By David Archard
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Additional resources for Children: Rights and Childhood
What the present age knows all about is what it is to be at the stage of and in the state of childhood. For us, childhood is a stage or state of incompetence relative to adulthood. The ideal adult is equipped with certain cognitive capacities, is rational, physically independent and autonomous, has a sense of identity, and is conscious of her beliefs and desires, and thus able to make informed free choices for which she can be held personally responsible. It is on account of these dispositions that an adult is thought able to work for her living, be accountable at law for her actions, make sexual choices and help to choose the government of the community.
All societies – save the last – have children. Every society does not have to understand what it is to be a child in the same way as the others. Some, though likely very few if any, may lack any concept of children as a distinct subset of their members. But the absence of the concept does not mean the literal or physical nonexistence of those the concept picks out. Social constructionism in respect of childhood is thus in danger of overstating an important but essentially simple point, namely that we can and do understand childhood in different ways.
There are different, indeed contradictory, contemporary views about childhood. Again, our conception of the child has been to a considerable degree infused with what are essentially myths, or imaginative projections, deriving from a mixture of cultural and ideological sources. The result is that it is sometimes hard to separate the modern conception proper from what is in fact a symbolic ideal of childhood. S E PA R AT E N E S S Ariès is at least right to observe that the most important feature of the way in which the modern age conceives of children is as meriting separation from the world of adults.
Children: Rights and Childhood by David Archard