106a. The Anthropology of Childhood by David Lancy


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The Anthropology of Childhood is a monumental work of scholarship. Professor David Lancy has combed the ethnographic record with an eye to understanding the range of experiences of children around the world in different types of societies - hunter-gatherers, subsistence farmers and herders, pastoral nomads, and modern industrialised societies, particularly in the West and in East Asia. The author also considers juveniles of other primates, such as chimpanzees and bonobos.

I consider it to be so rich in content, and so important, that I am doing my longest episode ever, splitting this up into nine (!) individual recordings. Otherwise I would be talking continuously for over six hours straight.

The reason I think this is so worth studying is that it provides us with insight into what we take for granted. Culturally, we are all fish that can't see the water that surrounds us. By looking at a broad survey of human and other primate societies we can see what we might have thought to be cultural and yet is in fact a human universal (such as family drama or boys forming gangs); and, on the other hand, behaviours that we may have thought to be part of human nature but are actually specific to a very restricted set of cultures (such as parent-child play or - importantly! - teaching).

The material in this many-part episode includes a number of difficult themes, since unfamiliar societies often do things in a way that violates our moral sense. However, I am not interested in judging the morality or not of other cultures' practices, but simply want to know about them and understand them. For this reason, I might talk about some shocking things in an apparently blasé or rather academically detached fashion - not because there are no practices mentioned that I consider distasteful, but because I am not interested in discussing these issues. Please bear this in mind when listening.

Enjoy the episode.



89. The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond; 99. China's Examination Hell by Ichisada Miyazaki

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