The Social Construction of Juvenile Delinquency

In: Social Issues

Submitted By manifesto15
Words 2794
Pages 12
Critically assess the claim that juvenile delinquency was legislated into existence in the nineteenth century.

After a few preliminary comments contextualising the claim, I will;

1. Explore the changes in Legislation and Law enforcement agencies in the early to mid-nineteenth century focusing on the ways in which they contributed to the development of the concept of ‘juvenile delinquency’.

2. Consider the arguments of nineteenth century social investigators and reformers and their influence both on the legislative process and on the construction of the concept of juvenile delinquency.

3. Finally and by way of a conclusion, briefly discuss the broader social economic and political context of nineteenth century reforms in order to suggest that whilst legislation is important, the claim in the question overstates its significance.

The idea that there can be a juvenile delinquent is impossible without the concept of childhood as a distinct phase of individual growth and development. ‘Childhood’ has become a universal category; a status which affords particular rights, for example those outlined in agreements between states such as the universal declaration of the rights of the child. This recognition of the special status of ‘childhood’ is a social construct (Hendrick, 2002). We may take our understanding of what it is to be a child for granted as ‘natural’ but it is not until the late middle ages that a period and morality of childhood began to be distinguished from adulthood within the aristocracy and nobility (Muncie pg. 49).

In the English legal system, prior to the late 18th century, no distinction is made between the adult and child offender and consequently the concept of the juvenile delinquent did not exist in any meaningful sense. As far as the law was concerned there was no separate category ‘juvenile’. Adults and children were treated…...

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