New Book: Children of the Welfare State

Children of the Welfare State: Civilising Practices in Schools, Childcare and Families

By Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv

Children of the Welfare State explores the civilizing projects of children’s institutions under the auspices of the welfare state. By combining sociologist Norbert Elias’ concept of civilising with a detailed ethnographic study of everyday practices in schools, day care institutions and families, the authors offer an original contribution to the anthropology of children, education and the welfare state.

Focusing on Denmark, a country characterised by the extent of time children spend in public care, the book looks at the extraordinary amount of attention and effort put into the process of upbringing by professionals and parents. Investigating a sequential range of children’s institutions, the authors analyse the ideals of proper conduct and examine how children of different age, gender, ethnicity and social backgrounds experience and react to these norms and efforts.

The analysis demonstrates that children’s institutions, though employing a strong egalitarian ideal, create distinctions between social groups, teach children about moral hierarchies in society and prompt them to identify as more or less civilised citizens of the state.


Laura Gilliam is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Anthropology, School of Education, at the University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Eva Gulløv is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Anthropology, School of Education, at the University of Aarhus, Denmark & Professor at the Department of Education, University of Agder, Norway.


‘This detailed empirical study of how Danish children are brought up, or ‘civilised’ – whether within families or public institutions – is a major contribution to our understanding of Scandinavian welfare states, a powerful argument for the role of ethnography in comparative policy debates, and a must-read for anyone interested in childhood.’

Richard Jenkins, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Sheffield


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