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(P38) Reconsidering play-to-work transition in (post-)hunter-gatherer communities

Convenors: Akira Takada, Kyoto University; Xiaojie Tian, University of Tsukuba

Discussants: to be announced

Abstract: Hunter-gatherer children are said to be socialised in multi-aged groups of children, allowing children ample time to play and become familiar with subsistence work. This session reconsiders this assumption with reference to new theoretical frameworks such as natural pedagogy and recent social changes in hunter-gatherer communities.

Keywords: children, play, work, teaching, learning 

Format: standard panel

Precirculated papers: yes


Previous researchers have advocated that the multi-aged groups of hunter-gatherer children have ample time to play, through which they become familiar with the natural environment without any formal educational system. The characteristics of such a childhood were thought to be necessary to produce competent hunting and gathering that requires vast knowledge and skills regarding subsistence activities. This argument has traditionally been widely accepted for delineating the archetype of human childhood.

However, the argument has been challenged by a sizeable collection of more recent research, at least in two respects: First, several psychological studies have advocated that humans are universally equipped with a natural inclination to convey cultural knowledge through explicit intentions, and that this natural pedagogy has enabled humans to prosper. It appears that such a claim is contrary to the above image of socialisation among hunter-gatherers. It is thus worth reconsidering the process of hunter-gatherer socialisation, while at the same time re-examining the definition of teaching and learning referring to empirical data on hunter-gatherers. Second, virtually all hunter-gatherer communities have undergone accelerated social changes that make hunting and gathering as subsistence work increasingly difficult. Consequently, most (post-)hunter-gatherer communities have developed complicated politico-economic relationships with neighbouring ethnic groups, nation states, the global economy, and other social institutions. In order to promote discussion of the above two issues, this session will provide a platform for re-examining the premises and theoretical frameworks of play and work among hunter-gatherers.

To facilitate in-depth discussion, we welcome broad theoretical approaches. Furthermore, comparative approaches to the study of play and work will be highly valued. The speakers at this session are encouraged to present short video clips from their fields of study at the linked interactive activity (L02) Movies from the field: Play-to-work transition in (post-)hunter-gatherer communities




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