was seen to occur in a separate 'garden' for children. In the second half of the twentieth century infantilisation was replaced by the 'childless period'. Inventions such as the television, mass media and the internet have removed the clear distinction between children and adults. As a result children have become equal discussion partners. This has significant implications for their upbringing and education. A cultural historical background is valuable in understanding changes in the way society thinks about children.



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