Reflections of a child
Van den Cruyce, Nele
Communicatiewetenschappen LW SCOM CEMESO Vrije Universiteit Brussel Elsene, Belgium
Throughout the last century, the conception of childhood has changed significantly. Children evolved from miniature adults working in factories to more or less autonomous actors with rights of their own. This transformation entailed an alteration in the way that society perceives childhood and in the way that people think children should be handled or cared for. Because of this evolution, the image of the average, healthy child has evolved.
This process has been documented on a macro level, cf. industrialization and the changes on the family level. The transformation of the societal discourse about childhood and the evolution in the way that children and childhood are portrayed, is overshadowed by these larger study domains, but nevertheless sociologically equally interesting. After all, social scientists are increasingly treating children and childhood as specific research domains. In an attempt to contribute to this evolution in sociology, this paper focuses on exactly these transformations in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium from 1950 to 2000. The main research goal is to unravel the historical, societal discourse regarding a healthy childhood and to find out how the average, healthy child was portrayed during this time period as part of the visual sediment of this discourse.
A methodological instrument based on visual content analysis and more specifically rhetorical analysis was created in order to statistically analyze advertisements, containing information about the appearance of children and the societal concerns surrounding them. Because of the typical female bias concerning the topic of childhood, the magazine Libelle, being the earliest women 's magazine publishing in Belgium, was chosen as the data source for this research. A representative sample of advertisements was constructed for each decade, so that the research results could be historically compared.
The societal health discourse has had many faces throughout the investigated time period and by that the reflections of the average, healthy child indeed altered too. With attention to the larger socio-economical and cultural context, the major transformations in the imaging of the average, healthy child and childhood are marked out.