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Title: Innocent curiosity : a preliminary study of nursery staff's accounts of young children's sexuality
Author: Brown, Jane Alison
ISNI:       0000 0001 3492 1447
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 1997
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The following thesis is based on findings from a qualitative study of nursery staff's accounts of sexuality in young children and it aims to examine the ideological sources on which staff draw as a preliminary study. This focus was conceived in an atmosphere of intense concern about the sexual abuse of children. It was formulated at a time when interest in childhood sexuality was being rekindled because many child care professionals, most notably those from paediatrics and social work, were addressing the detection of this newly discovered social problem. Two main methods of data collection were employed in the investigation of this sensitive topic; a period of participant observation, in all nurseries sampled, and over one hundred individual interviews with nursery staff (teachers and nursery nurses). Chapter 1 sets out to introduce central ideas about children drawn on by nursery staff and emphasises how ideologies of childhood innocence are central to understanding the views of professionals who engage with young children. First it addresses the social construction of childhood and highlights how psychoanalytic and developmental accounts of the child have impacted on understandings of children. Specific attention is paid to the ways in which discourses about childhood sexuality have been reformulated in the political context of the emergence of child sexual abuse as a key social issue. Chapter 2 however explains how the research focus of the present study was translated into a research enterprise. This Chapter therefore considers the rationale for the present study in detail, the methods used and the analysis of data. Chapters 3 and 4, examine the inadequacies of psychological and sociological approaches for the study of professional's accounts of childhood sexuality. Chapter 3 addresses scientific discourses about childhood sexuality and discusses methodological limitations of empirical studies of sexuality in young children. Here it is argued that, ideologies of childhood innocence and the psychological construct of 'innocent incompetence', largely explain the absence of children's accounts from scientific versions of childhood sexuality. Chapter 4 identifies weaknesses and strengths of two important theoretical explanations of childhood sexuality - including Freud's 'grand narrative' (cf. Stainton-Rogers, 1992) and Gagnon and Simon's (1978) scripting approach towards human sexuality. In short, it is argued that sexuality during childhood is dominated by, the measure of adulthood and that the topic of early childhood sexuality is not considered in its own right. Further, it will be demonstrated how developmental versions of the child, resurface in theoretical understandings of childhood sexuality. Chapters 5 to 9 focus exclusively on the presentation of findings and examine the perspectives of nursery staff. One prime aim of Chapter 5, is to consider the dominant versions of childhood sexuality found in the accounts of nursery staff therefore will consider images of sexually innocent and sexually knowing young children. Further, this chapter addresses how staff discriminate between 'sexual' and 'non-sexual' behaviour in nursery children. Here it will be shown how staff distinctions are underpinned by powerful ideologies of childhood. Chapter 6, however concentrates on nursery staffs accounts of normal and atypical 'sexual' knowledge for pre-school children. Staff views will be shown to be informed by developmental accounts of the child as well as by social factors such as the child's age and social class background. Chapter 7 moves on to another dimension of sexuality in early childhood, focusing on the topic of 'sexual' language in young children. Importantly, it is argued that genital naming in young children contributes to our understanding of the construction of gendered sexualities in early childhood, and that it illuminates our understanding of the repression of sexuality in young girls. With regard to further assessments of nursery staff, Chapter 8 addresses the ways in which staff articulated changes in attitudes towards sexuality in young children. Staff emphasised that substantial changes have taken place in attitudes, and this view will be located as reflecting moral panics about the disappearance of childhood. In contrast. Chapter 9 concentrates on how staff explain their opinions about childhood sexuality, and discusses the life events they cited as relevant. In conclusion Chapter 10 draws together and summarises the main findings of the thesis. It considers the contribution of the present study towards our general understanding of children, the development of theory, and finally pays particular attention to the implications of findings for professional practice. In conclusion, this thesis maintains that it is necessary to critically evaluate our constructions of the child; their social value, and, most importantly, individual and collective investments in ideas about children.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sociology