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Review: Do Babies Have Culture?

Author(s): Christina Toren


Source: Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 77, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 167-179
Published by: The George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4149875
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Do Babies Have Culture?


Christina Toren
BrunelUniversity

Alma Gottlieb.TheAfterlifeIs WhereWeComeFrom:TheCultureof Infancy


in WestAfrica.Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress,2003.

'[B]efore local officials of the Ivoiriangovernment ordered all thatch-


roofed houses to be destroyed in the late 1960s, the Beng [of the C6te
d'lvoire]lived in large, round dwellings that accommodated an extend-
ed family, which was meant to include not only the living but also the
dead. Everynight someone in the household would put out a small bowl
of food for the ancestorsof the family,and the last person to retirewould
close the door, lockingin the livingand the dead to sleep together. Inthe
morning, the first person to open the door released the wrus,who trav-
elled backto wrugbefor the day-only to returnat night for their dinner
and sleeping spot once again' (Gottlieb2003:.82).

all the dead spirits(wru)of "allthe world'sethnic groups live together


Today
harmoniously"(98) in spiritvillages (wrugbe)that are "dispersedamong in-
visible neighbourhoodsin majorcities in Africaand Europe"(80).The dead may
be invisible to us, but we live alongside them. Are we invisible to them?
Presumablyso. Itwould seem likelythat from their own point of view the dead
lead a materialexistence,but whytoday is it an urbanone? Perhapsthe existence

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Do Babies Have Culture?

of the dead alongside us has to do with the wealth of the city and its plentiful
food; there, one might suppose, the dead have access to everythingthey need.
But perhapsthe dead are not able just to have what they want? Perhapsaccess
to what may be obtained by the dead requires the mediation of the living?
Certainlyit seems that living Beng have to make the dead recognizethem, re-
membertheirties to them as kin,and in doing so at once protectthe livingfrom
all forms of evil and ill chance and promotetheir well-beingand fertility.Bythe
same token, it may be the case that from the spirits'point of view wrugbefinds
its materialcontinuityin the dutifulbehaviourof the livingtowardsthe dead.'
Wrugbe-the domain of the dead-may be accessible to adults in dreams
(82),but otherwiseadults must undertakespecial proceduresvia divinersto con-
sult the dead and gain their support.Babies,however,have unmediatedaccess
to wrugbewhere they spend a good deal of time (p169):"allinfantsand young
children,as well as adult diviners,tack back and forth between past and pres-
ent by travelling--one might even say commuting-to wrugbe"(80).Considered
as a spatiotemporallocation, wrugbeis always present;and like our own lived
present,this one contains with in it its own past and its potential future.2Beng
neonates incarnate specific ancestors, though often enough the ancestor re-
mains unknownin that s/he cannot be identifiedwith a named, now dead, once
living, person (89).
The living baby and the dead ancestor are, however, aspects of an entity
whose substance and sociality is slowly differentiatedover the years of infan-
cy and early childhood-a process that cannot itself really begin until the
stump of the newly born child's umbilical cord withers and drops off (83). A
child who dies before this time is not yet classifiedas a person, so the death is
not announced publicly,the neonate being deemed simplyto have returnedto
wrugbe(p83); indeed, it is perhaps because it is wruthat the dead neonate is
"buriedin a muddy patch behind the home" but is given no funeral (90).The
neonate is so closely at one with wrugbethat until the umbilicalstump drops
off he or she must be washed four times a day using a special soap that is oth-
erwise used only to wash a person newly deceased, and four times a day the
child'smouth too must be washed with half a newly-cutlemon (116).A whole
lemon is strungon a cordattachedto the child'swaist-a procedurethat recalls
the washing of a corpse with lemon leaves and mourners'wearing of a lemon
bracelet (116). Oncethe umbilicalstump has dropped off (usuallyon the third
or fourthday)the infant is given itsfirstenema (called"splittingthe anus"[84])-
a procedurethat from this time onwardswill be followed twice a day (before
and during twice-dailybaths)throughoutthe child's infancy until the toddler

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has control of bowel movements; the enema is "a bodily practicewill remain
importantfor the rest of his or her life"(126).Afterevery bath, the infant'sface
and body is decorated with paints, bracelets, necklaces. Once it is rid of bodi-
ly wastes, bathed, and at least partiallybeautified, the child is fed. Until the
mother'smilk comes in, a neonate is fed water; in addition it may be breastfed
by someone other than the mother-the mother's mother perhaps or other
close kin (p.203).Thereafterat every feeding and before it is allowed to drink
milk,the infant is made to drinka handful or more of water-water being "an
effective medium of communication between human and spirit ... [and] a lo-
cus of spiritualpower in Beng ritual practice"(189).
Arethe infant'sfaeces a substance it bringsto the world that attaches him
or her to wrugbe?A substance the child must be properlyrid of, so that it may
take in the food offered by its livingkin and, by virtue of consuming it, become
attached to them? Certainlyall these proceduresat birth and during early in-
fancy at once help to detach the baby from wrugbeand to establish him or her
materiallyin the paralleldomain of the living.The baby is enticed into staying
(87): by virtue of being kept clean, beautified and fed, the infant is persuaded
into recognisingits kinshipwith the living.Atthe same time, these procedures
declarethe child'scontinuingconnection to the wru remainingin the ancestral
realm and also to those other spirit beings whom the child will be obliged to
recognizeand respect-the Earthspiritsand forestspirits.So a toddlermust nev-
er be allowed to defecate undera kolatree: if one of the nuts from the tree falls
onto the faeces beneath, the child will die at once; and a man will likewise die
if his shadow falls across the place where he will be planting a new kola tree
(125). Is this because difference can be maintained only when like substances
are kept apart?Certainlyany form of contact with a corpse is extraordinarily
dangerousto infantsand the inevitabledisease associatedwith such contactcan
be cured only by the use, for a boy, of plants gathered by the mother that are
growing on the grave of a dead women; for a girl, her father gathers plants
growing on the grave of a boy or man (p120). The baby's contact with death
threatens assimilation of its own substance to the substance of the dead, a
process that is negated (or interfered with or curtailed) by the child's being
washed or paintedwith the differentsubstance of the livingplants gathered by
the cross-sexparentfrom the graveof one who is the afflictedchild'smirroring
Other(wruand cross-sex).
Allthe cleansing and beautifyingproceduresare entailed by a baby'smate-
rial attachment to the invisiblespirit domain, wrugbe,where it is also at once
ancestor and baby just as it is the domain of the living(81): in wrugbethe ba-

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Do Babies Have Culture?

by has its wru parents"whocontinue to look out for their baby even after the
infant has begun to leave"them (92).They

will be displeased if they judge that the child'sparentsof this life are mis-
treatingthe baby ... the mother may not be breast-feedingher infantof-
ten enough, or may not be offeringenough solid foods to an older infant.
She may leave her babyto cry,may wait before taking her sick babyto a
diviner or healer, or may use povertyas an excuse to avoid buyingthe
items or conductingthe sacrificesthat a divinerdeclaresnecessaryto the
baby'sspiritualwell-being (92)

Whatbabieswant is what they likedin wrugbe(p87, p97),where 'there is no ma-


terial want' and where currency is "abundant:precolonial cowry shells and
early Frenchcolonial silvercoins"(273).
The proceduresare at once aesthetic and prophylacticfor they wardoff dis-
eases (112-115), most importantlythose that might be visited on the child by
spiritsoffended by some failureto observe properrelationshipor by witchcraft
(237).It makessense thereforethat "beautyin general,and bodilybeautyin par-
ticular,is conceived as illustrativeof inner moral strength"(130). Moreover,a
beautiful baby is one who attractsothers to admire it and want to care for it,
includingthose older childrenwho act as baby-carriers-cum-sitters and whose
work is so crucialto a mother'sbeing able to put in the long hours requiredto
produce the crops and vegetables that keep her family alive (132-33, 137-46).
A beautiful,admired,and cared-forbaby is not so tempted to returnto wrugbe
(239-40).
Providedthe infant does not die-succumb to disease or just decide to give
up life in this realm and go back to wrugbe(284)-it eventually becomes fully
detached from its other invisible home.

Whenchildrencan speaktheir dreams,or understand[a drasticsituation,


such as] that their mother or father has died, then you knowthat they've
totally come out of wrugbe.... by seven years old, for sure!Atthree years
old, they're still in-between: partlyin wrugbeand partlyin this life. They
see what happens in this life, but they don't understandit. (85)

The young child is fully anchored in the world once he or she is able to objec-
tify its relation to where it comes from-wrugbe-by explicitlydifferentiating
dreaming life from waking life, able to recognise and acknowledgefully its re-

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CHRISTINATOREN

lationto its this-realmkinand, generally,able to posit objectivelywhat goes on


in this-realmlife.
The progressivedetachment of the child from wrugbeis evinced in its crawl-
ing, cuttingits firsttooth, startingto walk,and graduallygivingup the speech of
wrugbe-manifest to livinghumansas infantbabbling.Bythese lattermeans the
infant tries to make known its desires to caregiverswho have long lost the an-
cestralknowledgewith which they too had entered the domain of the livingand
which had allowed them, in their own early infancy,at once to understandall
languagesand yet be unable to make their wants known(98-103).A corollaryof
this is that a difficultlabourmay be the resultof a baby'srefusalto emerge from
the womb until it is called by "the rightname,"the name it has in wrugbeand,
likewise, that the older infant who responds to hearing its own (this-realm)
name spoken is deemed readyto take solidfood (207)-that is, food given by the
ancestors'blessingwhose concern for their living kin is manifest in the fertility
of land, animals and people themselves. Bythe same token,

[i]fan infant should happen to utter one or more real words in a known
language ... this would inidcate that the young child had completely left
wrugbe behind and had fully entered this world .... a process that nor-
mally ought to take several years ... the prematureutteringof articulate
speech is interpretedas a sign that a close relative ... will soon die (223).

Whatconstitutesthe substance of the livingand bringskinshipinto being is


unclear,but it must have a good deal to do with feeding. A mother'sbreastmilk
and semen are perhapsforms of the same substance (212), for she must take
care that no drop of milk falls on the genitals of her infant son who will oth-
erwise be impotent at maturity;there is no danger to her infant daughter
(192). Does semen nourishthe child as it grows in the womb? Breastmilkman-
ifests fertilityin a female form just as semen manifestsfertilityin a male form;
it followsthat breastmilkis susceptibleto witchcraft(193)as, presumably,is se-
men. Perhapsit is because of the implicationsfor this-realmfertilityof sexual
fluids that the married couple must take immense care to ensure that that
their sexualitydoes not infect their infant children (117-119, 192) who are still
part of wrugbe.Is it because the productsof human fertilityare fundamental-
ly of the same orderas the productsof the fertilityof other beings-ancestors
and other spirits--that they cannot be allowed contact with one another? So,
for example, breastmilkis inimicalto the cooked meat from animals sacrificed
by a Masterof Earthand vice versa-girls and women are forbidden this food,

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Do Babies Have Culture?

which is eaten by men and boys, but only once the infant boy has been weaned
(192); and "the dirt from sex that has not been washed off will ruin the yams
that are growingin the fields"(193).Accordingto this same logic, sexual dirtit-
self is used to counteract developmental delay in a child whose parents re-
sumed havingsex too soon, thus afflictingtheir child with the illnesscalled dirt
(228);here like cures like in the sense that two negativescancel each other out.
In my readingof Alma Gottlieb'sTheAfterlifeIs WhereWeComeFrom:The
Cultureof Infancyin WestAfricathe Beng of the COted'lvoire are concerned
above all with the nature of their relationswith one another, includingcrucial-
ly with their own dead, and with other spiritbeings.Withthe dead they can, up
to a point, take kinshipfor granted but even so they must continuallystriveto
recognize(and in so doing establish)particularkinshipties that will obligatethe
dead to look afterthem (even as, from their own perspective,the dead are per-
haps engaged in a similarendeavour in respectof the living).This is a difficult
undertaking,one requiringconstantattention, because for the Bengtheir dead
are their mirroringOther-at once continuous with them and co-terminousin
the sense that a death in eitherworldmeans a re-birthin the other.So they strug-
gle to ensurethat a livingperson'slife cycle-especially duringthe infantyears-
takes its properform:a childshould crawlby six monthsor as earlyas four(227),
should cut its first tooth on the lower jaw (223-225) before learningto walk
(226);and only once the firsttooth is cut shouldthe infantbeginto speakthe lan-
guage of this-realm(225).Anydevelopmentaldelay in the childdenotes the like-
lihood of impropersexualactivityon the parents'part;sex between spousesmay
resume only once the child is walkingand then weaned; sex before time is so
dangerous that, for example, a child may never begin to walk and may die
(212). Bythe same token, any precociousdevelopment suggeststhat, in remov-
ing itself too rapidlyfrom wrugbe,the child will bringabout the death before
time of one of its close kin.Thusthe struggleto maintainthe fragile'balanceof
livesin this worldvis-a-visthose in wrugbe'(233)findsits locus in the neonateand
infant who is the literal embodiment of relatedness between the living and
wrugbe,and between the livingthemselves.3
Butthe dead are not the only spiritswith whom the Beng engage; there are
also those who live in the bush-the most importantof whom are the pygmy-
sized beings who live on the borderbetween the village and the forest (67)just
as, "[d]ependingon whose perspectiveone adopts, the homeland of the Beng
is situated on the northernedge of the forest zone or the southern edge of the
savanna zone" (p.62).The lives of the forest spirits"parallelthe lives of people'
in that they havethe 'same sortsof familyarrangements," "thesame desiresand

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CHRISTINATOREN

... the same lacks"(241).There are too the Earthspiritswhose names are "too
powerfulto utter in normal discourse"(67) and to which each village is affili-
ated; they are attended on by Mastersof the Earthwho every six days offer
them "prayersand animal sacrificeson behalf of individualsor, occasionally,
groups"(68).These relationswith forest and Earthspiritsare at once expressed
and constituted in multiple forms of proper conduct that acknowledge the
spirits'existence and solicit their goodwill and/or protection. Unlikethe wru,
these spiritsare not kin to the Beng; they are beings with whom people must
do their best to maintainexchange relations(in the case of the bengze)or pro-
pitiate (in the case of the EarthSpirits).
The relation between living humans and these different spirits-and espe-
cially perhaps those that inhabit wrugbe-is a dynamic one, forever changing
as a function of the way that actions in one domain set off a series of reactions
or counteractionsin the other that are only in part predictableand thus guard-
ed against,though they may always be explicablewith hindsightor throughthe
actions of a diviner.Often enough the dynamic play of relations between the
various spirits and the living have reference to relations between the living
themselves. These are formalizedas a materiallylayeredgrid whose networks
are superimposed upon one another and manifest in the very land, in village
buildingsand fields, in "thenamed pathsthat crisscrossthe forestand lead both
from village to fields and between villages" (70). Thus the extended house-
holdswhose component houses are clusteredtogether roundan open courtyard
are crosscut by a dual descent system

... with each individualholding life membership in both a matriclanand


a patrician ... Each village is split into neighbourhoods ... affiliated with
and named fora single matriclan... [the]space of each matriclanextends
into the adjacentforestdividingthe entire forested regionof Bengland...
patricianssegment social space in both village and forest along a second
axis ... withineach matrilaterallyconstitutedneighbourhood[of a village],
the courtyardshouse patrilaterallyconstitutedextended families ... with-
in each matrilaterallyconstituted region in the forest, men establish
fields by referenceto paternalties: a man and his sons farm pie-shaped
wedges grouped in a full circle (70).

These well-ordered, controlled relations between people related to one an-


other as mutuallyconcerned kin and affines is threatened by the jealous depre-
dations of witches who are, of course, likely to be certain of these same kin

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Do Babies Have Culture?

driven by jealousy or desire (pp 248). The continual care that is put into main-
taining properand therefore (it may be assumed) mutuallybeneficial relations
with spirits(especiallywith ancestralkin in wrugbe)finds its most potent effect
in the protectionthey affordfrom witches.
Beng livesare, it seems, given over to bringinginto being anew the relations
that sustain them as Beng in a history of relationswith others which has en-
compassed centuriesof transformingvicissitudesand which, over the previous
century, has requiredthem to enter yet again into new forms of relationship
(pp62-75).To take just one example:

By 1900, the Frenchhad imposed a head tax on each household ... Inor-
der to gain access to the necessarycash, Africanfarmerswere obliged to
convert a good portion of their labor from farmingsubsistence cropsto
farming cash crops that the colonial rulersintroduced.., in order to dis-
cuss anything havingto do with "taxes",ratherthan adopting (or adapt-
ing) the Frenchword imp6t, the Beng instead coined the ... phrase nen
zra which means, literally,to "throwaway [one's]soul"(276).

Itthus denotes not a commodityexchangeas such, but extortion-a relationship


(if it can be so described,clearlythe Bengdo not understandit as such)that can-
not be analagousto sacrifice,for it is closer to predation.It is interesting,there-
fore, that when the earlyFrenchcolonialsilvercoinswere supercededin 1945 by
new franccoins, the old coins became, along with cowryshells, the currencyof
wrugbe,and fittingdecorativeadditionsto a baby'snecklaces(275).An infant's
claspedfist indicatesthat it has broughtgold fromwrugbeinto the world(89)and
the child'sfirstgift should be a cowryshell, which is 'importantas a currencyfor
the ancestors-the second most importantthing aftergold' (87).4
Whattransformationsin relationswith others-whether human or spirit-
are instantiatedin the differentmaterialsubstancesin which those relationsare
made to take form? And what transformationsof substance allow the newly
born child to emerge from wrugbeclutchingtightly in its hand the gold whose
materialabsence throws into relief the same child's poverty?
Today,Gottliebtells us, the livingBeng (who numberonly 12,000 in a nation
of over 14.5 million)find themselves strugglingdesperatelyagainstthe terrible
and grindingpovertythat even before the onset, in 2002, of civilwar between
north and south had become day-to-day reality for the Beng. She details a
heart-rendingcatalogueof ills:ecologicaldecline consequent upon new and un-
suitablefarmingpractices,more land given overto unprofitablecash crops,less

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CHRISTINATOREN

land for subsistence farming, more hunger, more disease, malnutrition,rising


infant mortality.Whoknows but in their urbanexistence in wrugbe,the wru of
the ancestors are strugglingto effect new material conversionsto enable con-
tinuingexchangesof substancebetween their domain and that of the livingand
thus ensure the continuityof the Beng, their forms of sociality,their manifold
relationships.Certainly,the wru make sure to continue their protectiveassoci-
ation with those closestto them, notwithstandingchanges in house design, con-
versionto Christianityor Islam,and more drasticchanges consequent upon the
povertythat drives people (and especially young people) away from their an-
cestral lands:

The wru of your family will alwaysfollow you, no matterwhere you are:
even if you move to a big city,your parents'soulswillacccompanyyou. This
is true even if yourfamilysplitsup: the wruof your parentsand other close
relativeswill stillaccompanyyou in all your scatteredlocations(304).

It will be apparentto the readerthat TheAfterlifeIs WhereWeComeFromis


filled with richlylayered(and often moving)materialon the daily lives of Beng
people, especially on what they say about babies and how what they say in-
forms their day-to-day practice in caring for infants. Gottlieb knows a great
deal about Beng ideas and practices,their cosmology and how they conceive
of the world, kinshipand family,gender, and Beng history includingtheir en-
counter with Frenchcolonialism,with Christianityand Islamand how it comes
to be the case that today their lives are characterisedby gruelling poverty.The
breadthof her knowledgeis admirableand the book is engaginglywritten and
bound to be widely read, by the public at large as well as by anthropologists.
Gottlieb'sprojectin this book is twofold. She wants to persuade others of us
to undertakean anthropologyof infancy,one that considers "infants'lives as
texts to be read"(53)-an undertakingthat requiresthat the anthropologisten-
gage directlywith infantsand understandadults'ideas about how and what ba-
bies communicate and with whom. By these means we might "identifythe
existentialconditionswhich constitute ... [babies']experientialworld"(56) and
producea "richlytheorizedanthropologyof infancy"(42). Hersecond objective
is to lay bare "thestrikingdifferencesthat markcontemporaryNorthAmerican
and Bengchild-rearinglogics"and by means of these comparisonsto argue that
"bothsystemsare the resultof culturalconstruction"(xviiiet seq).These twin ob-
jectives ensure that Gottlieb'sworkwill find many sympathetic readers. In cer-
tain respects,her book recallsthe best workof MargaretMead-that is, the early

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Do Babies Have Culture?

workssuch as GrowingUp in New Guinea-and seems likelyto hold much the


same fascinationfor readers;Gottlieb'scomparisons,like Mead's,are intended
to shake the reader'sfaith in their own taken-for-grantedexplanationsof the
way the world is, primarilythe certainties expressed in child-rearingmanuals
concerningwhat is biologicallynaturalto babies.
Theaccountwith which I beganthis essay is intendedto suggest,however,that
Beng categoriesmay be renderedanalyticalwithout recourseto the idea of cul-
ture or culturalconstruction.Indeed,I should wish to arguethat the idea of cul-
ture obstructs,ratherthan illuminates,our understandingof others(includingour
understandingof the Beng).Evenso, I agree wholeheartedlywith Gottliebthat in-
fants and children are worthy (even especially worthy)of anthropologists're-
spectfuland fascinatedattention.?Butwhat Iwant to see is not an anthropology
of infancyor childhood, but a more adequate (more knowledgeable,more in-
formative,more epistemologicallyaware)anthropology.6 ThusIwouldwantto ar-
gue that if we anthropologistsare to arriveat a richlynuanced understandingof
what other people take for grantedas self evident, it is theircategoriesof know-
ing we must attempt, for our own purposes,to renderanalaytical.Bythe same
token, if we are to explain ourselves,we have to undertakean ethnographicin-
vestigationinto how the ideaswe use are constitutedin and throughour relations
with one anotheras professionalanthropologists.Onlythus can we turnour cat-
egories backon ourselvesand explainwhat we're doing.
I am awarethat certainof the views expressedin the previousparagraphwill
be rejectedout of hand by some, so I have to beg the reader'sforbearance.Let
me explain.
The idea that much (if not most) of what humans say and do is the product
of culturalconstruction is a truism of contemporaryculturalanthropology.7I
maintainthat the idea is not explanatory,that if it was once useful it is no longer
so, that it is time we addressed head-on the necessityfor an epistemologythat
is appropriateto anthropologicalfindings. I say this even though I can find in
my own earlierwork a numberof appearancesof the terms 'cultural'and 'con-
struction'and even 'culturalconstructs'.But it's not 'construction'that bothers
me so much, it's 'culture'that is analyticallyempty.8I acknowledge that for
many readersthis assertion amounts to plain heresy, but it's preciselyfor this
reason that I make so bold. Culturehas achieved an ascendancy that renders
it virtually unassailable. It is appealed to by all to explain all kinds of phe-
nomena-from religiousfundamentalism to the failure of one multinational
corporationto outdo another,from sexual practicesto house designand the use
of space. Whatseems to go unnoticed is that in all cases and whatevergloss is

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CHRISTINATOREN

put on it, from the perspectiveof the person who makes use of it, culture is al-
ways the domain of error.9In crudeterms, this is because cultureas what is rel-
ative and particularinevitably implies its analytical counterpart, biology, as
the domain of the irreducible,the universal.The analyticalpovertyof this dis-
tinction becomes especially apparent when we turn our attention to anthro-
pological studies where the focus is on children.
Does it make sense to think of a neonate as an organism that is born bio-
logicalonly to become culturalas a resultof actions performedon it by its care-
givers?Surelynot, for even in this perspectivethe infant'scapacityto become
the carrierof culture is inherent to it; thus culture has to be in some sense giv-
en if its particularforms are to be achieved. But if our capacityfor cultureis bi-
ologically given, what allows us to retain the distinction between biology and
culture as an analyticalone? How are we to sort out which aspects of human
being are properlyto be analysed as biologicaland which as cultural?And giv-
en that these questionsthemselves implythat the biologicaland the culturalare
aspects of one another, why retain the distinction at all? Anthropology'sob-
jective is to explain the extraordinarymultiplicitythat is human being in the
world or, more exactly,how the uniqueness that is peculiarto every one of us
is located in what we have in common.10
So, to reiterateone of AlmaGottlieb'squestions: do babies have culture?My
answer is no, generallyspeakingthey don't. But it's not just because babies are
babies that cultureescapes them. Onlythose of us who take culture for grant-
ed as an idea (and perhapsparticularlyas an explanation)could be said to have
culture. Of course, there are many of us who do. As an anthropologicaltrope,
culture is taken to be at once self-evident and a model of and for human be-
ings' connectedness to one another. Layusage appears to owe a good deal to
this view, though it is worth noting that in the processof being taken into day-
to-day usage as an explanatoryterm, culture has also come to denote a new
form of essentialism."1Inany case, how exactlyculturecomes to be understood
as at once self-evidentand explanatoryis a worthy object of ethnographic in-
vestigation-one that, to be truly illuminating,should include an ethnograph-
ic analysis of its ontogeny.

ENDNOTES
1Thesequestioningobservationsare provokedby EduardoViveirosde Castro'sethnography
of the Arawetdof easternAmazonia(1992)accordingto which he argues,usingthe idea of
perspectivismor point-of-view,fora redefinitionof the classicalcategoriesof natureand cul-
ture, cultureand society,and the relationsbetween them (1996, 1998).Whetheror not the

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Do Babies Have Culture?

idea of point-of-viewis analyticallyapplicablein the case of the Beng (i.e. warrantedby


ethnography)is, of course,itselfan ethnographicquestion.
2Thelived presentis our artifact,an emergentaspect of the way that as livingsystemsthat
are human,we functionat once to constituteand incorporateour own history-that is,the
historyof our relationswith others in the peopled world(see Toren1999a, 2002b).
3Foran interestingethnographiccomparisonof the waythat ideasaboutchildreninformthe
day-to-daymaterialrelationsbetween people that constitutea particularsubsistenceecon-
omy,see Gow(1989).Otherworksby Gow(2000,2001) makeuse of data aboutchildrenand
from childrento illuminatethe ideas and practicesthroughwhich people make sense of
themselvesand their relationswith one another in the environingworld.
4Cf.ThomasGibson's(1986)analysisof transformationsin modesof relationshipamongthe
Buidof Mindoro.
5So,for example,in MakingSenseof Hierarchy Iset out to show howthe continuityof an his-
toricallyspecificform of politicaleconomythat is the artifactof day-to-daylife in a Fijian
chiefdomcould only be properlyunderstoodthroughan ethnographicstudyof ontogeny
(seeToren1990).Myargumenthereand elsewhereis that children(includinginfants)should
be includedin anthropologicalfieldworkon preciselythe same basisas any of our otherin-
formants-because only they can give us access to what they know about the peopled
worldand whatthey knowcan provideus with analyticalinsightsthat cannot be obtained
anyotherway.Forotherexamplesof whatwe can learnfromchild-focusedethnography, see
e.g. PartIIof Toren1999a, also 1999b,2002a and 2003.
6Formy argumentas to how this mightbe achieved,see Toren(2002b).
71thinkI am rightin sayingthat the idea of culturalconstructionoriginallyappearedin the
domainof academicpsychology;certainlythis is whereIfirstcame acrossthe idea in respect
of children(see Kessen1983).The idea is also centralto the developmentof the contem-
porarysociologyof childhood,where it is inflectedby an idea that the child'sagencychal-
lenges the discoursesthat constitute particularideas concerningwhat a child is (James,
Jenksand Prout1998)-an idea with whichGottlieb'sworkis implicitlyin sympathy.
8Myown attemptsto theoriseconstructionhave involved,firstly,usingPiaget'sideasto ren-
der Bourdieu'snotionof habituspsychologically viableand capableof incorporatinghisto-
ry (see Toren 1990). Nowadays,however, it seems more satisfactoryto me to do away
altogetherwiththe over-systematised and paradoxically statichabitusand to put forwarda
synthesisof certainof Piaget'sideas with Merleau-Ponty's account of intentionalityand
Vygotsky'sperspectiveon languageas a tool for thought,and embed this in an idea of hu-
man self-realisationas a social process(see Toren1999a and 2002b)
9Forexample,the domain of culturemay be glossedas symbolicor metaphorical-that is,
as standingfor somethingother than itself.
10For an insightinto why culturalconstructionis not adequateto this task,see for example,
Toren(2002b),whicharguesfor an anthropologyof onotgenythat is capableof rendering
analyticalnot only our informants'categories,but our own.
"1Kuper (1999)providesan historicalanalysisof the developmentof the idea of cultureas
used by anthropologistsand a provocativediscussionof its contemporaryuses.

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