Coming of Age or an Age of Becoming? The Role of Childhood in Identity Formation at Deir el-Medina, New Kingdom Egypt
This thesis explores the role of childhood in identity formation. The concept that childhood contributes to an individual’s identity—how a person becomes who they are, and how childhood influences this—is universally relevant. However, whilst the influence of childhood is universal, exactly what ‘childhood’ means is not. Because the existence of children is a common thread linking all societies, it is unsurprising that every society has a different conception of what ‘childhood’ means, which members were considered children, and the freedoms, restrictions or expectations placed on those at this stage of life. The discussion here is framed within the context of ancient Egypt—specifically, the site of Deir el-Medina—but its approach is also relevant to those studying childhood in other areas.
Today, identity is considered equivalent to how we define and understand ourselves, influenced by our personal experiences. However, these experiences are themselves informed by how society defines and groups us, based on factors such as gender, ethnicity or religion. Identity therefore involves two inter-linked components: how society defines the individual, and how individuals define themselves. In exploring the role of childhood in identity formation, the aim of this thesis is to consider both components as they relate to children. The first reflects how society at Deir el-Medina constructed and conceptualised ‘childhood’, informing how children were treated, their scope for social participation, and the relationships they engaged in. The second reflects how children as individuals lived within these social structures, and how such personal experiences contributed to a sense of self. Only by considering both elements can a holistic picture be formed.