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Childhood in a Sri Lankan Village

Childhood in a Sri Lankan Village: Shaping Hierarchy and Desire

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 230
  • Book Info
    Childhood in a Sri Lankan Village
    Book Description:

    Like toddlers all over the world, Sri Lankan children go through a period that in the U.S. is referred to as the "terrible twos." Yet once they reach elementary school age, they appear uncannily passive, compliant, and undemanding compared to their Western counterparts. Clearly, these children have undergone some process of socialization, but what?Over ten years ago, anthropologist Bambi Chapin traveled to a rural Sri Lankan village to begin answering this question, getting to know the toddlers in the village, then returning to track their development over the course of the following decade.Childhood in a Sri Lankan Villageoffers an intimate look at how these children, raised on the tenets of Buddhism, are trained to set aside selfish desires for the good of their families and the community. Chapin reveals how this cultural conditioning is carried out through small everyday practices, including eating and sleeping arrangements, yet she also explores how the village's attitudes and customs continue to evolve with each new generation.Combining penetrating psychological insights with a rigorous observation of larger social structures, Chapin enables us to see the world through the eyes of Sri Lankan children searching for a place within their families and communities.Childhood in a Sri Lankan Villageoffers a fresh, global perspective on child development and the transmission of culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6167-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the Sri Lankan village where I conducted ethnographic fieldwork, little children are given whatever they demand. Yet, somehow, they turn into undemanding, well-behaved ten-year-olds. This surprised me. Like many in the United States, I believed that giving in to children’s selfish and rudely articulated demands would reinforce that behavior, teaching children to expect that they will always get their way if they scream loudly enough. However, in the Sri Lankan village I call Viligama, this did not seem to be the case.

    Other things surprised me, too. A two-year-old girl whose mother gave in to her temper tantrum demanding...

  6. 2 Sri Lanka: Setting the Ethnographic Context
    (pp. 21-41)

    People often ask me why I chose to do this study in Sri Lanka. I find it a difficult question to answer. In some ways, I could have conducted this study anywhere, but I had to conduct it somewhere. In order to study the ways that children are shaped through their experiences with others, I needed to find some particular children who were being shaped.

    In my initial project design, the one I proposed to my doctoral committee, I aimed to study the intergenerational effects of community violence on children. Before coming to graduate school, I had spent eight years...

  7. 3 Socializing Desire: Demanding Toddlers and Self-Restrained Children
    (pp. 42-68)

    From early on in my fieldwork, I was impressed by the quiet, restrained, and self-denying manner of the Sri Lankan children I came to know.¹ Bashfully pulling behind their mothers who came to my house for a visit, these school-age children would mouth a silent but smiling“baa”indicating that they “couldn’t” accept my offer of milk-tea or biscuits. When I came to their houses, they would stand, smiling shyly, their arms hanging limply at their sides, not moving to take the small wrapped gifts I presented, until finally their mothers accepted the gifts and put them aside to be...

  8. 4 Shaping Attachments: Learning Hierarchy at Home
    (pp. 69-111)

    Children, like adults, participate in different kinds of relationships. Even between children and their parents, there are different types of interactions within these relationships.¹ In the last chapter, I focused on one type of interaction in which children receive. In that type of interactions, children boldly asserted their desires and those around them gave into those demands. However, there was another, more common and more valued way that children were given things in Viligama—and this giving and receiving was accompanied by a very different emotional tone and a very different, if complementary, lesson.

    In this type of giving and...

  9. 5 Making Sense of Envy: Desires and Relationships in Conflict
    (pp. 112-143)

    The interlocking lessons about desire and hierarchy that children learn in their early relationships are built on and used as young people participate in all sorts of relationships. The model of hierarchy learned in childhood shapes relationships with peers as well as with juniors and seniors. The deeply learned lesson that desire is dangerous and the habit of disavowing it shape how people pursue their own interests and respond to the pursuits of others. Sometimes these broadly shared cultural understandings lead to mutually satisfying, smooth-running interactions. But these shared cultural understandings are also implicated in conflicts within relationships. As people...

  10. 6 Engaging with Hierarchy outside the Home: Education and Efforts at Change
    (pp. 144-167)

    Children bring the lessons they are learning at home into each new context they enter. The experiences that have in these new contexts—their interactions, the sense that they make of them, the strategies they undertake, the feelings that they have—add to the internal working models they are assembling. These new experiences may reinforce what they have learned at home, carving the models deeper. The new experiences may add specificity or new pieces to the models. These new experiences may also contradict, undermine, or provide alternatives to earlier models.

    In the previous chapter, I examined how young women in...

  11. 7 Culturing People
    (pp. 168-180)

    I began this book with two contrasting ways that children and caretakers interacted in Viligama. In one, a little girl screamed for what she wanted and those around her gave in to her demands, no matter how unreasonable. In the other, she sat on her mother’s lap, quietly and contentedly accepting the bits of food her mother placed in her mouth. Although these are quite different ways of interacting—especially in their emotional tone—the lessons that children learn through them are not incompatible. In the first, the little girl learns that her own desires are not to be trusted,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 181-192)
    (pp. 193-204)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 205-212)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-214)