In his book The Future of Childhood (2005), Alan Prout argues that thetime has now arrived for the new social studies of childhood to move beyondpromoting the notion that the child is an agent and to recognise that differentparadigms each have something to offer the analysis of childhood. He suggeststhat the boundary between adulthood and childhood is fading and that thisrelates to processes of cultural, economic, social and technological change. Hediscusses the contradictory images of childhood that have emerged during modernityand urges us not to produce normalised descriptions but to ‘keep the question ofwhat childhood is open’; that the history of childhood is diverse. Ofparticular note is Prout’s critique of the view that technology has led to ‘thedisappearance of childhood’.
He suggests that the impact of technology iswidely exaggerated and very much relates to an overly sentimental and culturallyconservative view of childhood. Similarly, the overstated concept ofglobalisation is expertly unpacked as a much more complex, and not so recentphenomena. This critique enables the chapter to take a much more considered position on a range of issues thathave emerged in late modernity (for example, increased poverty, demographic change,transmigration, rights, regulation, cultural diversity and individualisation).
This chapter highlights the contradictory trends that have emergedas a result of globalisation. It suggests that globalisation has led not onlyto greater understanding of the diversity of childhoods but also to theemergence of a common concept of childhood.Prout concludes this chapter by stating that we need to move awayfrom false dichotomies, such as ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ in our analysis ofchildhood.It considers the nature–culture divide, drawing from a number ofauthors to argue we cannot separate out technology/science from culture. Itsuggests that the future of childhood studies is dependent on writers coming toterms with the notion ‘nature–culture’.
Prout states, ‘I want to argue that only by understanding the wayin which childhood is constructed by the heterogeneous elements of nature andculture, which in any case cannot be easily separated, will it be possible totake the field forward’ (p. 44). an improvement and maps out strategies formoving beyond dualisms in childhood studies, such as adult versus child, structureversus agency, individual versus society and being versus becoming. Chapter 4 continues with the idea that we have to move beyond thenature/nurture debate.
It attempts to consider different ways of writing withincontemporary social biology in an attempt to challenge stereotypes about thesubject. Prout is aware that this is a risky approach and that it might notmeet with universal acclaim either within sociology (because of traditionalfears and the after effects of the racist socio biology of the early andmid-1900s) or in the biological paradigm because such writers may not be readyfor interdisciplinary dialogue. At the centre of this chapter is the idea thatwe cannot separate out the social from the genetic and that any social theoryof childhood has to consider the place of ‘the body’ and genetics.Prout has recognised the need to advance childhood theory. In this presentbook Prout makes a conscious and courageous decision to move away from his contemporariesin childhood studies who still reify the social. This evolution makes this bookextremely important as it moves on to ground that is rarely inhabited bychildhood studies and it also begins to provide a theory that will supportpractical work in the field of children’s services where inter-agency workingis promoted but rarely supported by a considered social theory.
The diversityof descriptions in this book will be useful within practical processes thatencourage professionals from educational, medical, social, health, psychiatricand psychological disciplines to position themselves in respect to each other.Indeed, it may be employed to support them to consider the pros and cons oftheir professional and theoretical starting points when entering into work-basedprocesses set up to stimulate multi-disciplinary dialogue.