Special Report: The Social Differentiation of Children
A Study on Children’s Classifications and JudgmentsBy Wilfried Lignier, Julie Pagis
Do children perceive the world they are living in as a social order? At the end of the 1990s, Bernard Zarca investigated what he called the “social sense” of children, defined as an individual ability to rank diverse occupations. The study reported here relies on the same kind of task methodology assumed by this author (we also asked children to rank several occupations), but our framework is a collective one – which allows us to observe classifications as actions embedded in children interactions. Rather than focusing statistically on products of the practice (how children have classified), we pay greater ethnographic attention to the design of the practice itself (how children are classifying). We show that the children’s relationship to social order cannot be understood without taking into consideration: 1) the means that children can use to express this kind of relationship; 2) the concrete situation in which this relationship is expressed. Our study suggests that the cultural possibility of classifying should be distinguished from the dispositions and the interests to actually classify. In fact, in the context of real interactions, a person’s social situation is always involved, and thus, ranking always means self-ranking.