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David Lancy Article Noted in the Boston Globe

Thursday, Jul. 19, 2007

USU professor David Lancy

USU professor David Lancy.

Utah State University anthropology professor David Lancy recently wrote an article that was published in American Anthropologist, the field’s top journal, and Boston Globe writer Christopher Shea took note.

Shea, in a piece published July 15, jumped into the deep end of the pool in the growing debate concerning the relationship of parent and child play. There are plenty of voices on both sides, and Lancy’s article points out that the idea that adults should play with their children is a modern invention and not necessarily good.
Shea opens his piece painting a picture easily recreated in homes across America.
“What could be more natural than a mother down on the rec-room floor, playing with her 3-year-old amid puzzles, finger-puppets, and Thomas the Tank Engine trains?,” Shea writes. “Look — now she’s conducting a conversation between a stuffed shark and Nemo, the Pixar clown fish! Giggles all around. Not to mention that the tot is learning the joys of stories and narrative, setting him on a triumphal path toward school.
“A ‘natural’ scene?,” Shea continued. “Actually, parent-child play of this sort has been virtually unheard of throughout human history, according to anthropologist David Lancy. And three-fourths of the world’s current population would still find that mother’s behavior kind of dotty.”
Let the debate begin.
Shea summarized Lancy’s notion that American-style parent-child play is a distinct feature of wealthy developed countries — a recent byproduct of the pressure to get kids ready for the information-age economy.
Shea said Lancy reports that in most cultures around the world, adults think it is silly to play with children. Yes, play is universal, but adults are not a part of it.
“Yet middle-class and upper-middle-class Americans — abetted, he [Lancy] says, by psychologists — are increasingly proclaiming the parents-on-all-fours style the One True Way to raise a smart, well-adjusted child,” Shea writes.
To read more of Shea’s discussion, see his piece highlighting Lancy and his work in The Boston Globe.

Lancy is interested in a variety of parenting issues. His work includes the forthcoming book The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press. Publication is anticipated in 2008.

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