Child social relations and gender

Panter, David C (1989). Child social relations and gender. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis reports six studies investigating the ways in which children experience themselves as gendered beings. The first two studies evaluate the theories of gender development proposed by exponents of both cognitive-developmental, and social learning theory, schools of thought. The results indicate that neither approach, with their emphasis on cognition at the exclusion of behaviour, or vice versa, provide sufficient explanation of the child-gender interface.

In studies three and four, childrens' experience of gender is not located within their cognition or behaviour, but within their social relations. Thus in each of these studies children are exposed to controlled contextual changes, eg. sex of interacting partner or gender-appropriateness of toys given to play with, to investigate the strategies boys and girls use to maintain relationships between them. Results suggest that two relational
strategies, person-centred and object-centred, are employed by the children, and that their use is related to gender. Furthermore, it is indicated that such strategies are affected by context, with some contexts affording the use of particular strategies.

The fifth study provides four detailed case-studies, set against a major contextual change in childrens' social relations; the transition from nursery into full-time education. The material presented indicates that changes are brought about in the child's experience and practice of gender as a result of this transition. The final study of the thesis explores the child's own awareness of the transition they have been through and the changes this has wrought upon them.

Thus the research presented in this thesis argues for a dynamic model of gender; one in which the child's experience of theirself as a gendered being is clearly located within their social relations

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