Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Ethnology 27 (1988), pp. 339-65. Copyright 1988 University of Pittsburgh.


How does change in one part of a social system affect other parts? This is the central question that must be answered in order to understand the process through which culture changes. This paper is about a small piece of the problem. It investigates how changes in subsistence economy affect child behavior and the relations between parents and children among !Kung Bushmen of Western Botswana. We will show that the adoption of a sedentary life style and a new technology of food production is associated with changes in the social interactions between parents and children and between children and their peers. The social and physical settings of everyday life also change with economic practices. We will describe these differences and discuss their implications.

Among the !Kung, foraging and settled groups differ markedly in child behavior and in social interactions between parents and children. Compared with bush-living children, sedentary children do more work, range farther from home, show more sex differentiated behaviors, and interact more with peers. These changes are especially interesting since they appear to result from changes in economy and adult work roles, not from a conscious change in child socialization by adults. These findings shed light on the ways in which social and economic changes affect individual behavior and lead to new normative patterns.

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