Anthropology of Childhood

Spring 2005



Prof. Eric Silverman                                  email erics

Tues 1:00-3:50                                        phone 658-4889

110 Asbury Hall                                       office: 307 Asbury


Office Hours: Posted outside my door, and of course by appointment.


Class Description


This course is a collaborative seminar that will explore recent works in anthropology and related disciplines concerning childhood and parenting around the world, including the US.  Some of our topics will include:

      -childhood in the Polynesian society of Tonga,

      -childraising in a Papua New Guinea society,

      -childhood in an African society,

      -the development of children’s toys and things in the United States,

      -contemporary American fathering,

      -children’s stories,

      -social class, schooling, education in New York City,

      -analyzing the Disney film The Little Mermaid,

      -and so forth.



Course Requirements


I expect you to attend each class and to participate actively in our discussions of the texts.  This class is a seminar: it demands intensive discussion, debate, and collective analysis.  You must read the texts and come to class with written notes (e.g., summaries, queries, comments, criticisms, and questions).  Class participation accounts for 20% of your final grade.  If you do not regularly speak intelligently each class, then you will be unable to receive a final grade in the A-range.


For many classes, I will assign a few of you to prepare written study-guides, questions, and related information--ideally utilizing scholarly information from other sources (the web, and even the library!)--that will enhance our discussions.





Your final grade will be determined from the following:


Test 1                              %10

Test 2                              %10

Parenting magazine analysis         %10

Children’s books analysis           %15

Disney film analysis                %15

Class participation                 %20

Final examination                   %20



Course Readings


We will read and discuss the following books, which are available at Fine Print Bookstore in Greencastle.


Helen Morton. 1996. Becoming Tongan: An Ethnography of Childhood.  This book discusses the socialization of children on Tonga, a Polynesian nation.


Alma Gottlieb.  2004.  The Afterlife is Where We Came From: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa.  A study of babies among the Beng, a West African culture, where infants are said to be reincarnated from a prior life.


Sharon Stephens, ed.  1995.  Children and the Politics of Culture.  This anthology explores the plight of children, and the concept of children’s rights, in often tragic circumstances around the world.  It is not a happy book.


Ellen handler Spitz.  1999.  Inside Picture Books.  A terrific psychoanalytic investigation of the meaning of classic children’s picture books, such as Goodnight Moon.  Lot’s of fun!


Adrie Kusserow. 2004. American Individualisms: Child Rearing and Social Class in Three Neighborhoods.  A study of how children are taught subtly different types of individualism depending on their social class; focuses on Manhattan and Queens, in New York City.


Richard K. Reed. 2005. Birthing Fathers: The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth.  While there are lots of studies of how modern birthing practices effect mothers and children, this book is perhaps the first to focus on fatherhood.



Course Schedule


Please note: This schedule will absolutely change--you must be flexible!  Also, we will discuss at the end of each class the readings for the next class in greater detail, specifying what should be done for preparation, who will make outline presentations, and so forth.



Feb 1.  No class.  (Your instructor will be attending a conference and presenting a paper on fatherhood studies in Melanesia.)  Your task, instead, is to read the syllabus carefully.  Then I want you to do three tasks:

   1.  Complete the birth and infancy survey; print it out from Blackboard.

   2.  Pick a Disney movie (but not The Little Mermaid) and watch it before Feb 15.  (I want you to tell me your movie in class on Feb 8.)  You can find a copy of the movie at DePauw, or the Greencastle Public Library, or Blockbuster, or buy a cheap copy via eBay, whatever.  Be sure to pick one that interests you, as you will be writing an essay about the film.  You must watch the movie once before March 8, and then again the week after Spring Break.

   3.  Find an American parenting magazine.  Obtain a copy.  There are probably some in Kroger, Wal-Mart, or perhaps you know a recent parent who has a magazine.  If you can’t find one, then ask someone you know who lives near a large Borders or Barnes and Noble to send you one.  Search the web, too.  You will analyze this magazine in an essay.

   4.  Find out from your parents or other kin the titles of two of your favorite childhood picture books; obtain copies of both. You must tell me the titles of your two books in class on Feb 8.

   5.  Start reading Becoming Tongan.


Feb 8.  To begin, I’ll present some general ideas on the anthropology of childhood and parenting.  Then we will discuss chps 1-3 in Becoming Tongan.  I want you to prepare written notes on (i) what you found most interesting, troubling, important, etc.  Then we will view and discuss 2 short films by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, First Days in the Life of a New Guinea Baby (15 minutes) and the very famous Bathing babies in Three Cultures (13 minutes).


Feb 15.   This week I will first lecture on Iatmul (Papua New Guinea) childhood.  Then we will continue our discussion of Becoming Tongan (chps 4-6); bring written notes.  Finally, we will finishing viewing Bateson and Mead’s short films: Karba=s First Years: A Study of Balinese Childhood (20 minutes) and Childhood Rivalry in Bali and New Guinea (17 minutes).


Feb 22.  I’ll start by discussing the history of American childhood material culture.  Then we will finish discussing Becoming Tongan.  Finally, I’ll offer my own analysis of a parenting magazine, and give you a guide on how to analyze a magazine.  Your analysis is due no later than 10:00am on Friday, Mar 11.


Feb 28.  Test 1.  Begin discussing The Afterlife is Where We Came From.


Mar 8.   We will continue to discuss Afterlife.  Then, we will view the Disney film, The Little Mermaid.


Mar 15.  We will first finish discussing Afterlife.  Then we will discuss various essays on The Little Mermaid.  You should use these essays as a model for your own analysis of your Disney movie, which is due no late than 5:00 on Wed, April 13.  I will place the essays on Blackboard reserve; they will include:

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Richards, “Room to Dance: Girls’ Play and ‘The Little Mermaid.’”

Dundes and Dundes. “The Trident and the Fork: Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ as a male construction of an Electral fantasy.”

Sells, “’Where Do the Mermaids Stand?’: Voice and Body in The Little Mermaid

Bendix, “Seashell Bra and Happy End: Disney’s Transformations
of ‘The Little Mermaid’.”

Tanner, et al., Images of Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films.


Mar 22.  Spring Break.


Mar 29.  I’ll discuss some ideas relevant to your analysis of the Disney film.  We also will discuss the beginning of Inside Picture Books. Use Spitz’s ideas, and those of some other authors, to analyze your two children’s stories.  Due no later than 10:00am on Fri May 6.


Apr 5.   Finish Inside Picture books.  Watch a Pokemon film.


Apr 12.  American Individualisms.  Class presentations from Pikachu’s Global Adventure.


Apr 19.  American Individualisms.  Swap outlines and picture books.


Apr 26.  Test 2.  Birthing Fathers.


May 3.   Birthing Fathers.


May 10.  Children and the Politics of Culture.


Final Examination, Tuesday, May 17, 1:00-4:00pm.




Supplemental information.


1.  This schedule is, again, subject to change, depending on the pace of class discussions.  The dates for all tests and assignments is also tentative.


2.  Familiarize yourself with the last days to drop courses with a grade of W, last days to change from P-F to a grade, and so forth.


3.  Incomplete grades will be given only for medical reasons or similar extenuating circumstances; refer to the DePauw catalog for the university policy.


4.  You should feel welcome to chat with me about the course and anthropology.


5.  You should familiarize yourself with the ARC, and use it for issues pertaining to time managements, writing, and so forth.


6.  You should familiarize yourself with DePauw=s policies regarding various forms of harassment and assault, sexual and otherwise.


7.  You should make yourself aware of the existence of the Counseling Center, what it has to offer, and why it would benefit you to visit them in certain situations.


8.  If you drink, don't drive.  If you have sex, do it safely.  In this regard, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with related sexual and reproductive health resources at the University--where to obtain birth control such as condoms, where to seek professional and trained reproductive council, where to report instances of sexual violence such as rape, what constitutes consensual sexual relations, and so forth.  While I am not trained myself to discuss with you any of these issues, I can and would gladly direct you in strict confidentiality to appropriate resources and people.