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BSocSc Social Anthropology
Explore human behaviour and relationships and the challenges across different cultures.

BSocSc Social Anthropology / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Anthropology of Childhood and Education

Unit code SOAN30371
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


It is because childhood learning is central to the process of becoming a particular kind of person that every ethnographic endeavour (to understand the collective distinctiveness of specific peoples and the unique particularity of the individuals making up the collective) must, by definition, rely on some notion of learning even when it is an assumed one. Usually, where a theory of learning is not made explicit, it is taken for granted that children have somehow been properly socialised and that there is no need, therefore, to consider such processes further because learning is thought to pertain to children and childhood and not to adults who are the more typical subjects of anthropological research. The implications of challenging anthropological assumptions about learning are two-fold: it is not just a question of asking if an assumed model of childhood socialisation is a good enough theory of learning, but also of whether or not there is any theoretical use in thinking about social structure in terms of on-going processes of learning in adulthood.


In this course, which explores the anthropology of childhood and the anthropology of education and learning, it is not taken for granted that it is somehow obvious how the ‘social construction’ of persons works or that it can be assumed to be something to do with vaguely conceived processes of socialisation in childhood; neither does it seek the workings of social learning in the analysis of discourse, which exists at one or more remove from social relations in action. Rather it sets out to explain how the structuring of social relations at all ages - from child to adulthood, from birth until death - implies a learning phenomenon at work. In this light children and novices and by implication, persons of all kinds are seen to be continuously making sense, in practice, of who they can be in relation to other people’s historically specific ideas about who it is appropriate for them to become. Exploring this learning phenomenon in detail, this course aims to provide a solid foundation on which students can begin to confidently make cross-cultural comparisons of what it means to be a child or youth in any time or at any place, and also of the processes of teaching and learning, focusing on the question of how people learn, in child and adulthood, what they come to take for granted as the given form of social and cultural knowledge.

Learning outcomes

Student will be able to know and understand:


  1. Cross cultural comparison of childhood and youth
  2. Cross cultural comparison of education and learning
  3. Anthropology theory of learning



1. Infancy: Childhood and Learning in the Life Cycle.

2-4. Intelligence and Adaptation: body, sociality and world as the foundation of language and thought.

5. Situated Learning: subject/object transformations in the economy of becoming a child/person..

6-7. Learning, Education and Personhood.

8. Informal learning and ritualised aspects of education.

9. Youth as a Relative Category: children and childhood in transition.

10. Global Childhood and Youth: from common cultures to extreme circumstances.

Teaching and learning methods

Ten two hour lectures

Ten one hour seminars

Submission of Book Review on Blackboard

Intellectual skills

Intellectual skills:


  1. Reading and understanding in-depth ethnographic case studies and learning how to analyse them for the purposes of cross-cultural analysis
  2. Writing an in-depth anthropological essay based on analytical skills in relation to the interpretation of in-depth reading of ethnographic and other anthropological texts. 
  3. Preparing short literature reviews
  4. Presenting oral interpretations of literature

Practical skills

Practical skills: 


  1. Using the library to search for texts
  2. Using the electronic journals to search for articles
  3. Making seminar presentations
  4. Learning how to use Blackboard to submit work and interact with the lecturer

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Transferable skills and personal qualities:  


  1. Small group work
  2. In depth analysis
  3. Analytical writing
  4. Online research
  5. Social and culturally sensitive understanding of childhood and youth; education and learning
  6. Social and culturally sensitive understanding of the universal process of human learning

Assessment methods

20% - Book Review (1500 words)

80% - Written Assignment (4000 words)

Recommended reading

Amit-Talai, Vered & Wulff H (eds) (1995) Youth Cultures: a cross-cultural perspective. Routledge.


Aries P. (1973) Centuries of Childhood. Penguin 1973


Archard D (1993) Children, Rights and Childhood. Routledge


Briggs, Jean. 1999. Inuit Morality Play, Yale University Press.


Coles, Robert. 1986. The Political Life of Children, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Goldman, L.R. (1998) Child’s Play: Myth, Mimesis and Make-believe. Oxford: Berg.


Hardman, C. 2001. ‘Recommended readings: can there be an anthropology of children?’ Childhood 8(4):499-518.


James, Allison. Childhood Identities:  Self and social relationships in the experience of the child, Edinburgh University Press.


Lave J & Wenger E. (1991) Situated Learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press


Liebel M (2004) A Will of Their Own: cross cultural perspectives on working children. Zed Books


de Loache, Judy and Alma Gottlieb (eds). 2000. A World of Babies, Cambridge University Press.


Liechty, Mark. 2002. Suitably Modern: Making Middle Class Culture in a New Consumer Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (On emerging youth culture in Nepal).


Morton, Helen. 1996. Becoming Tongan: An Ethnography of Childhood, University of Hawaii Press.


Mead & Wolfenstein (eds) (1955) Childhood in Contemporary Cultures. University of Chicago Press.


Middleton J. (1976) From Child to Adult: studies in anthropology of education. University of Texas.


Raum, O. (1940) Chaga Childhood. London: OUP (Esp. Ch. 4, Section 7, p. 250-284).


Schieffelin, Bambi. 1990. The Give and Take of Everyday Life, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.


Scheper-Hughes, Nancy and Carolyn Sargent (eds.). 1998. Small Wars:  The Cultural Politics of Childhood, University of California Press.


Schieffelin B & Ochs E. (eds.) (1986) Language socialisation across cultures. Cambridge University Press.


Seekings, Jeremy. 1993. Heroes or Villains? Youth Politics in the 1980’s. Johannesburg: Raven Press.


Simpson, A. "Half-London" in Zambia: Contested Identities in a Catholic Mission School. Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute, 2003


Stafford, Charles. 1995. The Roads of Chinese Childhood.  Learning and Identification in Angang, Cambridge University Press.


Spencer, Paul (ed.) Anthropology and the riddle of the sphinx: Paradoxes of change in the life course. London: Routledge


Toren C. (1990) Making Sense of Hierarchy: cognition as social process in Fiji. Athlone Press.


Trawick, Margaret. 1992. Notes on Love in a Tamil Family. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gillian Evans Unit coordinator

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