Children, Family and the State

Nigel Thomas.

Palgrave Publishing


ISBN 0 333 76037 9

Children in Society: Contemporary Theory, Policy and

Edited by Pam Foley, Jeremy Roche and Stanley Tucker.

Palgrave Publishing /The Open University


ISBN 0 333 94589 1

The joint arrival of these two books has provided final
confirmation of my suspicion that there is an inspectorate of
academic book titles, and in its children and family section no
volume is allowed to see the light of day unless it has one of the
following in the title: child; family; state; society (to come out
in hardback there must be at least two).

The obvious hazards of this edict are that it makes any book
sound a) less than riveting, b) the same as all the others, and, c)
subsequent correct referencing becomes hazardous. There must be
others I haven’t even thought of.

However, both of these volumes provide adequate evidence of the
palpable unfairness of this rule, if it exists, and of the more
prosaic truth that you can’t judge a book by the cover – or in this
case – title. (If, of course, it really was the authors who were
intent on these handles, then I offer sincere apologies, because up
to that point the respective offerings are really very good

On a more serious note the persistent appearance, on book
covers, of this mantra underlines the impossibility of attempting
to understand either the concept of childhood – or the lot of
individual children – outside of the study of the state, and
increasingly, in the absence of a social constructionist
perspective lens. Nigel Thomas provides an accessible map of the
conceptual framework for the topic, with chapters that draw on
history, philosophy, psychology, law and sociology, and social

In the second part he reports his own research on childhood
participation, where as well as reporting the findings he leads the
reader through the implication of all those perspectives. I thought
it was a really successful example of applying theory to reality

The Open University reader derives from a comparable theoretical
framework but also offers help to the reader with a shorter
attention span as chapters are short, and their titles specific and
punchy. This means that the span of the subjects covered is
enormous, and that the readership could well include hard-pressed
social care or health professionals whether or not they are
pursuing a formal course of study – because it is interesting.

The two books are not officially related and each merits a warm
reception in its own right. However, they fit together really well,
and I imagine that they will be seized on by teachers and students

They belong on the reading list of any qualifying or
post-qualifying professional course which aims to address the
present rather than the past. But they still make me think there
should be an official publisher’s asterisk that means “don’t be put
off by the title”.

Jane Tunstill, professor of social work, Royal Holloway
College, London University

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