Social constructionist and applied approaches to the study of childhood

Media coverage also cast James in a very Romantic light; this concept was devised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who based his theory on the concept that children are born innocent and are corrupted through their social situation and influences placed upon them which is social constructionist viewpoint (Book1,chapter2,pg66). James was seen in this light as the newspaper coverage often referred to him as Jamie, the killers were classed as either ‘the killers’ or by their surnames.

It is this biased view that is injected into society by media that influences the public’s views on such issues. These views have been upheld until this day by the media and public as the news of the boys’ release in 2001 brought about further disquiet as the discussion whether their release is too early or not. Once the boys had been convicted, they were seen once again as children and were treated as such as they were sent to local authority’s secure units and were legally protected by the media.

This continues until this day as the boys were re-entered into society with different identities and were given plastic surgery in order to protect them from public prejudice. This illustrates how government have an eclectic array of discourses within the penal system regarding the dealings with children. There are two models which can be seen within the penal system; the welfare model reflects the Romantic discourse and aims to rehabilitate individuals to produce law abiding citizens.

This takes much input from a social constructionists’ point of view and looks at social backgrounds in order to provide a programme to suit individual needs of people. Many UK based policies are based around the welfare model including that of The Children Act (1989). Contrary to this model, the Justice model strongly reflects the Puritan discourse and the scientific means of data collecting. Children are seen as guilty and therefore punishable and are not eligible for any rehabilitative support.

Children in poorer countries are often detained in conjunction with the justice model which results in persistent offenders as the children have not been educated to assist them to acquire lawful livelihoods. There is a debate over the relationship between the offender’s social and economic status and participation in crime, as explored by Stuart Asquith, which examines the need for law to be partially governed by a child’s social background (Book1,Chapter1,pg42). This seeks an aspiration for the welfare model as it would involve the examination of residential areas and educational opportunities for children from less affluent areas.

This view is encouraged by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who granted Thompson and Venables lifelong anonymity. She holds strong beliefs in educating young offenders rather than punishing them in order to encourage better life chances by taking into account their social backgrounds. (The Guardian, 2001). The collective views that people have regarding the age of criminal responsibility is obviously a complicated one. It is beneficial, however, to contradict one another in order to enhance present laws which affect how children are treated.

Although I believe that children need to be treated differently to adults in court, I also believe that continuity in their treatment throughout the ordeal must also be reached as they are treated as both adults and as children during varying stages. With regard to the murder of James Bulger I would have liked to explore the factor of peer pressure as I feel that without one another they would not have committed the crime. As for Thompson and Venables, I feel that they are also victims of their own wrongdoings as they now face a lifetime of guilt and hibernation.


Kehily.J and Montgomery.H ‘Innocence and Experience’ in Woodhead.M and Montogomery.H (eds) Understanding Childhood an Interdisciplinary Approach, Milton Keynes, The Open University

Rogers.S (2003) ‘What Is a Child?’ in Woodhead.M and Montgomery.H (eds) Understanding Childhood an Interdisciplinary Approach, Milton Keynes, The Open University

The Guardian (1999) ‘James Bulger’s Killers Did Not Get a Fair Trial’, Guardian Unlimited Website,,,195290,00.html (accessed 17th February 2006)

The Guardian (2001) ‘Court Grants James Bulger’s Murderers Anonymity for Life’, Guardian Unlimited Website,,,420393,,00.html (accessed 17th February 2006)

The Sun (2001) ‘Bulger Killers Must Stay Caged, Reformed or Not’, The Sun Archive Website, (accessed 17th February 2006)

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