The Cultural Significance of the Child Star: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Cultural Significance of the Child Star

1st Edition

By Jane Catherine O'Connor


176 pages

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The child star is an iconic figure in Western society representing a growing cultural trend which idolises, castigates and fetishises the image of the perfect, innocent and beautiful child. In this book, Jane O’Connor explores the paradoxical status of the child star who is both adored and reviled in contemporary society. Drawing on current debates about the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and fears about children ‘growing up too soon’, she identifies hostile media attention around child stars as indicative of broader social concerns about the ‘correct’ role and place of children in relation to normative ideals of childhood. Through reference to extensive empirical examples of the way child stars such as Shirley Temple, Macaulay Culkin, Charlotte Church and Jackie Coogan have been constructed in the media, this book illustrates both the powerlessness and the power held by this tiny band of children, and demonstrates their significance as representatives of the public face of childhood throughout the twentieth century and beyond.


"The Cultural Significance of the Child Star is an important new work in the sociology of childhood. O'Connor takes a unique approach to analyzing child stars that is both theoretically well grounded and thoroughly entertaining."

- Karen Sternheimer, University of Southern California, author of Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today’s Youth and It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture's Influence on Children

"Jane O'Connor's book adds useful empirical material to research on celebrity culture and provides a convincing argument about the importance of child celebrities."

- Momin Rahman, Trent University, Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2008

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. The Normal Child and the Exceptional Child 3. A Social History of Child Stars 4. The Powerlessness of Child Stars 5. The Power of Child Stars 6. The Demonisation of Church 7. Conclusion

About the Author

Dr. Jane O’Connor is Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Wolverhampton University. She has a BSc in Applied Psychology and Sociology, a Masters degree in Sociology of Contemporary Culture and a PhD in Childhood Studies from Brunel University. She writes extensively in the area of Sociology of Childhood and is presently involved in a major research project investigating cultural differences in children’s conceptions of cleverness.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Sociology

This series presents cutting-edge developments and debates within the field of sociology. It provides a broad range of case studies and the latest theoretical perspectives, while covering a variety of topics, theories and issues from around the world. It is not confined to any particular school of thought.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Popular Culture
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Children's Studies