Friday, December 3, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 18

The reader is a bit late and somewhat sparse today. My week was blindsided by the AAA's long term plan statement. (Thanks very much to Barbara King for drawing our attention to it on Twitter!) If you haven't already, you may want to read the following posts for thoughts about the new statement. I strongly suggest you start with Daniel Lende's Anthropology, Science, and Public Understanding. Daniel provides a nice overview, and states his concerns in a calm, thoughtful way.
Update: The AAA has also posted a response called simply Long Range Plan:
We believe that the source of the problem speaks to the power of symbols: we replaced the term “science” in the preface of this planning document by a more specific (and inclusive) list of research domains, while explicitly acknowledging that the Association’s central focus is to promote the production, circulation, and application of anthropological research findings. 

At CultureBy Grant McCracken has a post up about Bob Smith's Amazing Strangers project. Smith has dissected Union Square and cataloged the people who frequent the area, drawing attention to groups like "peepers." It's a fun read, and a reminder that someone is always watching.

At A Hot Cup of Joe, there's a really interesting post up about vandalism in antiquity. CFeagans examines vertical gouges in Egyptian monuments:
One thing they seem to have in common is that they are typically vertical and that they are deeper in the center, as if scooped out. Pilgrims and believers in magic scraped the stone to remove a fine dust, which they collected and mixed in a drink. By scraping out a portion of the temple or monument, the pilgrim hoped to obtain some of the power through sympathetic magic. This practice occurred from about the time of the New Kingdom to around the 5th century CE.”
You may also want to check out Barbara King's post on co-sleeping, which is fairly common in may cultures around the world. King presents research by biological anthropologists James McKenna and Thomas McDade (2005) on the benefits of co-sleeping for babies. I wasn't really familiar with the evolutionary discussion on co-sleeping, so this post really informative—and it seems to make a lot of sense:
Lemurs of Madagascar, squirrel monkeys of Brazil, baboons and chimpanzees of Tanzania- in all these species, indeed in almost all nonhuman primate species, babies cling round-the-clock to mom, breast-feeding and sleeping at will. This intense day-and-night closeness lasts for months and sometimes years. 
Is it a reflection of the personality of our culture that we don't really practice co-sleeping? Is the idea of independence what drives parents to hasten the process to get children to sleep by themselves? Would definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts on those questions.

See you next week!


  1. Judy Weightman (twitter @JudyWEdu)December 3, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    Re: Co-sleeping -- Tetsuro Matsuzawa suggests that the fact that human infants don't cling might have something to do with evolution of language: They need to communicate their distress by sound. Quick link:

  2. I found it frustrating as a new mom that pediatricians (even in such a liberal area as Chapel Hill) gave me the advice, "Just don't do it" in reference to cosleeping. No hints or references about how to do it safely. There are, of course, issues with parents who roll over on their children or whose children fall in between lots of pillows on a bed or a couch, but I think that benefits (especially to nursing mothers and the mother-child bond) outweigh the small risk of this. I coslept with my daughter for nearly a year, until she started sleeping better in her own bed than with me.

    What would help is if pediatricians educated parents about cosleeping - the risks and the rewards - instead of taking a hard-line stance against it. Honestly, a lot of the information given to pregnant women and new mothers is tantamount to abstinence-only education: don't do it. (Don't get me started on the increasingly pervasive hard-line stance on breastfeeding: if you don't do it, you're harming your child and you're a bad mother. Or on the lack of information given to a laboring mother on her birth options or the postpartum mother on immunizations and other procedures doctors feel we will just accept without question.)

    At any rate, our culture is most certainly failing to educate people on even the most basic reproductive facts and parenting skills, thinking it's best to treat us like children who can't make rational decisions based on a cost-benefit analysis.


  3. Thanks for the link, Judy. There's a mention of the possible connection between language and clinging by King, who cites McKenna and McDade (2005):
    The emotional responses by infants and children
    to resist parental isolation by crying and protesting are probably innate and adaptive, since separation from the caregiver most certainly meant rapid death for infants and
    children in the environments within which childhood sleep and emotions evolved.

    KK, I'm actually surprised to hear that pediatricians advise against cosleeping since it is so common elsewhere. And because I've known many new moms like you who allow the baby to cosleep with them until at least 7 mos or so. (I also know of one case that I think is rather extreme in which an 8 year old was finally introduced to his own bed. I think it may be stories like this that give cosleeping a bad rep.)

    The breastfeeding issue is problematic: what if your baby doesn't latch properly for whatever reason, or if you don't produce enough milk? Are you a bad mother in those cases? In these cases, the doctors may be more sympathetic, but the mothers in question have already been taught that they're failures in a way.

    American culture is different however from other cultures where cosleeping is more accepted. In those cases, the norm is a large familial structure that provides a support network and can help new moms. The American nuclear family doesn't by definition include a number of other family members and I wonder if that may be the reason obstetricians and pediatricians take the method that they do. Perhaps they're filling this role? Given some of the news about parental neglect (e.g., the mom who shook her newborn to death bc it cried while she was trying to play Farmville), it doesn't appear all parents are adept at cost-benefit analysis.

  4. Hey there, just though you’d wanna know, call for submissions for Four Stone Hearth #107 is here: