Washington State University                      Barry S. Hewlett (hewlett@vancouver.wsu.edu)

Spring 2008                                                Office: MMC 202R Office Hours: TTH 11-12.


Anthropology 302--Childhood and Culture (K)


This course provides an anthropological view of infancy, childhood and adolescence.  An anthropological approach provides a holistic view of the child in that the roles of culture, history, biology, environment and political economy are considered in explaining and understanding children's behavior and children's views of the world. Anthropological studies of children around the world and selected ethnic groups in the U.S. are utilized to evaluate Western theories of children's motor, mental, social, emotional and moral development. 


The course aims to: 1) place Western theories of child development (i.e., physical, cognitive, and social-emotional-moral development) in comparative context; 2) provide students with a framework for understanding and evaluating childhood in any cultural context; 3) demonstrate how culture impacts our views and practices towards children; 4) identify relationships between biology, natural and social environments, political economy and culture that influence children's' development and caregiving; and, 5) provide students with cross-cultural methods and theories for evaluating the directions and future of infant, child and adolescent development.  Holistic ethnographic studies will be utilized to emphasize the diversity of forces that influence human development. 


Required Texts:

Intimate Fathers by Barry Hewlett

 At Home in the Street: Street Children of Northeast Brazil by Tobias Hecht




3 Exams

150 points (3 @ 50 points each)


10 points

Birth and Bonding Assignment

10 points

Reflections assignments/quizzes

20 points

Short Field Study

20 points


210 points


The exams consist of multiple choice and short answer essay questions.  The exams are based upon the lectures, discussions, films, and readings.


Two or three times during the semester students will be asked to reflect upon what they have learned in the last two to three weeks. These are one-to-two page papers (can be hand written) where students consider what they have learned in relation to their personal life, how the class links to their major, or their understanding of self and others. These will be worth five points each.


Pop quizzes on reading material due for the class period are always possible. They can be worth one-to-five points.


The cross-cultural birth and bonding assignment is a project in which students select a culture from the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) and conduct a study of birth and bonding in that culture. Students will be trained how to use HRAF.


Each student will conduct a brief  “field” study that involves interviewing children or adults about their views and perceptions of children. The results of the study need to be discussed in the context of topics discussed in class. The paper should be no longer than four double-spaced pages and students. Students will also provide a five minute oral presentation on the results of their study.


Disability Accommodation

Accommodations may be available if you need them in order to fully participate in this class because of a disability. Accommodations may take some time to implement so it is critical that you contact Disability Services as soon as possible.  All accommodations must be approved through Disability Services, located in the Student Resource Center on the Lower Level of VSSC.  (360) 546-9138


Academic integrity

Cheating in any form or plagiarism will not be tolerated. Plagiarism means using other people’s work and claiming them to be your own. The first time you are caught plagiarizing any portion of an assignment you will receive an “F” on the assignment and a possible failing grade in the course. Any student caught cheating on any assignment will be given an “F” for the course. Infractions will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and entered into your permanent student record. Two such reports may results in expulsion from the University.


Course Outline


8  Introduction, discuss syllabus and anthropological approach to children

10 What is culture and how does culture influence middle-class Euro-American views of children?

Film: Caterpillar Moon

READ: Hewlett, Chapts. 1-3

15 Overview of Aka culture as related to father-child relations

READ: Hewlett, Chapts 4-6

17 Attachment theory and fathers, factors that impact father-child relations

READ: Hewlett, Chapt. 7

22 The anthropological perspective to childhood, application to father study, updated studies of father-child relations

READ: Hewlett, Chapts. 8-9

24 Who cares for infants and young children—mother primacy or multiple care? What is cooperative breeding?

READ: S. Hrdy, “Comes the child before the man” and Konner, “Hunter-gatherer infancy” on instructor’s website

29 Evolutionary approaches to children: parental investment theory, inclusive fitness theory, parent-offspring conflict theory, Trivers-Willard hypothesis, life history theory

READ: Wikipedia descriptions of these topics

31 Evolutionary approaches to children continued, why does childhood exist, prepare for exam

READ: Mardu children article on instructor’s website



7 Social-emotional development in children, introduction to attachment theory, cross-cultural studies of attachment

READ: “Internal Working Models) (listed as Kinship IWM; start on page 9) paper on instructor’s website

Bretherton, Inge. The origins of attachment theory

Distribute Birth and Bonding Assignment

12 Birth, bonding, breast-feeding in cross-cultural perspective

DUE: Birth and Bonding Assignment

14 Cosleeping and infant crying

READ: Morelli, Gilda A. et al. 1992. “Cultural Variation in Infants’ Sleeping Arrangements: Question of Independence. “Developmental Psychology, 28(4) 604-613.

21 Watch videos “Quantum Documentary (do not need to watch sleep videos at end)” and “Recent Bedsharing Interview” with Dr. Jim McKenna at the following website: http://www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/index.html

26 Weaning and daycare in cross-cultural perspective

READ: Fouts et al.  2001. “Weaning and the nature of early childhood interactions among the Bofi Foragers in Central Africa”. Human Nature, 12, 27-46.

28 Culture as a provider of settings for child development; the developmental niche; cultural adaptationist views of children: John and Beatrice Whiting, Robert LeVine, Charles Super and Sara Harkness

Distribute field assignment


4 Cultural models of childhood, emic and etic approaches to the study of childhood, Fulani views of children

FILM: The Fulani

READ: Hecht, introduction

S. Harkness and C. Super “Themes and Variations: Parental Ethnotheories in Western Cultures” at:



11-15 Spring Break

19 Social-cognitive development in children, Vygotsky and the social-historical school

FILM: Karen Peterson on Vygotsky

21 Mechanisms and processes of acquiring culture in childhood

READ: Hecht, Chapt. 2

“Aka transmission” on instructor’s webpage (under Anth 469)

Cole, M. “Cross-cultural and Historical Perspectives on the Consequences of Education” at:


26 Is adolescence a cultural universal? A developmental stage? What is child culture”

FILM: Margaret Mead

READ: Hecht, Chapts. 3-4

28 Street children

READ; Hecht, Chapt. 5

FILM: Marcelo Diversi video


1 Child abuse and neglect in comparative perspective

READ: Hecht, Chapts. 6-7

3 Adolescence rituals and initiations

FILM: The Sambia

8 Political economy of childhood, exploitation of children, global policy on children

FILM: Globalization and Children

10 The future of human childhoods

15 Discussion of lessons learned, review for exam


22 DUE: Short oral presentation of field project

24 Summary and overview



Childhood and Culture


Field Assignment (20 points)

DUE: Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Select one of the following projects:


2         Interview 3-5 parents you know about their parental ideologies.  If you select a couple, interview each parent separately (alone).  If possible, try to focus on one age range of children--i.e., parental ideologies for babies, young children or adolescents. What things do they want for their children (parental goals)?  What are the most important things (shelter, food, social-emotional support, education, etc.) parents (may want to distinguish between what mother, father, grandparents, and others) provide to their children? Why did you have children?  What is the most difficult thing about being a parent? Did you know much about being a parent before you had your first child?  What is a good/bad parent?  What is a good/bad child?  What contexts of childcare do they enjoy most? 

3         Interview 5-7 children/adolescents of similar age about their "culture".  How do they perceive their parents?  What are the most important things parents (may want to distinguish between fathers and mothers or others) do/provide?  What do parents provide you? Who are the most important people in your life right now? Why? Who are your best friends? Why is it important to have friends?  What have been the most important events in your life up to now?  What is a good/bad parent?  Do you want to have children? If so, why?





1. Explain to the parent or child the nature of your project before you begin. Obtain their consent.

2. You must obtain parents' permission before interviewing any child.

3.  Inform the parent or child that they can decide to stop the interview at any time and that there are no consequences if they do not complete or want to stop the interview.

4.  Use fictional names for parents or children when you write the paper.


Write a 3-5 page paper on your project (typed and double-spaced).  The paper should have the following sections: A) introduction--describe what you did (about one or two paragraphs); B) results--summarize what you found, diversity and uniformity in responses (two pages; be sure to use interview data to support your statements); and, C) link your project to some aspect of class (about two or three paragraphs).  Try to link to discussions of nurturing versus nutured childhood, cultural construction of childhood, emic perspective, role of parents in shaping child’s personality. Most of you will describe Anglo-American parental ideologies so you should be able to discuss whether your results are similar or different from parental ideologies discussed in class.





Primary modes of subsistence:_______________________

Size of living groups:_______________________________


Birth and Bonding

Human Relations Area Files Study

Examine HRAF Codes 843-844 and 852-854

Answer each of the following and give a brief quote from the ethnography to support your answer.


1.What position is the mother in when she gives birth?

1)       squat

2) sit

3) stand

4) lying down

9) no data

2. Mother gives birth:

1) in hut/house

2) outside of hut/house in public

3) outside of village/camp

9) no data

3. How many people attend the birth?

1) alone

2) one other

3) few (2-5)

4) many (>5)

9) no data

4. How are they related to mother?

1) mother

2) mother-in-law

3) sister

*list all relatives mentioned_______________________________________

5. Are only females at the birth? (except under unusual circumstances)

1) yes

2) no

*list any conditions  under which men attend_______________________

6. Is the father present?

1) father presence required

2) father usually present

3) father seldom present (but allowed)

4) father never present (not allowed)

9) no data

7. Father actively participates?

1) yes

2) no

9) no data

*list all things father does during birth______________________________

8. Does the father sleep with mother and infant after the birth?

1) taboos against father sleeping in same bed

2) father usually sleeps in bed with mother and children, and no

       taboos mentioned about just after birth

3) father usually does not sleep with mother (own bed or room)

9) no data

9. What happens immediately after birth?

1) baby given to mother

2) caretakers take away to wash/clean

3) ritual activities by others with infant

9) no data

10. How long is it before mother is expected to resume regular subsistence role?

1) same day

2) few days (1-2)

3) some days (3-5)

4) many days (>5)

9) no data

11. Does the A)mother B)father have food taboos associated with the pregnancy? (Two codes)

1) no food taboos

2) a few (1-2), but of foods rarely in the diet

3) a few (1-2), but of food commonly in the diet

4) numerous (>3), and foods common in the diet

9) no data

*list taboo foods for A)mother________________ B)father________________

12. Do women other than mother nurse the infant?

1) never

2) under special circumstances (mother's milk slow to come in)

3) not unusual

9) no data

13. When does the first breast feeding occur?

1) after infant bathed, rubbed, wrapped

2) after mother is positioned

3) after ritual, cord cut, confession

4) soon as mother is able

5) when "real" milk appears

6) more than 24 hours

9) no data

14. Sleeping arrangement of mother and infant.

1) infant in cradle

2) on separate mat

3) not in mother's bed

4) infant in mother's sleeping place, in body contact

9) no data

15. Are there any statements about the value or danger of colostrum?


16. Are there any statements to suggest that not all women are able to breast-feed?________________________________________________________________

17. Any statements as to whether a small or large baby is preferred?


18. What is done with the placenta?______________________________________

19. Any other interesting comments about childbirth that you noted?