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The Anthropology of Childhood

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  • 33 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 488 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.77 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521716031)

  • There was also a Hardback of this title but it is no longer available
  • Published December 2008

Replaced by 9781107420984

$44.00 (P)

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, history, and primate studies, it argues that our common understandings about children are narrowly culture-bound. Whereas dominant society views children as precious, innocent and preternaturally cute 'cherubs', Lancy introduces the reader to societies where children are viewed as unwanted, inconvenient 'changelings', or as desired but pragmatically commoditized 'chattels'. Looking in particular at family structure and reproduction, profiles of children's caretakers, their treatment at different ages, their play, work, schooling, and transition to adulthood, this volume provides a rich, interesting, and original portrait of children in past and contemporary cultures. A must-read for anyone interested in childhood.


1. Where do children come from?; 2. To make a child; 3. A child's worth; 4. It takes a village; 5. Making sense; 6. Marbles and morals; 7. His first goat; 8. Living in limbo; 9. How schools can raise property values; 10. Suffer the children.


"In this comprehensive and delightful book, Lancy weaves his encyclopedic knowledge of the field of childhood across cultures into a series of thought-provoking essays that capture the wide range of children's experience around the world. As he interprets the cultural meanings that organize their daily lives, he simultaneously performs a comprehensive cultural analysis of middle-class American childhood and parenting. This book is unique in that it will be of great value to scholars and their students across the fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and education, but also of great interest to parents and policy makers who want to see themselves and others more clearly." - Suzanne Gaskins, Professor of Psychology, Northeastern Illinois University

"Through his expansive integration of the anthropological literature, Lancy has moved the field forward towards a holistic and unified perspective on children and childhood. I can think of no other work that at once exemplifies such depth and breadth. This visionary focus joins theoretical perspectives heretofore considered disparate in a synthetic framework that redefines the anthropology of childhood." - John Bock, Professor of Anthropology, California State University

"In this work of stunning insight and signal importance, David Lancy frees us from constricted, culture-bound conceptions of childhood, illustrating the extraordinarily diverse forms that children's development has taken. By dismantling narrowly ethnocentric notions of what constitutes a normal childhood, he allows us to envision alternatives to the overpressured, overorganized, overcommercialized world that today's middle-class children inhabit." - Steven Mintz, Columbia University, author of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

"A wonderful, unique, and essential advance in our understanding of humankind. Anyone who cares about children (in fact, anyone who wants to understand their own life and modern society) should read this book." - Alan Fiske, Professor of Anthropology, Director, Center for Culture, Brain, and Development, University of California, Los Angeles

"David Lancy has produced a finely nuanced, beautifully written and comprehensive account of children’s lives and the meanings that adults give to childhood. Delightfully illustrated and drawing on insights from anthropology, psychology, sociology and history his book is essential for anyone interested in cross-cultural studies of childhood." - Dr. Heather Montgomery, Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies, The Open University

"What is it like to be a child in a culture very different from our own? What is it like to be a parent? David Lancy's fascinating book is essential reading for anyone who thinks there is only one proper way to rear a child. Parenting practices, we learn, vary tremendously from one culture to another, but children are pretty much the same the world around. Wherever they live and whatever chores they are assigned, children manage to find time to play with other children.' - Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike

"The Anthropology of Childhood's exhaustive literature review, careful cross-cultural examination of children, and synthetic analysis provide important insights into all aspects of childhood, as well as setting a new standard for scholarship on the subject." - Matt Bridges and John Bock, California State University Fullerton, Journal of Anthropological Research,

"This book draws on an impressive expanse of literature and sketches a picture of the diversity of childhood around the world.... Lancy effectively argues that a cross-cultural and holistic view of childhood is necessary and provokes the reader to question and reevaluate assumptions about childhood.... The Anthropology of Childhood will be a valuable addition to the classroom, exposing students to the variety of childhoods from around the world. It will also serve as an excellent reference for scholars of childhood, both within and, more importantly, outside of anthropology." - Courtney L. Meehan, Washington State University, American Journal of Human Biology

"David Lancy's new book is a welcome addition to the fast-growing literature on children's lives, bringing together ethnographic accounts of childhood from every region of the world, both past and present. It is a finely nuanced, beautifully written, and comprehensive account of children's lives, the meanings that adults give to childhood, the reasons why childhoods are so varied, and why the duties and expectations placed on children are so different." - Heather Montgomery, Open University, American Ethnologist

"I found The Anthropology of Childhood a pleasure to read, balanced, easy to follow, informative and engaging. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of childhood." - Pinar Kocak, University of Lethbridge, The Canadian Review of Sociology

"The perspective that Lancy provides on children around the world is a valuable contribution to the anthropological literature that will stimulate further research and thinking." - Jill E. Korbin, Case Western Reserve University, Current Anthropology

"David Lancy's The Anthropology of Childhood is a significant and useful contribution to the field in that it draws together the literature on the anthropology of children from both the perspectives of physical and cultural anthropology as well as history.... Alongside its companion website (, it will provide essential reading for a broad audience interested in how children are imagined and treated in different societies as well as in different historical epochs." - Jonathan Zilberg, University of Illinois, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"[Lancy's] lucid, engaging prose makes this book hard to put down, and it will be as accessible to laypeople as to professionals and academics." - ForeWord Reviews

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