The idea of this Special Focus first came to us while we were carrying out fundamental research about children in two different countries and con- texts in Southeast Asia. While Silvia Vignato was enquiring about children’s rescue after the 2004 tsunami and the end of a 30-year long conflict in Aceh, Giuseppe Bolotta was in the slums of Bangkok, doing research with children connected to NGOs. In both cases, the young people we met were growing up outside their families, however these are defined, and raised in different institutions committed to leading children towards developing specific ideals of adulthood. For different reasons, these children had to ac- quire various degrees of independence from parental figures. Owing to our common, albeit separated in time, first training as clinical psychologists, we were familiar with theories of child development stating that primary relationships, especially with the mother, play a fundamental role in children’s and youth’s development of a healthy “identity”.1 In their absence, for example according to ground-breaking psychiatrist Salman Akhtar (1984), a “syndrome of identity diffusion” might insurge, leading to a pathologic personality. The children we met challenged much of our former knowledge. Firstly, they were raised within family structures, which could differ quite radically from the modern bourgeois ideal of the nuclear family postulated as univer- sal by most Western psychology. Secondly, they showed that despite quite early separation from parents or other meaningful kin, and experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage, they were coping quite well – to the point of being able to make choices and behave independently. To our sens- es, their behaviour and talks testified of sharp social and emotional skills of emotion and subjectivity that enables a person to have a coeherent reflexive feeling and thinking of what she is and does (Erikson, 1968). Beyond common-sense considerations, theories specifically relating the child’s development of a coherent sense of identity to prima- ry relationships range from the positions of psychoanalysis (see for example child psychoan- alyst Winnicott, 1964) to the theories of attachment first developed by Bowlby (1953). adaptment to a variety of simultaneous environments of care, rather than a pathological personality and lack of a coherent identity. This raised a range of questions. As anthropologists, we have learned to look into “the context” and value its variations and differences as key as- pects of humanity. Was our seeing the children as doing well a blindness, a methodological limit? Did children only look as if they were well because our method of enquiry would not lead us beyond a certain understanding of a person’s inner configuration? Or was it a fact to be taken into consid- eration as relevant in itself, saying something on the kind of society that we were studying? It seemed that, when it came to children, anthropology as a discipline would not cross the line of social determinations in individ- ual behaviour, in spite of the fundamental and very influential works in ethno-psychiatry and medical anthropology and ethnography of subjectiv- ity (Ortner 2005, Quinn 2006, Biehl, Good and Kleinman 2007, Moore 2007). How a young human being builds her own cultural and relational world throughout differences and hardships seemed too difficult, and ex- traneous, a task for anthropology and its methodology, as we knew it. Yet, to make sense of the children’s apparent, extreme or relative independence, we were confronted with a number of general issues connecting the subjec- tive experience of childhood as a time of self-formation2 to its social and political constructs. More noticeably, we met children who showed critical awareness about both aspects of the question. And these were indeed an- thropological themes.

Vignato, S., Bolotta, G., Jourdan, L., Rifiotis, F., Stodulka, T., Pochetti, I. (2017). Special Focus: Independent Children (S. Vignato, G. Bolotta, a cura di). Milano : Ledizioni.

Special Focus: Independent Children

Vignato, S
;
Bolotta, G
2017

Abstract

The idea of this Special Focus first came to us while we were carrying out fundamental research about children in two different countries and con- texts in Southeast Asia. While Silvia Vignato was enquiring about children’s rescue after the 2004 tsunami and the end of a 30-year long conflict in Aceh, Giuseppe Bolotta was in the slums of Bangkok, doing research with children connected to NGOs. In both cases, the young people we met were growing up outside their families, however these are defined, and raised in different institutions committed to leading children towards developing specific ideals of adulthood. For different reasons, these children had to ac- quire various degrees of independence from parental figures. Owing to our common, albeit separated in time, first training as clinical psychologists, we were familiar with theories of child development stating that primary relationships, especially with the mother, play a fundamental role in children’s and youth’s development of a healthy “identity”.1 In their absence, for example according to ground-breaking psychiatrist Salman Akhtar (1984), a “syndrome of identity diffusion” might insurge, leading to a pathologic personality. The children we met challenged much of our former knowledge. Firstly, they were raised within family structures, which could differ quite radically from the modern bourgeois ideal of the nuclear family postulated as univer- sal by most Western psychology. Secondly, they showed that despite quite early separation from parents or other meaningful kin, and experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage, they were coping quite well – to the point of being able to make choices and behave independently. To our sens- es, their behaviour and talks testified of sharp social and emotional skills of emotion and subjectivity that enables a person to have a coeherent reflexive feeling and thinking of what she is and does (Erikson, 1968). Beyond common-sense considerations, theories specifically relating the child’s development of a coherent sense of identity to prima- ry relationships range from the positions of psychoanalysis (see for example child psychoan- alyst Winnicott, 1964) to the theories of attachment first developed by Bowlby (1953). adaptment to a variety of simultaneous environments of care, rather than a pathological personality and lack of a coherent identity. This raised a range of questions. As anthropologists, we have learned to look into “the context” and value its variations and differences as key as- pects of humanity. Was our seeing the children as doing well a blindness, a methodological limit? Did children only look as if they were well because our method of enquiry would not lead us beyond a certain understanding of a person’s inner configuration? Or was it a fact to be taken into consid- eration as relevant in itself, saying something on the kind of society that we were studying? It seemed that, when it came to children, anthropology as a discipline would not cross the line of social determinations in individ- ual behaviour, in spite of the fundamental and very influential works in ethno-psychiatry and medical anthropology and ethnography of subjectiv- ity (Ortner 2005, Quinn 2006, Biehl, Good and Kleinman 2007, Moore 2007). How a young human being builds her own cultural and relational world throughout differences and hardships seemed too difficult, and ex- traneous, a task for anthropology and its methodology, as we knew it. Yet, to make sense of the children’s apparent, extreme or relative independence, we were confronted with a number of general issues connecting the subjec- tive experience of childhood as a time of self-formation2 to its social and political constructs. More noticeably, we met children who showed critical awareness about both aspects of the question. And these were indeed an- thropological themes.
Si
Scientifica
Vignato, S; Bolotta, G; Jourdan, L; Rifiotis, F; Stodulka, T; Pochetti, I
Anthropology of childhood; ethnography with children; personality; unattached children; fields of relatedness; kinship; drugs
English
Vignato, S., Bolotta, G., Jourdan, L., Rifiotis, F., Stodulka, T., Pochetti, I. (2017). Special Focus: Independent Children (S. Vignato, G. Bolotta, a cura di). Milano : Ledizioni.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10281/293151
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