Abstract

Routine activities theory predicts that crimes are likeliest to occur when three conditions are present: a motivated offender, a suitable target, be it property or a person, and the absence of a capable guardian. But the theory can also be turned on its head, which is to say that the incidence of crime can tell us something about what people routinely do, and who, if anyone, is there to look after them. This is especially true of children, whose status in early modern Europe has occasioned a very lively debate among historians, pitting psychologists against social constructionists. The current study examines 144 assaults involving children, dating from 1653 to 1781 and occurring in Portsmouth, England, and finds that two very different moralities managed to exist side by side: some adults felt free to assault other people's children, while other adults objected when they did so. But even adults who assaulted children acted with comparative constraint—and on their own—suggesting that they, too, had assimilated bits and pieces of a morality that protected children from the full rigors of the adult world. What makes the results especially significant is that they look at relations between working-class adults and children. As such, they descend considerably farther down the social ladder than earlier studies of the history of childhood in early modern England.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 561-584
Launched on MUSE
2003-03-31
Open Access
No
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