Childness: An alternative approach to the archaeology of childhood through cemetery studies

Stephen Muller, Heather Daphne Burke, Cherrie De Leiuen, Helen Degner, Zandria Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Notions of childhood in colonial Australia were informed by a variety of social contexts that varied across time and space and were given material expression in the memorialization of children’s burials. Using data drawn from two studies of nineteenth-century cemeteries in rural South Australia, in this paper, we suggest an alternative way to understand children archaeologically that avoids the trap of essentialism: the notion of ‘childness’. Childness is defined as the multiple conceptions of being, and being labeled, a child. The concept of being a child may be instantiated in different ways according to particular social, cultural, chronological, and religious contexts; childness is the measure of this variation. In Western historical settings, the most likely causes for such variation are the social processes of class and status via the closely associated ideologies of gentility and respectability and their attendant expectations around labor, as well as the shifts they represent in the social ideology of the family. Exploring childness, rather than children, provides an alternative way to approach the histories of contemporary Western understandings of childhood, including when particular types
of childhood began and ended, and according to what criteria in different contexts, as well as how boundaries between child and adult were continually being established and re-negotiated.
Original languageEnglish
Article number451
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • cemeteries
  • children
  • childhood
  • archaeology
  • childness
  • material culture
  • Archaeology
  • Childness
  • Cemeteries
  • Childhood
  • Material culture
  • Children


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