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Anth 207: Childhood across cultures
Transcript of Anth 207: Childhood across cultures
Childhood across Cultures
Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
Arrested September 2011, La Porte, Texas
Let children 6 and 9 y.o. play outside
Charges eventually dropped; held for 19 hours.
Nursing & weaning
What is childhood?
strongly moralised & normatised
the 'invention' of childhood
what comes to mind when we think of infancy?
our expectations & reality in complex relation...
Ideology of parenting
Childhood in Medieval Europe
'spare the rod and spoil the child'
children often depicted as little adults
Protestant revival may have increased oppression.
Romantic understandings of childhood
idealisation of childhood
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
from William Wordsworth, 'Ode: Intimation of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.'
Victorian era treatment of children
the same era that produced 'Peter Pan' also saw child labour, upperclass children in boarding schools & hard reality.
Reformers like Lord Ashley and Dr. Barnardo sought to protect children.
State of the world's children
graphic from 2005 UNICEF report
Eden Wood of 'Toddlers and Tiaras'
'Naughty' Corey Worthington
‘Today, a four year-old who can tie his or her shoes is impressive. In colonial times, four-year-old girls knitted stockings and mittens and could produce intricate embroidery: at age six they spun wool. A good, industrious little girl was called 'Mrs.' instead of 'Miss' in appreciation of her contribution to the family economy: she was not, strictly speaking, a child’.
Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
How we understand the nature of childhood in the West affects strongly how we treat children.
Where does our understanding of childhood come from?
How does our understand affect the way we treat children, and thus how our children develop?
Socialising children in 2012
consumption (opposite of Victorian child production)
peer socialisation (intensified age grading)
pre-fabricated material culture
transmission of culture
vertical, horizontal & oblique
even in foraging groups, males in energy deficit until adulthood.
University of Leicester
Key trait of 'childhood' is:
Shift in collective efficacy
parents unwilling to discipline others' children or accept that discipline.
an indication of fragility of contemporary communities.
childcare strictly privatised but also commercialised.
Helen Morton (Kavalapu)
Children must go from being '
' (ignorant, socially incompetent) to '
' (clever, socially competent)
Closer to 'mad' than to adults.
Crucial is learning hierarchical relationships, especially through punishment.
A survey of adolescents in schools was carried out by an ethnographer who had been a schoolteacher in Tonga examined their feelings and beliefs about parental corporal punishment. The children explained the punishments as being because of their parents' love, given because they deserved it and to teach them, but they also experienced it as a withdrawal of love and the majority reported negative responses to the punishments.
Helen Morton, Becoming Tongan
'Patiently, Amenan explained: Babies are reincarnations of ancestors, and they have just come from wrugbe. Having just lived elsewhere, they remember much from that other world—including the many languages spoken by its residents.'
Infants have to be persuaded to stay as they live between this world and the afterlife (wrugbe).
A diviner, Kouakou Ba, explained:
At some point, children leave wrugbe for good and decide to stay in this life. . . . When children can speak their dreams, or understand [a drastic situation, such as] that their mother or father has died, then you know that they have totally come out of wrugbe. . . .
[That happens] by seven years old, for sure! At three years old, they are still in-between: partly in wrugbe and partly in this life. They see what happens in this life, but they do not understand it.
Obedience to adults.
Taking responsibility for tasks.
Caring for younger siblings and other children.
Encouragement to strive for excellence.
Independence and ability to supply their own needs and wants.
General independent training:
Freedom from control and supervision.
Barry, Bacon & Child, 1957
Six dimensions of childrearing
Crying & adult response
parenting a group activity in most foraging groups: children handled by other adults & older siblings
Japanese girl looks after her younger sibling.
other women will even nurse a child or adult will discipline.
mother returns to productive life.
Nursing on demand (through the night or non-mother).
Frequency about 4-5 times an hour.
Lactational amenorrhea & extended birth-spacing.
Vertical carrying practices.
Earlier motor achievements?
Some societies believe that children need to learn to 'self-soothe', that responding to crying will encourage children.
One study of foraging group showed average response time:
Common parenting pattern among foragers?
Diamond concludes that there's a universal pattern: children in foraging groups demonstrate autonomy, security, self-confidence, curiosity, and advanced social skills.
In addition, many of these societies lack adolescent identity crises.
Some foragers horrified to hear about corporal punishment.
Punishment tends to correlate with economic structure (herding groups most severe).
Children given enormous latitude (knives, fires)
In contrast, in some places (Bali), children not even permitted to crawl.
In Wogeo, New Guinea, children learn to walk in 2-3 days near 2 y.o.
No 'age grading' in play.
Play imitates adult life.
Some societies without competitive play.
Toys made by children or by parents.
‘Legitimate peripheral participation’ (Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger).
Schools not created for ‘education’ but for socialisation.
Western psychological theories on stages
Western models often don't capture alternative patterns.
Some societies, for example, have 'DQ's (measures of motor development) that are 1.4 to 1.8 faster.
in both cases, ethnotheory about the nature of children & what children need leads to radically different childcare behaviour.
To give their children an idealised 'childhood.'
To recognise the child's 'potential' (innate) & guide realisation.
Instilling good habits, taste & self-discipline.
Child not 'responsible' until 20s.
Parents need to 'shield' child from demand to be competent.
co-sleeping allows parents' breathing & stimulation to help child regulate body.
In contrast, Western babies often carried horizontally.
Looking at care-giver, not the world.
Has it's own vehicle, & no contact with caregiver's body.
in study, in 50% of societies, mothers co-sleep; 16% with both parents.
former child soldier
Western ethnotheories, especially professional ones, tend to see difference as 'deficit.'
But you, who are wise, must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have some experience of it.
Several of our Young People were formerly brought up at the colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your sciences; but, when they came back to us they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counselors; they were totally good for nothing.
We are, however, not the less oblig'd by your kind Offer, tho' we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take care of their Education; instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.
Collective chiefs to College of William & Mary
in contrast, an evolutionary & anthropological perspective would suggest a new equilibrium could form, producing a distinctive 'human nature.'
a distinctive 'developmental niche' would transmit effects to the body, brain & behaviour.
Developmental consequences of a social niche
Mead studied adolescence in Samoa.
Argued that the passage from childhood to adult was smooth and seamless, primarily because nothing hidden from children, and they emerged with clear identity in a monocultural world.
Biological event, but not all aspects coincide in all societies.
Puberty for most girls starts at 10 or 11, for boys a bit later.
The point is not just that culture matters, but how it matters?
Age-grading is variable & has important consequences.
(such as segregation, separation & infantilisation)
Infants & children are designed to adapt.
(but some developmental pathways highly canalised)
In spite of variation, childcare often very strongly moralised.
(and in the process can become quite radical & stressful)
Youth suicide in indigenous communities
In Pikangikum, the suicide rate is 20 times the Canadian national average.
Alcohol abuse, petrol sniffing & domestic violence creates inter-generational cycles of cause and effect.
If a community is already fragile, social tragedy can have rippling effects.
Is adolescence a 'culture-bound syndrome'?
'Storm & stress' model not universal
Severe age stratification
the emergence of child-centric family
'Hard' v 'Soft'
focus on vigilance, obedience & respect compared to focus on equality, realising potential & negotiation
To understand cultural variation, we have to examine enculturation (childhood).
-Bronislaw Malinowski, “Parenthood – The Basis of Social Structure” (1930)
The anthropologist remains unmoved even when faced with the most shocking, dangerous and ominous signs of youthful moral decay, with revolts of children against parents, with such symptoms as “petting parties” and increasing divorce. He teaches us that such things have been before and that they have passed without having killed or poisoned the soul of mankind. And in this lies the comfort of anthropology to the wise conservative. The die-hard who despairs or loses his head and temper in planning all sorts of repressive and reactionary measures of retrogression is beyond consolation, or the reach of any serious argument either.