8-2 | The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings

Book Review

The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings

David F. Lancy
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Notes, references, indices, images. 533 pp. $34.99 paper. ISBN: 9781107420984

by Garry Chick

First Paragraph:

This book tells a story of contrasts. In the subtitle, David F. Lancy indicates that children are seen in their own cultures variously as cherubs, chattels, or changelings and that these views profoundly affect all aspects of their lives. In “neontocracies,” such as mainstream United States culture, children are inherently valuable cherubs who are to be cherished and indulged. Most places around the world, however, are “gerontocracies,” where children are regarded as chattels, that is, sources of work, who are expected to contribute to the family larder from very early ages. Or, sometimes children are seen as changelings, not really wanted and disposable if necessary, but who may become viable members of society at some point. As this is a second edition of Lancy’s earlier (2008) volume, he added another contrast, that is, between most cultures and those that Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan denoted by the acronym “WEIRD” or Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (“The Weirdest People in the World” in the 2010 volume of Behavioral and Brain Sciences). Children in WEIRD societies are largely regarded and treated as cherubs while those elsewhere are thought of, and treated as, chattel or changelings.