Towards an anthropology of childhood sickness : an ethnographic study of Danish schoolchildren

Christensen, Pia Haudrup

Anthropology; Folklore; Medical care; Sociology; Human services
January 1999

Thesis or dissertation

© 1999 Pia Haudrup Christensen. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis is an analytical ethnography of children, aged between six and twelve, who live in Vanlose, a local district of Copenhagen, Denmark. The data were produced during fourteen months of fieldwork in the children's homes, their local school and two after school centres. The methodological insights produced through this point to the importance of a dialogical, reflexive ethnography in conducting research with children. The thesis develops synergies between two theoretical frameworks: first, a reformed anthropology of children; second, critical medical anthropology, in particular the notion of sickness as cultural performance. The study focuses on children as individual and collective actors in interaction with other children and with adults during everyday illness and minor accidents. The cultural performance approach allows illness to become a lens revealing key aspects of childhood in contemporary Danish society. The substantive chapters of the thesis are organised around the five themes that emerged during the fieldwork: illness as a variety of `time-off' and its cultural similarities and differences with family holidays; children's collective action in help-giving at school and after school centres; children's cultural learning about the body in its subjective and objective forms; the cultural constitution of children as vulnerable and the implications of this for interactions during illness; and, finally, the constitution of children's' competence in illness and treatment. A key theme developed through the thesis is the cultural representation of children in the past, present, and future. It is shown that children's present lives and subjective experiences tend to be subordinated to understandings that give priority to childhood as a symbol of a nostalgia for the past or as a hope for the future. The thesis ends with a discussion of children's greater potential as contributors to health and self care and its implications for their wider participation in social life.

Department of Sociology, The University of Hull
James, Allison
Sponsor (Organisation)
Sygekassernes Helsefond; Statens humanistiske forskningsrad (Denmark)
Qualification level
Qualification name
Filesize: 14,775KB
QR Code