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This article observes from a Luhmannian social systems perspective the emergence within sociology of a New Sociology of Childhood which claims to offer scientific justifications for treating children as autonomous beings. Applying Niklas Luhmann's theory of operational constructivism, it describes the relationship between this sociological theory and the children's rights movement which it sees as an example of a more general relationship between sociology and politics. It considers children's rights communications as the product of a programme within a social system of pedagogy which provides society with ways of understanding the adult/child relationship. It identifies a structural coupling between this programme and recent sociological communications about childhood and children. It proceeds by offering and account of those changes within sociology which have facilitated the emergence of this New Sociology of Childhood. These are (1) the acceptance within sociology of sociologies based on identity, (2) the rise of the social agent and (3) the scientific legitimation of qualitative research methods. The article concludes by raising the issue the of dedifferentiation of sociology and the consequent undermining of its function of producing facts for society. The emergence of the New Sociology of Childhood, it argues, could well be seen as an example of this process of dedifferentiation.

Keywords: Children's rights; Luhmann's theory; operational constructivism; sociology of childhood

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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  • Until 2007 the King's Law Journal was known as the King's College Law Journal. It was established in 1990 as a legal periodical publishing scholarly and authoritative Articles, Notes and Reports on legal issues of current importance to both academic research and legal practice. It has a national and international readership, and publishes refereed contributions from authors across the United Kingdom, from continental Europe and further afield (particularly Commonwealth countries and USA). The journal includes a Reviews section containing critical notices of recently published books.
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