Cheryl Nixon

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:

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Bereft of parents, the orphan is a child who requires protection, care, and guidance. The orphan thus reveals his or her culture’s understanding of both the underage child’s essential needs and society’s responsibility for meeting them. Because debates about the importance of the child often crystallize around the orphan, the orphan proves to be a figure of concern across cultures, throughout history, and in the contemporary world. The orphan is defined by the deprivation of parents, and is commonly understood to be a child who has lost both parents to death. However, historians and organizations such as UNICEF include the child who has lost one parent, often termed a “half” or “single” orphan, in the definition of “orphan.” The category of “orphan” can thus encompass numerous types of parentless children, ranging from children who have lost both parents to children who have living parents but live separate from them, such as the foundling (typically an abandoned child found and cared for by non-kin or an institution), the ward (typically an orphan cared for by a legal guardian), the pauper apprentice (typically an orphaned or abandoned child consigned to labor and cared for by an apprentice-master), and the street child (typically a child who has left his or her family to live and work on the streets). The research defining each of these types of orphans, among others, is detailed in separate categories in this article. The questions asked of the orphan are often defined by the time period and geographical area under investigation, and this bibliography is organized to address historical and contemporary orphaning by region. Past orphaning is the focus of historical and literary studies emphasizing Europe, Great Britain, and America, while contemporary orphaning in Africa and Asia is often approached from a sociological or psychological perspective or is the focus of governmental and agency studies. Many studies of the orphan emphasize orphaning’s causal factors. Historically, orphaning resulted from high mortality rates, and it remains common in areas ravaged by war or disease. Child abandonment’s contribution to past and present orphaning has also been an area of extensive research. Alternatively, many studies examine the solutions proposed for orphaning, investigating institutions such as the orphanage. The solution of adoption is explored briefly in this biography, as the subject has its own article within Oxford Bibliographies Online, titled Adoption and Fostering. In addition to being a figure of social concern, the orphan is a figure of imaginative possibility, serving as a character in numerous fictional plots. The focus of extensive literary study, the fictional orphan offers insight into changing cultural understandings of the child. The study of the orphan must take into account the different types of orphans, the historical shape of orphaning, national and regional differences in orphaning, responses to orphaning, and literary fascination with the orphan.

Article.  19771 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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