Childhood and Fashion: Investigating the Embodied Performance of Gender through Fashion
University of Cyprus, Cyprus
This paper aims to provide a sociological insight on the ways tween children (8-13 years old) negotiate fashion to construct their social, gendered and sexual subjectivities. More specifically, the paper explores how children’s fashion choices reveal embodied gendered subjectivities and the complex ways in which they negotiate a sexualized cultural domain. My overall goal is to combine feminist perspectives on beauty and sexualization with empirical data from children’s lives.
This paper is based on an ethnographic approach. Twenty boys and girls between 8-13 years old in Cyprus were interviewed in their home space. Tasks such as wardrobe audits and items such as fashion magazines, school pictures, and dolls dressed by the “Dollz Mania” online dress-up game were used as a starting point for discussing the desirable “beauty” ideal in semi-structured interviews. Data were also gathered through observations in the school setting and children’s social activities.
Results indicate that children are well aware of the symbolic value of clothing and its importance in expressing both individual uniqueness and participation in collective trends. The paper argues that children face social and cultural pressures to express a socially acceptable gendered and sexual body through fashion that is closely connected with the performance of certain types of masculinities and femininities (“sporty”, “trendy”, “sexy”, “cool”). Often preteen children, both boys and girls, show a strong desire in possessing fashion items that help them build an adult appearance and an idealized gendered self.
Challenging normative assumptions about vulnerable children and youth through a myriad of small stories
Roskilde University, Denmark
This paper shows how an analytical focus on “small stories” can challenge normative assumptions about children and youth in vulnerable life situations.
The paper is based on a study about social work with children and youth living in foster families and residential institutions in Denmark. Based on repeated interviews and observations with thirteen children and youth and several professionals around each, the study explored how notions of normality, difference and deviance came into play in the stories they told about themselves, their strengths and challenges, and the stories told by the professionals. The concept of small stories was used to draw attention to the many different stories told by the children, youth and the professionals. After a brief presentation of the study and the concept of “small stories”, I present some examples from the analysis of the empirical material, which had an explicit focus on the myriad of small stories gathered across the range of actors through interviews and observations.
I argue that even though the stories told by the children may seem weak or incoherent compared to the stories of the professionals, giving longer accounts underpinned by psychological theories and professional knowledge, we should not dismiss these stories. Moreover, the study highlights the fragmented and situational character of the stories told, and hereby attempts to challenge normative assumptions about childhood, normality and deviance that infuse the perspectives of the professionals as well as the stories the children and youth tell about themselves.
Civilising Projects and Children’s Perceptions of Social Categories
Aarhus University, Denmark
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Danish child institutions and schools, this paper employs Norbert Elias’ concept of civilising to analyse the aims and practices of institutional upbringing. As we argue in our new book, Children of the Welfare State, looking at “civilising projects” and the way children navigate and react towards them, afford a window to investigate cultural ideals and citizen formation as well as their social consequences. In this paper, we will focus on how institutional upbringing influences children’s identities, their identification with others and their understanding of different social categories. In the process of acquiring a consciousness of the proper relation between self and others, children seem to learn the association between specific conduct on the one hand and social status and degradation on the other hand. Thus, through their everyday interactions and navigation of the institutional demands, children do not merely learn how to behave, but gain a consciousness of class, ethnicity, gender and distinction and a sense of their own social worth, identity and group membership. Focusing on our material about migrant children in kindergartens and schools, we show how children experience that ethnic minority children and especially boys, tend to belong to an ‘uncivilised’ category. Reacting to marginalisation with opposition, troublemaking and an inversion of civilised norms, these children demonstrate a “paradox of civilising”, i.e. that the civilising projects despite intentions of inclusion and moral upbringing, sometimes come to exclude already marginalised groups by way of monopolizing civilised standards.
The Formation of Health and Gender - an Ethnographic Study of Health Identity Formation among Children
University of Aarhus, Denmark
Recent studies suggest that health plays a role in identity formation among children; children identify as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. However, we still need a more elaborate and nuanced understanding of children’s health identities. By adopting an intersectionality approach this paper aims to examine the meaning of health in identification processes among children by investigating how health intersects with other principles of differentiation such as gender, ethnicity, social class and peer group in these processes. The paper is based on an ethnographic study of identity and hierarchy formation among 12-14 year old school children in two Danish Public Schools. The study shows that how a child’s health is interpreted and evaluated by the child itself and its peers is to a wide extent depended on the child’s gender. The health of girls is mainly understood and assessed in terms of physical appearance and eating habits, while the health of boys is interpreted and judged in relation to physical activity. The health identities of children thus seem to be gendered. The paper concludes by arguing that this has implications for how we should conceptualize and study the health of children, but also for practitioners working in the field of health promotion aimed at children and young people.
Key words: children, youth, identity formation, intersectionality, health, gender, ethnicity,