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Poor Children’s Everyday Life during the Industrialisation Period in Sweden
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.
2012 (English)In: ECER 2012, European Conference of Educational Research, Cádiz, Spain, September 17-21, 2012: Network 17: Histories of Education, ECER , 2012Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In 1871, the Swedish Parliament passed a new and restrictive statute. Poor relief was possible for children less than fifteen years of age and for people who could not work because of their age, ill-health, disability or deformity.[1] All other citizens were viewed as capable of making their own living. Begging became prohibited and could end up in jail. The school was maid compulsory. A more subtle feature of the industrialisation period, 1870 to 1910, was a gradual shift in views of parenthood, in the process of poor relief. This shift related to affirming maternal responsibilities, increasing the responsibilities of mothers and reducing the responsibilities of fathers. What emerges is a form of gendered and state-controlled working line. The conclusion was often reached that children who lacked the necessities of life did it since the mothers did not go out to work.[2] An abstract sense of being capable of earning a living was the fundamental foundation governing state decisions of poor relief. The poor ordinance led to several trials in the court of law for concepts such as ‘compulsory poor relief’, an ‘able-bodied’ person and ‘schooling” but it remained unchanged until 1918. By the 1870s, school councils and teachers had become more involved in addressing national welfare goals. School councils and teachers became more involved in addressing national welfare goals. The private lives of the poor were opened up to public scrutiny and value judgements. Control was exerted through house calls which resulted in reports, among other things, on domestic circumstances, family life, dress and behaviour. In particular this paper illustrates how the official public spirit affects childhood and why understandings of this relationship need to be broadened as well as deepened. These phenomenon are clarified not only by reference to nineteenth century sources but also to national and international research, and theoretical frameworks concerning biographies, generations and gender relations associated with, among others, Hannah Arendt and Pierre Bourdieu.

The context surrounding the child can be regarded as an urgent societal and future issue (Arendt, 1958/1998; Bourdieu, 1990; Bourdieu, 1992) and therefore, always current. Recent scholarship has focused on the international, national and local dimensions of poor law legislation during the industrialization that occurred at the end of the nineteenth century. English poor laws and the situation of growing up poor have been examined as well asa welfare perspective of the US poor law (Brundage, 2002; Davin, 1996; Orloff, 1993).Elsewhere, feminist perspectives on motherhood, gender and poverty in the same era have been identified (Berry, 1993; Twomey, 1999; Fuchs, 2005). Child poverty has increased during the twenty-first century and the consequences for today’s poor children are again an urgent societal and educational concern (Daly, 2002; Hopper et al., 2005; Sutton, 2007; O´Brien and Salonen, 2011).

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources UsedDuring the period of industrialization, poor relief, like education, was organised through a central authority and its local boards, all of which maintained their own archives. Control extended to the school lives of poor children and was reported in school archives. This paper utilizes different historical archives to analyse the interlace between societal legislations and childhood. By cross-referencing different archives it is possibly to create portrayals of poor children’s daily lives, including schooling, at the end of the nineteenth century. Scrutiny of close connections between rules and actual practices enables an interpretive approach to the subject matter (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007). The main empirical ground for the current paper is a study of 269 poor children, born during the industrialisation period. Their everyday lives have been carefully surveyed from birth to adulthood. All parents are identified. Their social and economic circumstances as well as parenting have been possible to grasp.

Conclusions, Expected outcomes or FindingsAlthough poor children had the same basic needs as children of other social groups, their childhood was shaped by other conditions of life. Some of the characteristics governing the lives of poor children include the following: a) The children lacked the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and proper housing: b) The children were in danger of becoming sick and dying from sub-standard living conditions: c) The children were involved early in providing for their families: d) The children became part of public scrutiny when they were in public places due to divergent external attributes connected to social grouping such as clothing, footwear, and begging: e) The children were likely to become separated from their homes and families by decision-makers: f) The children were placed in correctional institutions and foster homes: g) Children between the ages of  12 and 14 often had the two tasks of attending school and working for wages: and  f) 21 percent of the children died during their childhood. Qualitative data in the archives allows a deep and serious presentation of children’s and parent’s biographies.

[1]  Sweden.Swedish authors’ anthology, nr 33, 1871. Royal proclamation concerning poor relief in the nation.

[2] This conclusion is based on a perusal of poor relief cases in the New Legal Archives, Sweden, 1873-1900.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
ECER , 2012.
Keyword [en]
Poverty, Childhood, Industrialisation
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-81433OAI: diva2:655260
ECER 2012, European Conference of Educational Research, The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All, Cádiz, Spain, September 17-21, 2012
Available from: 2013-10-10 Created: 2013-10-10 Last updated: 2014-04-10Bibliographically approved

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