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The Cultural Nature of Human Development

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Three-year-old Kwara'ae children in Oceania act as caregivers of their younger siblings, but in the UK, it is an offense to leave a child under age 14 ears without adult supervision. In the Efe community in Zaire, infants routinely use machetes with safety and some skill, although U.S. middle-class adults often do not trust young children with knives. What explains these m Three-year-old Kwara'ae children in Oceania act as caregivers of their younger siblings, but in the UK, it is an offense to leave a child under age 14 ears without adult supervision. In the Efe community in Zaire, infants routinely use machetes with safety and some skill, although U.S. middle-class adults often do not trust young children with knives. What explains these marked differences in the capabilities of these children? Until recently, traditional understandings of human development held that a child's development is universal and that children have characteristics and skills that develop independently of cultural processes. Barbara Rogoff argues, however, that human development must be understood as a cultural process, not simply a biological or psychological one. Individuals develop as members of a community, and their development can only be fully understood by examining the practices and circumstances of their communities.


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Three-year-old Kwara'ae children in Oceania act as caregivers of their younger siblings, but in the UK, it is an offense to leave a child under age 14 ears without adult supervision. In the Efe community in Zaire, infants routinely use machetes with safety and some skill, although U.S. middle-class adults often do not trust young children with knives. What explains these m Three-year-old Kwara'ae children in Oceania act as caregivers of their younger siblings, but in the UK, it is an offense to leave a child under age 14 ears without adult supervision. In the Efe community in Zaire, infants routinely use machetes with safety and some skill, although U.S. middle-class adults often do not trust young children with knives. What explains these marked differences in the capabilities of these children? Until recently, traditional understandings of human development held that a child's development is universal and that children have characteristics and skills that develop independently of cultural processes. Barbara Rogoff argues, however, that human development must be understood as a cultural process, not simply a biological or psychological one. Individuals develop as members of a community, and their development can only be fully understood by examining the practices and circumstances of their communities.

30 review for The Cultural Nature of Human Development

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    So this is a thoroughly anodyne and boring undergrad textbook, with all the poetry and depth of a PowerPoint presentation on the valve rotator market in Iowa. I had hoped, despite the inherent weakness of the format, to learn something interesting (and I did learn a fair amount), but I was also -- surprisingly for myself at least -- incredibly fascinated and also annoyed by the structure of this book, for a number of reasons. In short, Human Development made it clear to me that cultural anthropol So this is a thoroughly anodyne and boring undergrad textbook, with all the poetry and depth of a PowerPoint presentation on the valve rotator market in Iowa. I had hoped, despite the inherent weakness of the format, to learn something interesting (and I did learn a fair amount), but I was also -- surprisingly for myself at least -- incredibly fascinated and also annoyed by the structure of this book, for a number of reasons. In short, Human Development made it clear to me that cultural anthropology, as a field, has professionalized and textbook-ized its mid-twentieth-century political vision (i.e., Margaret Mead et al.) into a completely reflexive and unconscious and unexamined loathing of anything that can be characterized as "normal for the modern West." I strongly doubt that Rogoff even understands why she has chosen the hermeneutical framing of this book -- why does Human Development ONLY examine world cultures in comparison to 'middle-class European Americans', as she puts it? Why not all of America? Why not all of the West? In fact, why privilege any one culture at all? Why reduce a textbook purporting to examine the cultural nature of human development to, essentially, "a tiny sliver of the American population has a cultural practice, and here's how the rest of the world enacts the same practice, which is somehow vaguely better than our way of doing it"? Why are non-middle-class American cultures treated as vaguely corrective for American culture? It is not obvious or logical to frame the book in this way -- but of course it makes sense when you realize that the field is still working within Mead's general framework. In other words, Rogoff's book is a copy of a copy of a copy -- twenty-first-century cultural anthropology, at least as presented in Oxford University Press textbooks, unconsciously re-enacts a ritual denunciation of the West that has slowly lost its original meaning and vital force. What was emphatic in Mead is amazingly vague in Rogoff. In any event, Rogoff's position, which is shrouded in a fog of bland prose, is that all cultures are equally valid, except for ours, which is inherently evil and needs to be corrected. The list of modern Western practices that are described by Rogoff as harmful and repressive include (and I'm not making this up): -- Teaching children how to read (p. 21); -- Abstract thought (p. 40); -- Logic (p. 41); -- Not letting half of your infant children die in a Brazilian favela (p. 113); -- Any sort of traditional gender/parenting roles, EXCEPT when African tribes also have them, in which case it's okay for those tribes, but not for Americans (p. 122); -- Not forcing small children to work (p. 136); -- Face-to-face mother/infant interactions (p. 142); -- Keeping track of a child's age (p. 153); -- Non-arranged marriages (p. 179); -- Households where wives are devoted to the care of house and children (p. 184); -- Giving small children a bed to sleep in (p. 198); -- Encouraging adult children to be self-sufficient (p. 200); -- Telling toddlers what to do (p. 203); -- Any sort of parental strictness, EXCEPT when other cultures do it, in which case it is "an indication of parental warmth and necessary for the youths' success," but, again, NOT when Americans do it, because reasons (p. 210); -- Rationality and self-determination (p. 222); -- Punishment for crimes (p. 223); -- Contracts and promises (p. 224); -- Any sort of competition in any context (p. 228); -- Taxonomic categories (p. 242); etc. I mean, there's a lot to unpack there, but let's just go into the Brazilian favela one. Rogoff writes: The most serious challenge to the innateness of middle-class expressions of maternal affection has come from Nancy Scheper-Hughes's observations of mother-infant relations in a favela in Brazil. . . . Selective neglect of infants along with maternal detachment are seen as appropriate maternal responses to a child who does not show the resilience necessary for survival under the extreme circumstances of the favela. . . . Part of learning how to mother in the shantytown is learning when to 'let go'. As one mother put it: "They die because they have to die . . . it is really better to let the weak ones die." . . . When Scheper-Hughes tried to intervene to save a one-year-old who was severely malnourished, unable even to sit up, her efforts were laughed at by the local women, who said 'if a baby wants to die, it will die' . . . With tremendous effort, Scheper-Hughes forced the child to eat and to live. Ah, yes, what a wonderful cultural difference! What a 'serious challenge to the innateness of middle-class expressions of maternal affection'! How blind we are, those of us who aren't literally living in a nightmare, forced into somehow psychologically justifying the deaths of half of our children! Thankfully the bourgie white anthropologist managed to snap out of her condescending stupor and save one of the babies from death, though Rogoff (somehow, impossibly) discounts this and says, on the following page, that this parenting style is just a cultural difference, and clearly Americans are neurotically attached to their children, and who are we to say, and so on. Throughout the book, Rogoff vacillates between the two poles of "this Edenic noble savage understands life so much better than us modern Westerners!" and, when she can't justify the behavior (which is very rare), quickly shifting into "look at this exotic zoo creature, culture is such a fascinating kaleidoscope of perspectives!" Both viewpoints are incredibly condescending. Neither take non-Western cultures seriously but rather treat them as a tool to flatter the anthropologist's pre-existing prejudices, either as foils to the author's own culture ('middle-class European Americans') or as a curiosity. It's definitely interesting that none of these anthropologists actually give up the comfortable bourgeois Western academic life that they're so vaguely condescending about -- the hunter-gatherer life is ready when you are, professor!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Motahareh Nabavi

    read it for a class, and the chapters supplemented with deep class discussions created a profound reading and learning experience.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy Roberts

    This is an outstanding overview of just what the title says the Cultural nature of human development. It is great starting place for anyone curious about how kids grow up, schooling, parenting and many other topics. This book treats several aspects of child development in a uniquely culturally responsible way, explaining that culture is an omnipresent aspect of every child's growing up. By seeing the ways in which culture shapes families lives in other cultures we are enabled to see how our own This is an outstanding overview of just what the title says the Cultural nature of human development. It is great starting place for anyone curious about how kids grow up, schooling, parenting and many other topics. This book treats several aspects of child development in a uniquely culturally responsible way, explaining that culture is an omnipresent aspect of every child's growing up. By seeing the ways in which culture shapes families lives in other cultures we are enabled to see how our own culture shapes our lives. My advisor wrote it!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katarina Pantic

    One of my favorite books of all times. Just reread it. So much to learn even if you are not doing research with this framework. I just learned so much about my own upbringing and more than anything... that our way is not the way but one of the ways how children can be brought-up.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chalice

    Tough to get through but valuable information about culture and racism that many of us don't realize goes on right under our noses. It really opens your horizons about how the word "culture" is defined. Tough to get through but valuable information about culture and racism that many of us don't realize goes on right under our noses. It really opens your horizons about how the word "culture" is defined.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sterling

    This extensively-researched book by Barbara Rogoff shows that the nature vs. nurture question is a false dichotomy. Human development is heavily influenced by our unique surroundings and our culture. Culture and human practices in learning change over time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karina Scott

    Rogoff takes every day human development and points out how culture and cultural expectations can change the development of children. She points out how our system currently works to separate children based on age rather than integrating them so they can learn from each other and mature through community. She also challenges the very north west cultural view of seeking individualism as the end result of our journey, so interdependence vs autonomy. She tells us that humans are biologically cultur Rogoff takes every day human development and points out how culture and cultural expectations can change the development of children. She points out how our system currently works to separate children based on age rather than integrating them so they can learn from each other and mature through community. She also challenges the very north west cultural view of seeking individualism as the end result of our journey, so interdependence vs autonomy. She tells us that humans are biologically cultural creatures. Attachment, family, and early care giving are examined as well. The importance of developmental milestones and rituals / initiation around growing up. She also takes a moment to challenge gender roles and identities as defined by culture rather than the self. this summery just barely begins to touch on everything covered in this one little book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Brooke

    This book made me realize that common sense is a culturally loaded construct.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joyride

    Buen libro para conocer las investigaciones sobre el desarrollo cultural de los humanos, pero para mi gusto le falta profundidad teĆ³rica.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Baldwin

    A fascinating look at how our cultural background makes us who we are. Not easy to read, but really made me question my own cultural assumptions, and gave me insights into other cultures, particularly Mayan culture (Rogoff's own area of expertise), but also Inuit and Native American ways of doing and being. A fascinating look at how our cultural background makes us who we are. Not easy to read, but really made me question my own cultural assumptions, and gave me insights into other cultures, particularly Mayan culture (Rogoff's own area of expertise), but also Inuit and Native American ways of doing and being.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lorri

    This book continually made me rethink cultural assumptions that I'd been unknowingly toting around. It has given me a new perspective on and a new approach to facilitating children's development. In spite of its academic nature, this book is not difficult to read and has few dull moments. If you ever plan on working with or raising children, or just have a desire to better understand your own and a myriad of other cultural practices, I would strongly recommend this book. This book continually made me rethink cultural assumptions that I'd been unknowingly toting around. It has given me a new perspective on and a new approach to facilitating children's development. In spite of its academic nature, this book is not difficult to read and has few dull moments. If you ever plan on working with or raising children, or just have a desire to better understand your own and a myriad of other cultural practices, I would strongly recommend this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Again, had to read this one for school. It was full of a lot of great information on the different cultural history of America and how this diversity can create problems, but can also be an immense benefit. Since I had to read it for school I wasn't that enthused about it, but it was still a beneficial read if you are looking for something like this. Again, had to read this one for school. It was full of a lot of great information on the different cultural history of America and how this diversity can create problems, but can also be an immense benefit. Since I had to read it for school I wasn't that enthused about it, but it was still a beneficial read if you are looking for something like this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Rogoff takes a look at human development across multiple cultures and brings to light realities of the falsehoods that can exist in our own thinking regarding "normal" human development. She combines her own research and the research of others on human development in an eloquent and fascinating manner. Excellent read if you are interested in cross cultural research. Rogoff takes a look at human development across multiple cultures and brings to light realities of the falsehoods that can exist in our own thinking regarding "normal" human development. She combines her own research and the research of others on human development in an eloquent and fascinating manner. Excellent read if you are interested in cross cultural research.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    Required reading for HDP 133 - Socio-Cultural Foundations at UCSD. Interesting material, stuffy presentation. Best when coupled with class lectures to explain less obvious connections and definitions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charity

    why do psychologists write so badly? this must be the most redundant book on earth. oh the torture of others choosing what you read! (was that dramatic enough?) There is kind of an awesome picture of a 2 year old using a machete other than this, not so exciting.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    An 11 month old baby uses a machete to cut a fruit. How is this possible? Barbara Rogoff goes into depth about how one's culture influences how one learns. She provides insight on how we learn and differences in the academic and social aspect of various cultures. An 11 month old baby uses a machete to cut a fruit. How is this possible? Barbara Rogoff goes into depth about how one's culture influences how one learns. She provides insight on how we learn and differences in the academic and social aspect of various cultures.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A friend said the research findings discussed in this book "were obvious," but I recommend it for anyone raising young children or railing against society/others' behavior. The prose: enjoyable yet scholarly. A friend said the research findings discussed in this book "were obvious," but I recommend it for anyone raising young children or railing against society/others' behavior. The prose: enjoyable yet scholarly.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    One of the few textbooks from my classes that I enjoyed

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carmen Casanova

    Mind-breaking. Excellent.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Parvoneh

    Great thesis with somewhat meandering execution.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Birdy

    Rogoff's book fundamentally changed the way I think about culture and child development. Everyone should read this book Rogoff's book fundamentally changed the way I think about culture and child development. Everyone should read this book

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Excellent book. This should be required reading for all psychology and education students! It is very readable, clear, and includes many opportunities to do further readings.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence

    So wait a minute, you're saying culture plays a role in cognitive development!!?!? All sarcasm aside, it is a very interesting discussion into the role of culture in cognitive development. So wait a minute, you're saying culture plays a role in cognitive development!!?!? All sarcasm aside, it is a very interesting discussion into the role of culture in cognitive development.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Hayes

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Connor Russell

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boberg

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chalen Kelly

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

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