‘Childhood is a social construct, a product of our collective imaginations. Different ads and different films construct childhood in different ways’ (Video 1 Band 3 pp.341-342).
I intend to explain how different visual representations of children are influenced by the four discourses of childhood. I will discuss views and ideas of the three main childhood discourse philosophers and the sociologist.
Social constructionism approach distinguishes different discourses of childhood as a result of different cultures, believes, experiences and time in history. It suggests that ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ only exist because adults made them meaningful (Aries, 1962). The approach sees our understanding and knowledge as a construction through our childhood experiences.
“The term discourse is taken to mean a whole set of interconnected ideas that work together in self-contained way, ideas that are held by particular ideology or view of the world.” (Rogers, 2003, p.21)
In the painting Beside the River by Agnes Gardener King (Book 1, p. 22) the girl portrays the Romantic view of childhood which sees a child as an innocent and guiltless. That approach is mainly observed in Victorian fine art and book illustrations. Like the girl in the painting, romantic view looks for the goodness in the child. The white dress, the girl, the tress and lamb are symbols of the innocence. The painting looks peaceful, the colours are calm; the girl walks slowly and smiles gently. That type of image was the main massage of the Romantic discourse of childhood. The concept was greatly influenced by the eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who wrote a book ‘Emile’ which became one of the most important textbooks of French Revolution and European Romanticism. Rousseau, (1765) believed that children are born good and guiltless, and through life experiences they learn badness and guilt. In the first paragraph of his book he wrote “God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.” (Rousseau, p.5 of the 1966 Everyman’s Library Edition).
On the opposite page of the Book 1 (p. 23) there is an illustration from a moral tale in children’s book Struwwelpeter. The scene is very chaotic; it shows Cruel Frederic the mischievous boy in brightly coloured cloths. The boy’s actions in the illustration are very disruptive in comparison to the calm and relaxed painting. The image exposes what the tale says: “He killed the birds, and broke the chairs, And threw the kitten down the stairs”. (Hoffman, Struwwelpeter). The boy portrays Puritan discourse of childhood in which a child is seen as wicked and evil that should be punished for bad behaviour. Therefore the Cruel Frederic moral tale finishes when a dog which Frederic whips, ‘bit him till he bled’. Then Frederic has to go to the doctor to get medicine. Frederic’s image represents opposite discourse of childhood to the undisturbed and calm painting. Heinrich Hoffman wrote and...