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Wasting time or having fun?: Cultural meanings of children and childhood
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Child Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2001 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study explores contemporary cultural meanings of children and childhood in a Swedish context. Its point of departure is an understanding that the meanings ascribed to what it is to be a child and what childhood is, are part of culture and, as such, transform through time and space. As a way to access everyday ideas of children and childhood, two groups of children and their parents were interviewed about one of two child activities, namely children's play or children's TV-habits. In order to create a situation in which they could reflect on the topics discussed and express a variety of ideas, the interviews were semi-structured.

The analysis was inspired by the work of Strauss and Quinn (1997) and their cognitive theory of cultural meaning, as well as by Billig et al.'s (1988) concept of ideological dilemmas. According to Strauss and Quinn (1997), cultural meanings can be traced in expressions of typical everyday ideas - shared among a group of people - about a phenomenon. In line with this, the interviews were scrutinized with the aim of finding shared expressions, arguments, metaphors and/or interpretations evoked in talk about children's play or TV-habits. These shared themes, in turn, have been looked upon as cultural meanings of children and childhood.

The analysis resulted in the formulation of several cultural meanings of children and childhood. There is the educational childhood that focuses on learning, the idyllic childhood that stresses harmony, and the child-guided childhood that takes its point of departure from pleasure and fun. Additionally, there is the vulnerable child who needs adult protection, the robust child who can endure some problems, and children as small people who should be negotiated with. Moreover, there are the preferred innocent and the potentially evil child. In the interviews, accounts forming the basis of the different cultural meanings were intertwined. At times, these accounts were contradictory. This could take the form of overt reasoning around a particular dilemma. It could also be manifested in more salient dilemmas. For example, in the TV interviews it proved to be difficult to associate TV with accepted forms of relaxation. The children, in turn, presented their views on how the adult world talks about children, play and TV. In their discussions, children were characterized as vulnerable and potentially evil, but valuable. The children sometimes argued against the perceived adult view by putting themselves in a more competent and active position. However, it was also possible to trace widespread trust in adults.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Tema Barn, Linköpings Universitet , 2001. , 252 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 226
Keyword [en]
Children, Childhood, Parental Ideas, Cultural Meaning, Dilemmas, Play, TV
Keyword [da]
Barndomen, Barn och TV
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-33686Local ID: 19724ISBN: 91-7219-992-XOAI: diva2:254509
Public defence
2001-05-11, Hörsal Planck, Fysikhuset, Universitetsområdet Valla, Linköping, 13:15 (Swedish)
Available from: 2009-10-09 Created: 2009-10-09 Last updated: 2014-08-28Bibliographically approved

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Eckert, Gisela
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Department of Child StudiesFaculty of Arts and Sciences
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