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Unit information: The Anthropology of Childhood and Youth in 2015/16

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Unit name The Anthropology of Childhood and Youth
Unit code ARCHM0066
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Morelli
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit introduces social anthropological research on childhood and youth, focusing on the diversity of ways these life-stages are constructed, experienced and practised in different social, cultural and economic settings. Starting from the study of babies, to a focus on children at school, work and at play, and considering youth in terms of style, political action and everyday activities, students will explore, ethnographically and cross-culturally, what it means to grow up.

The unit will consider why children and young people were under-researched in traditional social anthropology, the ways in which anthropological approaches have been used to gain access to and understand children and young people's lived experience, and the specific insights these approaches have generated.

Current issues and events such as the English riots, the prevalence of eating disorders, and izikhothane  the South Africa township youth practice of destroying expensive clothes, will be considered in an anthropological frame, and cross-cultural ethnography on related topics will be applied, generating fresh perspectives on these debates.

Themes of social learning and identity formation will run through the unit, as we consider how children constitute knowledge of adult practices, and ideas about the world and themselves, in relation to the people around them. Students will be encouraged to consider how we come to know what we know, and reflect on their own learning as part of this. The unit will introduce theories of learning, development and socialisation, and students will consider how child-centred ethnography may confirm, complicate or contradict theoretical understandings of growing up.

Unit Aims

  • To introduce students to a range of social anthropological research on childhood and youth,
  • To introduce students to the cross-cultural variety of the practices, experiences and expectations of these life-stages this research illuminates.
  • To enable students to recognise the specific constructions and expectations of Western childhood and youth, and critically reflect on Western theories of socialisation, development and learning.
  • To demonstrate the contribution child-centred ethnographic research can make to mainstream anthropology.
  • To provide students with an opportunity to apply their anthropological perspective to current moral and political debates concerning children and young people, and to articulate the distinctive perspectives this anthropological analysis can generate.

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of the unit, the successful student will be able to:

1. Discuss in detail a range of anthropological research on children and young people throughout the world and synthesise research in order to persuade.

2. Explain and critically evaluate theories on socialisation, development and learning, and apply these theories to the ethnographic literature in novel ways.

3. Apply cross-cultural perspectives in their analysis of issues and concepts concerning childhood and youth and appraise the academic contribution of these applications

4. Develop an anthropological analysis of contemporary social and moral questions and debates concerning children and young people and demonstrate the value of an anthropological perspective on these debates in relation to other disciplinary perspectives.

5. Identify and compare processes of learning in context, including reflexive consideration of own learning, and elucidate and judge the relative importance of contextual and universal factors in these processes.

Teaching Information

One two hour lecture-seminar session per week (interactive lecture with seminar discussion within a two-hour slot). E-learning: class wiki entries by students.

Assessment Information

One 3000 word essay (60%). Assesses ILOs 1 - 3.

Portfolio of three contributions to the unit wiki (40%) - of equivalent academic value to a 2000 word essay. Assesses ILOs 1 - 5.

The portfolio will be assessed summatively as a whole. Students must also complete at least one additional contribution, which will be assessed formatively.

Contributions may include:

Critical discussion and evaluation of a course reading

Anthropological analysis of a current public debate or media product

Reflective record of class discussion or course learning

Auto-ethnography of childhood, school or youth.

Exploration of a specific topic or problem related to childhood, youth or education

At least two different kinds of contributions from the above list should be included in the portfolio.

Students can make unlimited contributions to the unit wiki, and upload them at any time during the course, but assessment will be solely on the basis of the three contributions submitted in the final portfolio; students will self-select the three contributions they wish to comprise their portfolio.

Reading and References

Boyden, J., & De Berry, J. (Eds.). (2005). Children and youth on the front line: Ethnography, armed conflict and displacement (Vol. 14). Berghahn Books.

Evans, G. (2006). Educational failure and working class white children in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gottlieb, A. (2004). The afterlife is where we come from. University of Chicago Press.

Honwana, A., & De Boeck, F. (2005). Makers & breakers: children and youth in postcolonial Africa. James Currey.

Lancy, D. F., Bock, J. C., & Gaskins, S. (2009). The anthropology of learning in childhood. Lanham: AltaMira Press.

Montgomery, H. (2008). An introduction to childhood: anthropological perspectives on children's lives. Wiley.