Children are the "little people" and during the childhood it may be said that the child is supposed to acquire the attributes that will enable him or her to qualify for and enter adulthood. The purpose of this thesis is to illustrate the attributes that defined a child as a "proper" child of its times with particular reference to 18th century Stockholm. The definition of children and childhood used is based upon both the prevailing social and cultural constructions and children's physical and psychological development.
An understanding and awareness of these conceptions can be reached through studying the then expressed ideas about what a proper childhood should entail and through studying the treatment of children. In order to arrive at and define the conceptions of childhood four questions were posed:
- Were children seen as a separate group in relation to adults?
- Were distinctions made between the group defined as children?
- Were children ascribed certain responsibilities?
- What did the socialization process include?
In order to answer the questions several different source materials have been used: laws, population registers, school books, children's literature and enrolment lists and examination papers from public schools. Children have been treated differently from adults by the legal system (criminal law and the civil law) at least since the middle ages. In some areas the age limits marking the transition from child to adult have remained the same while others were raised. Economic regulations have been subject to the greatest change. A general trend is that childhood as a period of few rights and responsibilities, has been prolonged over time.
The conceptions of children and childhood vary considerably, even within a particular society and period. Despite the fact that distinctions (based on age, sex and social class) were made between children, at least one group in society expressed a conception of children as being alike emphasising instead differences between children and adults. Here children were defined according to their cognitive and affective capacities.
I argue that this continuity can in part be explained by the physical and psychological differences between children and adults. The changing conceptualization is more difficult to explain. A strict economic explanation based on extended resources or an increased demand for educated labour is not plausible as Stockholm's economy was stagnating between 1750-1850. It is more likely that difficulties within the labour market together with cultural changes (particularly secularization) influenced the conceptualization of children and childhood.
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International , 1997. , 321 p.