Daniel Davies d_squared_2002 at
Tue May 29 00:03:58 PDT 2001

--- Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at> wrote:

> I'm not making any value judgment comparing the past & the present;
> I'm simply saying that the past (when the young were treated merely
> as small adults with their own social obligations, instead as
> "innocent children" & "confused adolescents" who should be protected
> from the corrupt & dangerous world) is alien to us, so we may better
> understand that what we have now in the present -- mass production of
> long periods of childhood & adolescence in rich nations & among some
> classes of poor nations -- is a historically _new_ phenomenon, which
> would not have been possible without capitalist development with its
> drive toward innovation, high productivity, etc.

Is this true? Shakespeare's "Seven Ages" seem to include at least two which are recognisably childish (mewling and puking, then whining schoolboy with satchel) and one which appears adolescent (composing a woeful ballad to his mistress' eyebrow). I'm no expert, but this would imply to me that something resemmling our modern concept of childhood existed in Elizabethan England, in widespread enough form to be recognisable by the audience of "As You Like It". Albeit that the age of adulthood was younger, but there's no shortage of similar childish themes in Sir Walter Scott, etc. It seems to me to be equally likely that (one stage of) capitalist development drew children *into* the labour force prematurely, and that it was precisely this appeal to idyllic childhood which gave the movement agaisnt child labour laws its moral force.

> The process of mass production of childhood & adolescence has been
> "democratizing" in the sense that it has spread literacy for
> instance. Literacy used to be an exclusive preserve of the ruling
> class & clergy before the rise of capitalism; industrial revolution;
> & class struggles for the shorter working day, prohibition of child
> labor, etc.

Either we mean different things by "exclusive" or different things by "capitalism" here -- common people in seventeenth century Wales were presumably able to read things like posters advertising auctions, or proclamations that Welshmen caught in Chester after sundown would be shot and the like, or there wouldn't have been so many of them made. And I think it's quite well established by e.g. the Eric Hobsbawm book I'm reading on the bus at the moment ("Uncommon People" -- capsule review: it's great) that the first effect of the rise of capitalism was to lengthen the working day; subsequent class struggles have more or less won back some of the ground lost.

dd, currently looking at a typical working day of 11 hours and musing on the ironies of life.

===== ... in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. -- Bertrand Russell

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