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The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  253 ratings  ·  29 reviews
The raising of children, their role in society, and the degree to which family and community is structured around them, varies quite significantly around the world. The Anthropology of Childhood provides the first comprehensive review of the literature on children from a distinctly anthropological perspective. Bringing together key evidence from cultural anthropology, hist ...more
Paperback, 488 pages
Published November 13th 2008 by Cambridge University Press (first published November 1st 2008)
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Feb 28, 2015 rated it liked it
There are some really interesting anecdotes and explanations in this book that have opened me up to both the wide variation and the distinct similarity between humans of different cultures and times.

What I expressly did not like about this book was the author's thesis and implicit assumption that "successful" is a concept that translates across cultures. For example, there's a whole thing about schooling, in which the author argues (again kind of implicitly) that western schooling is wrong/bad
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
A detailed literature review of the culture of childhood around the world, and in both past and current cultures. Turns many EuroAmerican-middle-class assumptions about what is "natural" (or in some cases, even "good" though the author sensibly does not make value judgments for the most part) for raising children upside down.

Some themes I found particularly fascinating:

-Children from about ages 5 onward are often eager to help care for babies and "little kids". (I've seen this with my own youn
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unique view of how children are viewed and treated in many cultures from ancient to contemporary. Well-documented but written in a lively style. Fascinating and thought-provoking. I could see this book being a major asset to anyone writing speculatuive fiction and wishing to depict a society different from our current one (fetchingly called WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democracies by the author). A few very well-chosen illustrations.
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: parents, midwives, nurses, labor and delivery nurses, obstetricians, doctors, school teachers,
This book puts parenting and child-rearing into perspective, to put it mildly. A must-read for anyone who is wary of modern-day parenting advice, who thinks that our ancestors had all the answers, or who thinks they know anything about childhood and parenting at all. This book will change the way you think on a fundamental level. Read it, already.
Tamsin Barlow
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"LIKE many parents, I have a particular book I like to give to friends when they announce they’re pregnant for the first time. It is the book I read early in my wife’s pregnancy, blurting out passages about everything from birth, baby minding and child rearing to education, work and discipline. But you probably won’t find it in the baby section of your local bookstore. “The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings,” by David F. Lancy, is an academic title — but it’s possibly the ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, reviewed

Its thoroughness is the only critique I can muster, as sometimes this book is very detailed, chock-full of examples from across the globe. Mind you, it might be detailed, but it’s always readable, also for those not initiated in anthropology – this could easily serve as an introductory textbook. Lancy does a great job explaining everything, and each chapter can stand on its own. As a result, there is some repetition and overlap.

These minor issues are easily remedied by the reader: if some p
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
For a supposedly scholarly text, it is dripping with prejudice. Judgement prevails against Western parenting practices. Contradictions abound, and the author falls time and again to the naturalistic fallacy. Wide, sweeping statements (the "cheerful and optimistic" children of a foraging community versus the "epidemic of psychiatric disorders" in WEIRD societies) are made with a shocking arrogance (to me, as a scholar), but it was the page on preterm birth that made me stop reading. I admit, as a ...more
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up after reading this review: "The Only Baby Book You'll Ever Need". While I don't know if I'd go that far, I will say that as a newish parent, I found this anthropology text fascinating. It is clearly extremely thoroughly researched (there are nearly 100 pages of works cited), and is generally a pretty friendly read (for this academic who is not very familiar with anthropology). In it you learn a lot about how different societies - from the "Third" to "First" world - deal wit ...more
Jan 28, 2016 rated it liked it
A fascinating mix of research, anecdata (or as they seem to be called in anthropology jargon, "field studies"), almost-random asides and author opinions that give David Foster Wallace books a run for their footnote money, and thought provoking observations, The Anthropology of Childhood is a dense carnival of human experience. So much of what we assume to be true regarding children, it turns out, is not universal. The book spans topics from infanticide to child labor to adolescent coming-of-age ...more
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating comparative study of childhood around the world and across time. Challenges much of the dogma that surrounds child raising and the value of children in the West. The chapter on schooling was particular interesting for exploring how children learn and why so many children fail to learn in school (hint, it's almost a surprise that any learn at all, and children are usually far more autonomous learners, learning predominately through observation. To succeed in school, a huge amou ...more
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Found this a fascinating page turner, and if the author had stuck to observing rather than editorializing, I'd give it another star. But he seems blind to his own double standard, clearly being open-minded about the (sometimes horrifying) ways people raise kids in other cultures, while explicitly critiquing our own. ...more
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
phenomenal read! informative and well researched and cited. only complaint may be that the author's liberal bent sometimes gets the better of him, which didn't bother me in the slightest but may turn off others ...more
Lisa Lewis
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating. The authors delve into the minds and hearts of parents in our cultures and others. The book is research oriented, but is written for any interested reader.
Jim Robles
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific! I am inclined to agree with Peter Gray, Boston College, "If I were to assign just one book as required reading for student of child psychology, this would be it."

The treatments of conferral of personhood and play are luciferous. The Chapter 3 predictions of "famine and epidemic (p. 119) are dire and entirely believable. Reading this book it is pellucid where the ubiquitous misogyny in the classics (An educated woman p. 357 - 360, etc.) comes from.

The sections (Village Schools/Schooling
Stef Rozitis
DNF which is rare for me. I gave up around 175. I suffered. I tried. I was trying to force myself 5 pages a day but I don't need to add to my anger and my chores this way.

Surprisingly poor scholarship and very old-fashioned ideology to the point that I kept checking and rechecking the date of publication because it sounds like the sort of anthropology that was done before feminism or critical race perspectives etc. I do realise that all texts carry bias and that it's not always good to follow th
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, parenting
Much more academic than I was expecting, so I read it in bits starting in 2015 but some really interesting points are made. Like asking the question “Why do well-educated Euroamerican and Asian parents invest so much of their precious time in activity - children’s play - that parents elsewhere and throughout history have looked on as a welcome distraction, keeping children out of the way so they can do their work?” And noting that “the impact of maternal employment on child well being is negligi ...more
Thomas Fackler
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, anthropology
A superb examination of the diversity of cultural uses for children. I found those that powdered them for use as aphrodisiacs particularly interesting. All metagory aside, this text is a great way to better understand your fellow humans - or if you are an uplifted animal, better understand what you've just been set up for in the long run. ...more
Dana Schmidt
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at childhood across cultures and time. Caused me to challenge my assumptions multiple times. Although it is not amazingly organized or conclusive on its own it will cause you to think!
Hoimawati Talukdar
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My teacher suggested it and yes it's worth reading it. ...more
Mar 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lancy uses ethnographic data from different perspectives on childhood, particularly across different cultures. Lancy probes on children as agentive subject and their positionality in their society.
Feb 02, 2015 marked it as to-read
As seen in the New York Times . ...more
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Utterly fascinating. It is an Anthropology textbook, so don't expect beautifully-wrought prose, but content is very interesting! ...more
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I don't usually read textbooks for fun, but this one was absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend it to both parents and educators. Make sure to read the footnotes as they are a book themselves. ...more
Feb 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Fascinating to learn about how different cultures view and raise children. The title catches the spectrum of ways.
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazing read
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A very good compilation of cultural differences in how people view and treat their children. Very nice, straighforward layout.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
one part text book, one part critique of modern western childrearing. really interesting.
rated it it was amazing
May 08, 2017
Kyle Gibson
rated it it was amazing
May 27, 2019
rated it really liked it
Sep 05, 2015
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