Changing childhood in Saudi Arabia : a historical comparative study of three female generations
This study initially aimed to look at children's literature, an idea inspired by three factors: 1) Debates about the need to introduce Arabic heritage to children in contemporary Arab societies, including literature. 2) Discussions regarding the need to improve the quality of contemporary Arabic children's literature. 3) My interest in children's literature and my previous experience in writing for children. The debates related to the role of children's literature in contemporary Arab Gulf societies are generated by the socio-economic changes these societies are experiencing. Rising income has helped in providing global contact with other countries, and therefore has led to the emergence of new and foreign cultural patterns. This situation, at the same time, has encouraged an interest in the preservation of local culture and generated various arguments regarding the transition and change in Arab identity across different generations (Alwani, 1995; Muhmmod 1995). Literature, by virtue of being one of the most important elements reflecting social norms and values, can be used as an instrument for measuring social changes and socio-econonic development (Eagleton, 1996: 8-14). Children's literature also could be considered as an element, which affects and at the same time reflects upon children's culture (Hunt, 1994:5). Therefore, I suggested that the changes which occurred in children's literature at different historical periods, might provide indications for changes in the conceptualization of childhood in Arab culture. I wanted to explore the possibility of employing traditional folk tales in contemporary children's literature as part of examining the concurrence between social change and children's literature. A pilot study revealed that folk tales were an important part of children's childhood in traditional society, which reflected family structure and functions, as well as the socialization process and children's role in the family and the local community. The results of the pilot study also indicated some of the obstacles involved in the employment of traditional folk tales in contemporary children's literature. It emphasized the argument which suggest that folk tales are a mode of oral literature where it is the storytellers who give the tales their special unique features; once they are written down into paper, the drama stops and the tales lose some of their power and effect (Ibraheem, 1988; Zipes, 1992). Furthermore, it revealed that story telling in traditional society was a social event and family gathering, which was woven smoothly into the traditional social structure and helped shape traditional understanding and concepts of childhood. Considering these conclusions, instead of starting my study with a strong feeling about the importance of employing Arabic folk tales in contemporary children's literature, I began to question this assumption and, therefore, my research presupposition. It became clear to me that in order to study the possibility of employing folk tales in contemporary children's literature, it would be important to start by examining the changes which have occurred in perceptions towards the child's place in the family, as well as childhood itself. My questions, in this case, should aim to explore: how different children and childhood are today than in previous generations, and how children's daily life is and was constructed and enacted. And, therefore, how possible would it be for the transmission of traditional folk tales to the new generation. I decided therefore to focus my project on studying changes in conceptualizations of childhood, and to see the role of children's literature as an indication for such change. Thus, my project became an historical and comparative study of changing childhood: for three female generations in Saudi Arabia.