Cross-Cultural Studies of Children, Child Development and Youth MSc

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  • Objectives
    Everywhere in the world adult ideas and practices structure the conditions of children's lives, but even so, adults cannot control what children make of those conditions. Anthropological studies show conclusively that we cannot understand developmental processes in children unless we know how these processes are informed by culture. We know that different people's different ideas about what it is to be a child or young person or adult make developmental processes take on different forms. But how does this come to be so? Local ethnographic knowledge is crucial to any attempt to study children in their own terms and in doing so to make children's own ideas and practices of central importance. This Brunel MSc was the first degree of its kind in the world when it was established and, as far as is known, is still unique in its thorough-going anthropological perspective on what it is to be a child. Its key organising principle is that understanding children demands the study of how their relations with others - peers, older and younger children, parents, teachers and other adults - inform their ideas about themselves and the environing world. As it becomes increasingly recognised that children forge their own ideas of the world and that these ideas do not (and never will) exactly mirror those of the adults around them, it also becomes evident that socialisation cannot offer a complete explanation of differences between developmental processes in children. How we come to grips with this new understanding of children and childhood is of the first importance to anyone who works, or wants to work, with children. Teachers, health professionals, psychologists, social workers and parents, will benefit from the cross-cultural and anthropological perspective of this degree. Already many graduates have been able to build new careers or enhance their existing careers, based on the new and exciting approach offered in this degree. It builds on a substantial body of research work and staff interests and expertise at Brunel.
  • Entry requirements
    Normally a good Honours degree from a UK institution; an equivalent overseas qualification; or an equivalent professional qualification (eg from a teaching or health or child welfare background or similar). Candidates not fully meeting these criteria may nevertheless be considered. Students whose first language is not English must have IELTS of at least 6.5 or equivalent.
  • Academic title
    Cross-Cultural Studies of Children, Child Development and Youth MSc
  • Course description
        *  Do children of 'different cultures' live 'different worlds'?

        * Do children have their own world, distinct from the world of adults?

        * How do the rituals of day-to-day life inform children's ideas of society at large?

        * Why are adults' ideas about children and childhood always so important for what children are and what they become?

    This was the first degree of its kind in the world when it was established and, as far as is known, is still unique in its anthropological perspective in studying children and childhood. Its key organising principle is that children are not just passive recipients of the world in which they live. They are, on the contrary, active and involved, and help to constitute that world, as well as being constituted by it.

    As it becomes increasingly recognised that the child's view and role in the settings in which it lives is of an equal importance to the adult's, all those concerned with children such as teachers, health professionals, psychologists, social workers and parents, will benefit from the cross-cultural perspective of this degree.

    The course is designed to show postgraduate students how anthropological approaches can be used to gain access to and understand children's lived experience, their ideas about the world and themselves, and their relations with peers and adults. In so doing, it aims to provide a rigorous grounding in key anthropological ideas and research methods and to show how a comparative social analysis illuminates our understanding of ourselves and other people.

    Students take modules in the social anthropology of childhood and child development and research methods modules leading to a 15,000-word dissertation. All modules reflect the expertise available and cover topics such as: the child in kinship; the anthropology of childhood; children in health and sickness; and the cultural processes of learning.

    Modules are subject to variation and students are advised to check with the School on whether a particular module of interest will be running in their year of entry.

    Compulsory Modules

    The Anthropology of Childhood and Youth
    Main topics of study: the concept of the child in society; children's participation in society; children's ways of coping with violence; child play; child labour; the history of youth as a political category; young people's resistance to marginalisation; the radicalisation of young people.

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    Anthropological and Psychological Perspectives on Learning
    Main topics of study: models of learning in anthropology and psychology; children as subjects and objects; learning as an embodied microhistorical process; space-time coordinates of learning; kinship and intersubjectivity; person and gender; language and consciousness; ritual and learning.

    Ethnographic Research Methods
    Main topics of study: the centrality of fieldwork to anthropological research; theoretical and practical issues of participant observation, open-ended unstructured interviews and semi-structured interviews; the advantages and disadvantages of using questionnaires during fieldwork; different styles of ethnographic writing; gaining access in ethnographic research; ethical clearance and ethical dilemmas arising in the course of fieldwork; constructing a research proposal

    The specific topics and/or research problems discussed in the dissertation are a function of the student’s particular research interest in the domain of the anthropology of children, child development and youth, and the data generated by the student’s own fieldwork.

    Recent examples of dissertations by students taking this course include:

        * A happy, carefree childhood? Telling children that someone in the family has HIV/AIDS.
        * Dangerous Lives: the experiences of British Asian women and children in the aftermath of domestic violence.
        * The language of learning: how children become learners.

    Optional Modules

        * Kinship and New Directions in Anthropology
        * The Anthropology of the Body
        * Anthropology of the Person
        * Anthropology of Disability and Difference

    Plus two unassessed reading modules

    History and Theory of Social Anthropology
    Main topics of study: evolutionary' anthropology; 'race', 'civilisation'; diffusionism and the Boas school; the development of ethnographic research; functional, structure and comparison; structuralism; neo-evolutionism; culture and the interpretation of cultures; critiques (Marxism, feminism, post-modernism).

    Issues in Social Anthropology
    Main topics of study: kinship; gender; religion; anthropology of the body.

    International Development

    Global Agendas on Young People, Rights and Participation

    Applied Learning for Children, Youth and International Develoment

    Special Features

    Our course team has worked in countries across the globe including South, West and East Africa, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, as well as Britain.

    Research interests of our current team of internationally respected anthropologists are as follows:

    Dr Nicolas Argenti has undertaken long-term fieldwork in Cameroon and in Sri Lanka. He is an expert on children’s and young people’s experience of conflict and on theories of material culture and social change.

    Dr Andrew Beatty specialises in religion, kinship and emotion. He has worked on the relation between family forms and styles of thinking (conceptual and moral relativism) in Java, has a research interest in Mexico and has published on the anthropology of emotion.

    Dr Peggy Froerer has undertaken extensive fieldwork in India on Hindu nationalism, Christian/Hindu ethnic relations and education. Her recent work focuses on childhood, learning and cognition, and on children's understanding and beliefs about illness and health.

    Dr Eric Hirsch has a long-standing interest in the ethnography and history of Papua New Guinea. His research focuses on issues of historicity, landscape, power and property relations. He has also carried out fieldwork in Britain on the relations between new technologies and personhood.

    Professor Cecil Helman was recently awarded the Career Achievement Award of the Society of Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association and the Lucy Mair Medal for Applied Anthropology of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Some recent research includes beliefs about Diabetes Mellitus among British Bangladeshis and perceptions of childhood immunisations among Xhosa people in rural Transkei, South Africa. He is the author of the standard international textbook Culture, Health and Illness.

    Professor Adam Kuper is an expert on the history of anthropological theory, kinship, and the ethnography of Africa.

    Dr Isak Niehaus works on the diverse fields of population removals, cosmology, witchcraft, masculinity, sexuality, politics and AIDS in the South African lowveld, and is interested in the parallels between post-Apartheid in South Africa and post-Communism in the Czech Republic. He is currently writing the biography of a South African teacher.

    Dr Melissa Parker has undertaken research in Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana and London. Her publications address a wide range of issues including tropical diseases; maternal and child health; female circumcision and sexuality; HIV/AIDS and sexual networks; anthropology and public health.

    Dr James Staples conducts fieldwork in South India, including long-term research with leprosy-affected people in a rural coastal community and, more recently, with disabled people in the major city of Hyderabad. His thematic interests include personhood, performance and the body; disability and notions of human rights; and marginal livelihoods, including begging.


    Assessment is variously by essay, practical assignments (eg, analysis of a short field exercise), and a dissertation of approximately 15,000 words. This dissertation is based upon fieldwork undertaken by the candidate. There are no examinations.

    Candidates will acquire analytical and research skills that can be used in a wide range of careers. In addition to providing a firm grounding for doctoral research on childhood and youth, graduates will find that the degree enhances professional development in fields such as teaching, social work, health-visiting, nursing and midwifery, pediatric specialisms, non-governmental agencies and international development. Every year, some of our graduates also go on to do further research for a PhD in child-focused anthropology as members of the Centre for Child-Focused Anthropological Research (C-FAR).

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