Anthropology 392: Special Topics

Anthropology of Childhood

University of Dayton, Winter 2008

TTh 3-415pm, St. Joseph’s Hall Rm 13



Prof. Kristen Cheney

                                                                                   Office Hours:

Phone: 229-3695                                                                                                            Wed 1-6pm   St. Joseph Room 405                                                                                                             & by appt


OBJECTIVES: This course will acquaint students with the diversity of ways that childhood is perceived, defined, and experienced by children of various cultures around the world. The study of differing experiences of childhoods has emerged as an important subfield of anthropology in recent years. While early research on childhood tended to focus on children as objects of socialization through, for example, cross-cultural comparison of child-rearing practices, the emergent field of childhood studies critiques the singular concept of 'childhood' itself through a political-economic examination of its construction as a stage of human development. Childhood studies also examine children as social agents in their own right. This course will accordingly explore these issues and their implications for public policy as well as everyday lives of children and their adult interlocutors. We will critically examine topics of contemporary concern about children and childhood throughout the course.

REQUIRED TEXTS: Available at the UD bookstore

Cheney, Kristen. Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development. University of Chicago Press (2007)

Gottlieb, Alma. The Afterlife is Where We Come From: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa. University of Chicago Press (2003)

Lareau, Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. University of California Press (2003)

Other readings available in PDF format through WebCT: log in at



PARTICIPATION & ATTENDANCE: Completion of all readings for the day they are assigned and active class participation are essential to passing the class. This class requires you to engage closely with the reading material, so the more you put into the class, the more you’ll get out of it! Your preparedness and enthusiasm in discussions will help determine your participation grade.

I take attendance at each class. You must attend the entire session to receive credit for having attended. I make no distinction between excused and unexcused absences. Each student is allowed FOUR (4) absences, for whatever reason. After that, 10 points are deducted from your final grade for each absence. Please plan your time accordingly to account for absences due to unexpected illnesses and emergencies. Forging signatures on the sign-in sheet constitutes cheating and will result in an automatic ‘F’ for the class, for both offenders.

Participation and attendance make up ten percent (10%) of your final grade.


ASSIGNMENTS: These are designed to show you how you can use anthropology as a tool for understanding childhood cross-culturally. They will assess your knowledge of key anthropological concepts covered in class, and your ability to apply them to the case material.

Completion of course requirements is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a good grade. You are expected to complete all assignments by the due dates stated on the syllabus or in class. It is your responsibility to obtain class notes and assignments from fellow students (not the instructor) when absent. All work is due in print (no e-mailed assignments), by the due date. NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED! In addition, you cannot ‘make up’ assignments or class activities.

This class involves challenging reading and a high standard of written and spoken expression. If you need assistance with reading and writing or disability accommodations, please see me and contact The Write Place/LEAD Program, 23 Roesch Library: Students requiring special services or arrangements because of hearing, visual, physical, learning, or other disability should discuss their needs with me, his/her counselor, and the LEAD Program immediately so we can make any arrangements necessary to accommodate your learning experience.


Presentations: You will be expected to report on a chapter of the Gottlieb and Lareau books. You will be provided with prompts and instructions in class.

Short Papers: You will be expected to write a short essay on each of the Gottlieb and Lareau books. You will be provided with prompts and instructions in class.

Film Responses*: You will also write similar responses for your choice of two (2) of the class films shown on WebCT/Flyer TV. Film responses should critically address intersections between the films, readings, and class discussions, making analyses and asking questions where appropriate. To do this adequately, they should be 350-500 words in length. These are to be brought to class on the day of the same class session in which the corresponding film is to be discussed (see Class Schedule below). You will use them to help facilitate class discussions.

***Please note that you should respond critically to the content. Avoid summarizing the films and focus instead on creating an analytical point of view on the topics. ***

Discussion Facilitation: Each of you will take a turn leading our discussion on one of the readings. I will pass around a sign-up sheet and post it to the course website.

Research Project: For this course, you will conduct library research and write a research paper in correspondence with the section on children in difficult circumstances. You will write individual papers but work in groups to present your chosen topic to the class. More details to follow…



All written work will be evaluated for its analytical content, the strength and effectiveness of the argument, appropriate use of sources, organization, clarity, and skill in writing. Written work should include clear communication and logic, an analytical effort, and relevance to the course material – though I do encourage you to make analytical connections between course material and current events, personal experiences, etc.

All written work should be typed in 10-12 point font (no courier), double-spaced, 1-inch margins. Spelling and grammar count! It is therefore advisable that you compose your responses in Word, run SpellCheck and proofread. The website contains links to writing and style manuals, as well as a list of some common errors.

The total possible points for each assignment are listed below.


















Research topic

4/8- 4/15




Gottlieb Essay





Lareau Essay





Research topic




Film/Event Responses

2 @ 50 pts each




Discussion Facilitation

Lead one group discussion on a chosen book




Attendance and Class Participation









Students are expected to exercise academic honesty and integrity. Violations such as cheating and plagiarism will result in disciplinary action that may include recommendation for dismissal from UD. I will not hesitate to fail students caught cheating, plagiarizing, or copying others’ work.



Readings: Come to class having read the assigned reading, and always bring your assigned readings to class! Those without books may be asked to leave and receive an absence for the day.


Discussions: This class will be conducted mainly as a seminar, meaning that lectures will be limited. Instead, we will develop the main concepts of the class through discussion. Hence the importance of regular attendance, participation, and preparedness. Be sure to bring your books to refer to in discussion; those unprepared to participate in discussion may be asked to leave without receiving credit.


Classroom Conduct: Throughout this course, we will be learning to apply the tools of anthropological theory to understanding childhood cross-culturally. This sometimes involves moving from our own cultural contexts (and comfort zones) to entertain other points of view. Here are a few ground rules to help class run smoothly.

·         Please be punctual and ready to start class at the appointed time. Anyone arriving late will not be allowed to sign the attendance sheet.

·         Turn your cell phone and other noise-makers off or to vibrate during class time.

·         Laptops are allowed in class FOR ANTHROPOLOGY PURPOSES ONLY! It is unacceptable to use laptops for any other purpose, including surfing the web, instant-messaging or emailing, or doing work for another class. If this occurs, I will ban all laptops from the classroom for the rest of the semester.

·         Please stay in your seat unless otherwise instructed. Use the restroom prior to or after class. If you just can’t wait, please raise your hand and ask for permission before leaving the room.

·         You can bring something to eat or drink, but please be discreet about it. If your chomping becomes disruptive, I might ask you to discontinue. Be sure to clean up after yourself at the end of class.

·         ASK QUESTIONS! Please raise your hand when you want to participate in discussion. Be courteous to others and give them your attention when they are talking. Let’s create an atmosphere where everyone feels safe stating their opinions. If you are disruptive or disrespectful to the professor or other students, you will be asked to leave and will not receive credit for that day’s work.


WebCT: WebCT will be your main link to course materials and information. Use WebCT to find the syllabus and supplemental readings (those not found in your books), print lecture notes, watch films, post assignments, and find links to helpful websites. You should therefore refer to the course site before contacting me or other classmates with questions. Your patience as I develop the course site will be much appreciated.


Email: You are responsible for all material emailed to you. I will send information (such as syllabus revisions and assignments!) to your UD accounts, so make sure your UD account is current (check at, it has available space for messages, and that you check it regularly. If you lose something sent to you by email, you should get another copy on WebCT (if available) or from someone else in class.

If you have questions or concerns about the class and/or your performance in it, I encourage you to come see me during my office hours. This is much more helpful and timely than e-mail. I will answer emails whenever I am in my office next. Please note that I do not answer e-mail after hours or on weekends.










INTRO TO CHILDHOOD STUDIES: Brief overview of scholarly research on children and childhood. Emphasis on historical development of the concept of childhood as a distinctive phase of life.

TU 1/8

Bluebond-Langner & Korbin - Challenges & Opportunities in the Anthropology of Childhood (PDF)


TH 1/10

Levine - Ethnographic Studies of Childhood (PDF)






HISTORICIZING & THEORIZING CHILDHOOD: Review of the contemporary literature rethinking the idea of childhood. Emphasis on historical development of the concept of childhood, and to children’s agency and political-economic approaches to understanding diverse childhoods.

TU 1/15

Postman - When There Were No Children (PDF)


TH 1/17

James, Jenks, & Prout - Theorizing Childhood (PDF)





TU 1/22

Cheney - Introduction: The Role of Ugandan Child Citizens…


TH 1/24

Cheney - Ch. 1: Global Rights Discourses...






CHILDREN'S RIGHTS (in preparation for UD Human Rights Week 2/3-8):In this section, students will become familiar with debates about children’s rights and its criticism for setting children’s rights apart from other human rights, thus producing protectionist rather than empowering possibilities for children. Focus on local consequences of universalist rights discourses.

TU 1/29

Ennew - Future Generations… (PDF)


TH 1/31

Majka & Majka - Child Farm Workers in US Agriculture (PDF)






STAGES OF CHILDHOOD: Students will critically examine the arbitrary construction of developmental stages involved in childhood and their significance in various cultural contexts. Discussions of cross-cultural significance of concepts such as infancy, adolescence, and ‘youth’.

TU 2/5

Gottlieb Part I: Studying Babies, Studying the Beng


TH 2/7

Gottlieb Part I: Studying Babies, Studying the Beng





TU 2/12

Gottlieb Part II (Chs. 4-10 assigned individually)


TH 2/14

Gottlieb Ch. 11: From Wrugbe to Poverty





TU 2/19

Durham - Youth and Social Practice (PDF)


TH 2/21


Gottlieb Essay Due           Project Work





UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S IDENTITY & AGENCY: This section will engage questions of children’s competency and social agency. Emphasis on scholarship that stresses children’s engagement with their immediate social worlds.

TU 2/26

Cheney Ch. 3


TH 2/28

Cheney Ch. 4





TU 3/4

James - Giving Voice to Children's Voices (PDF)


TH 3/6

Cheney Ch. 5






GENDER, RACE & CLASS: This section will critically examine the intersections of childhood as a social variable with other social variables such as gender, race, and class. Emphasis on the consequences of these intersections for children’s experiences.

TU 3/11

Thorne - Do Boys & Girls Have Different Cultures? (PDF)

Film: Of Hopscotch & Little Girls

TH 3/13

Lareau Ch.1 (Skim Ch. 2)





3/14 - 3/24









TU 3/25

Lareau Chs. 3-11 (assigned individually)


TH 3/27

Lareau Ch. 12: Power & Limits of Social Class

Film: School Colors




TU 4/1

Cheney Ch. 2

Lareau Essay Due

TH 4/3


Project Work





CASE STUDIES: CHILDREN IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES: This section will address several topics of contemporary concern about what has been termed in global aid and relief discourses as ‘children in difficult circumstances’. Examples include child laborers, soldiers, and street children. Emphasis on amelioration of these situations: How might we empower children to change these circumstances for their own betterment?

TU 4/8

Nieuwenhuys - The Paradox of Child Labor… (PDF)


W 4/9

Stander Symposium


TH 4/10

Panter-Brick - Street Children... (PDF)





TU 4/15

Rosen - Child Soldiers… (PDF)


TH 4/17

Cheney Ch. 6





TU 4/22

Cheney Ch. 7

Film: War/dance

TH 4/24


Wrap-up discussion




TU 4 /29


Project Essay Due