Theory and Society

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 71–89

The theoretical costs of ignoring childhood: rethinking independence, insecurity, and inequality


DOI: 10.1007/s11186-013-9209-9

Cite this article as:
Pugh, A.J. Theor Soc (2014) 43: 71. doi:10.1007/s11186-013-9209-9


Childhood scholars have found that age inequality can be as profound an axis of meaningful difference as race, gender, or class, and yet the impact of this understanding has not permeated the discipline of sociology as a whole. This is one particularly stark example of the central argument of this article: despite decades of empirical and theoretical work by scholars in “the social studies of childhood,” sociologists in general have not incorporated the central contributions of this subfield: that children are active social agents (not passive), knowing actors strategizing within their constraints (not innocent), with their capacities and challenges shaped by their contexts (not universally the same). I contend that mainstream sociology’s relative imperviousness has led to theoretical costs for both childhood scholars—who must re-assert and re-prove the core insights of the field—and sociologists in general. Using three core theoretical debates in the larger discipline—about independence, insecurity, and inequality—I argue that children’s perspectives can help scholars ask new questions, render the invisible visible, and break through theoretical logjams. Thus would further research utilizing children’s perspectives and the dynamics of age extend the explanatory power of social theory.


Childhood Inequality Insecurity Independence Social theory Culture 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.United States Study CentreUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations