Interdisciplinary Annual Conference of the Sociology of Childhood, Section Children and Childhood in Social Upheaval

Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences
Sociology of Childhood section of the German Sociological Association (DGS) in conjunction with Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences
11.10.2018 - 13.10.2018
Claudia Dreke

What effects does social upheaval have on the structures of childhood and on childhood experiences? What does a description of social upheaval from the perspective of childhood and the social position of children contribute to the analysis in these areas? Based on these questions, the interdisciplinary annual conference will address the relationship between childhood and social upheaval.

Rapidly unfolding, far-reaching and unusual changes to the structures of a social system can be defined as "social upheaval" (Mayntz, 1995). According to Mayntz, social upheaval harms and destroys entire nations, their institutions and regulations and gives rise to new ones; it creates and reinforces horizontal and vertical mobilization, which can lead to social restructuring. If anything, it is unplanned by individuals and brought about as unintended consequences of intentional actions. When examining radical societal change, social science has used and does use terms such as "transformation" or "turning point".

Such change includes events such as uprisings and revolutions, wars experienced and military defeats, colonization and decolonization; it is almost always accompanied by fierce conflict, which is not uncommonly carried out in an extremely violent manner. The persons affected may undergo biographical change and this may be influenced by their position and own particular experiences. Related processing and reorientation is often founded on strong emotion, which may cycle between a mood of disaster and euphoria.

In addition to (violent) upheaval affecting entire societies (based on nation states) and their institutions, upheaval in society can also be understood as change which is particularly relevant in specific areas of society. With regard to the institution of childhood, examples of upheaval could include political decisions on new concepts, legislation and regulations pertaining to child and youth welfare or juvenile criminal law, the introduction of control mechanisms within the education system on a market basis or the invention and introduction of new digital media into the life of society. Such upheaval can be part of societal change taking place over extended periods (such as the emergence of modernity, the formation of the modern nation state, industrialization, the development of social security systems, etc.), it may accelerate or slow down these changes and in this context may in turn have its own wide-ranging and long-term social implications.

Specific dates are usually stated for radical societal changes in Europe during the 20th century and defined as historical turning points in retrospect. Although the term "historical turning point" or "caesura" is controversial due to its terminological imprecision, dependence on social perspective and the charged relationship between an historical event and biographical experience, it can serve as a heuristic instrument (Sabrow, 2013) with which to explore the opportunities and limitations of gaining insight in the context of historical events. Terms such as upheaval, transformation and turning points may, however, also be used to discuss relatively recent events which are already showing potential for serious societal changes to occur – such as current global migratory and refugee movements.

The focus on radical societal change can also serve as the starting point for enquiry into short-term or lasting structural changes to childhood, as well as the tendency towards institutional inertia during times of upheaval. There are now a number of studies on medium and long-term transformation processes of childhood, whereas the significance of short-term and social upheaval for children and childhood has so far not been discussed to a great extent, at least from a sociological perspective. These types of changes and their repercussions on the structures of childhood as well as on childhood experiences are therefore the main focus of this interdisciplinary annual conference.

The discussion of themes of radical change seems to open up new insight perspectives, particularly against the backdrop of a perceived long-term shift in the concept of childhood and its institutionalizations. If "childhood" is understood and institutionalized as a stage of life that is particularly deserving of protection and care, originally in Western and Central Europe and there primarily by the upper middle class, and if this understanding should generally speaking be valid for all social classes, then social upheaval that compromises this sheltered environment, or even wrecks it, must seem all the more scandalous. For example, if children are unable to go to school, lose their embeddedness in a family , are helplessly exposed to a violent social environment or are being "overloaded" by new media, this would be classified as a transgression of "normalized" notions of childhood and in this sense perceived as a scandal by the general public. Conversely, there are circumstances in which radical societal changes can be seen as an opportunity to institutionalize a "good childhood", creating a safe and sheltered space away from a socially and physically destructive environment.

If childhood is firstly accepted to be institutionalized and organized into specific forms (such as into families, by religion, educational institutions, public child and youth protection and into – church-based, municipal or central government – social welfare and care), this raises the question of corresponding structural fracturing and restructuring when society is changing.

Secondly, based on the assumption that childhood is institutionalized in a specific historical context and is a constituent part of the social structure, there is the question of whether and how the social position of children in relation to their family, other adults, social framework institutions, as well as between their own groups and other groups of children, changes during radical societal change – such as between social classes and backgrounds, with regard to violence, in terms of group-specific social perception, etc.

Submissions for this conference are particularly sought in the following key areas:

Childhood as an institution / institutions and organizations of childhood:

- To what extent and in which contexts do childhood as an institution and images or notions of children and childhood change during social upheaval?
- Which new standardizations, which institutions and organizations of childhood have arisen during upheaval in the short term and on a lasting basis, and with which legitimating discourses are these associated? Which non-juvenile stakeholders and interests were or are involved? How and in what forms were or are children actively or passively involved in this?
- Which institutional interpretations, which organizations and which social spaces are available to children in times of upheaval and for working through experiences of change, how are they using them or have they used them? How are these experienced by the children themselves?

Social structures (of inequality):

- To what extent do radical societal changes cause children to mobilize or to have mobilized as a social group and/or social groups of children?
- To what extent are generational structures also changing in the process? What are the social consequences of this?
- Which new social positions and roles open up for (which) children, which are not open to them? How are children positioned socially?
- Which social positions or roles do children claim (or have they claimed) themselves, how specifically do they fulfil them?

Methodological and methodical issues:

- How can institutional and structural changes and/or tendencies towards inertia be explored with regard to childhood in terms of historical perspectives as well as relevance to the present day?
- How can perspectives of children as children be made accessible and not just in retrospect as adults, for example on the basis of diaries, interviews, group discussions, essays, letters, reports or transcripts, blog posts, drawings or photographs?

The annual conference is intended to stimulate minimum and maximum contrasting comparisons, which factor in historical and current events as well as different places of social upheaval. Based on the acceptance of (modern Western) childhood being institutionalized as a safe and sheltered space and the normative model of a long, protected childhood, papers should primarily refer to the 20th and 21st century.

The conference aims to cover both specific and more general insights and findings regarding children and childhood in times of social upheaval.

In particular, appropriate empirical studies are desired from (childhood) sociological and historical perspectives, but also papers with a political and educational science or interdisciplinary approach. Papers are particularly encouraged from junior academics and researchers.

The conference will be held at Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences in Stendal, Germany.
The conference will be conducted in German and English.

Conference proposals in the form of abstracts containing not more than 3,000 characters should be sent to the e-mail addresses provided below. The deadline for abstract submission is 28 February 2018. Enquiries may be directed to Professor Claudia Dreke and Professor Beatrice Hungerland.


The conference is being organized by the Sociology of Childhood section of the German Sociological Association (DGS) in conjunction with Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences.


Claudia Dreke

Osterburger Str. 25, 39476 Stendal

Interdisciplinary Annual Conference of the Sociology of Childhood, Section Children and Childhood in Social Upheaval, 11.10.2018 – 13.10.2018 Stendal, in: H-Soz-Kult, 11.12.2017, <>.
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