The Program on Culture and Formation
Social transformations in the late modern world have radically changed the experience of growing up and the circumstances under which children are socialized and develop self-identities. The transformations are familiar: from the vast expansion of communications media to the spread of economic and commercial forces into virtually every aspect of life, from the decline of family and community groupings to the increasing interconnectedness and employment changes brought by globalization. While certainly not affecting everyone equally, these changes have resulted in a far more fluid and unpredictable social environment. In this environment of flux and simulation, personal identity and formation are de-coupled from stable, role-based social relations. Children grow up in a more mobile and individualized world, structured by fewer and weaker external authorities. As a consequence, identity experimentation and exploration have become the norm; choices are made and assessed against a background of contingency, uncertainty, and risk.
Moreover, cultural changes have produced a new normative environment. To give but one important example: new rules of competition in a globalized world have emerged embodying powerful norms of individual success. This is especially so in the middle and upper-middle classes, but it ripples throughout society. In this world, people are expected to make an “enterprise” of their lives and conduct their activities with energy, initiative, and calculation. They must seek to maximize their own human capital, project a future, and act upon themselves in order to better achieve their goals. These requirements of adequate personhood have been progressively translated downward toward younger and younger children. Educational benchmarks, developmental stages, standardized trajectories of success, even the “discovery” of new mental disorders—all pressure children to conform to expectations of autonomous actorhood and “rational” choice-making.
- The Moral Lives of Children Project
- The Moral Foundations of Education Project