Category Archives: ACYIG Blog

Ebola Response & the Anthropology of Childhood

Eight Ways that Ebola Response Efforts can benefit from the Anthropology of Childhood

by Jean Hunleth

I peg myself as an anthropologist of childhood. I’m not trying to put myself in a box with this label. I like the label because it emphasizes my firm belief that we need to understand children’s perspectives to truly comprehend the problems in our world. I see value in paying attention to children’s perspectives on many social issues. Insert most news items and I’m thinking: How are children experiencing and responding to this issue? How would understanding children’s perspectives change our own perceptions and responses? In what ways can we best make sense of children’s experiences and talk with them about this issue? And so, when I receive my daily Google updates on “Ebola and children,” I can’t help but think that anthropologists of childhood should play a tremendous role in assisting organizations and funding agencies in their relief efforts aimed at children in the Ebola outbreak.

Population figures alone demand that we pay attention to children in the Ebola outbreak. Children under the age of 15 years old make up more than 40 percent of the population in each of the West African countries most heavily affected by Ebola- Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone (Population Reference Bureau). Children have borne direct effects of the outbreak. UNICEF estimated that 2,542 children had been infected with Ebola by December 2014. More than 10,000 children have lost one or both parents. Even children who haven’t been directly impacted by Ebola experience Ebola in other ways: through public health protocols, humanitarian efforts, school closures, stories and rumors, to name just a few.

Photo by Melissa Minor Peters
Photo by Melissa Minor Peters

The urgency of humanitarian efforts to address children’s needs in Ebola-affected areas is unmistakable. However, the best ways to support children are not always self-evident. Sometimes the most self-evident interventions can cause more harm than good. For this reason, I have made a quick list of eight reasons why anthropologists of childhood should be involved in Ebola response efforts. Some of these are very general, and most researchers in the anthropology of childhood subscribe to them. Others are more particular. They come out of my research with children living through the tuberculosis and HIV epidemics in southern Africa and my reading of the anthropological research with children in Africa. Of course, there are many specifics I am also leaving out because Ebola is not tuberculosis or HIV and West Africa is not southern Africa. …read more at Jean Hunleth’s blog. 

Interrogating the Wave: Media Representations of African Migrant Youth

by Stephanie Maher

“Images are not just a particular kind of sign, but something like an actor on the historical stage, a presence or character endowed with legendary status, a history that parallels and participates in the stories we tell ourselves about our own evolution”– (W. J. T. Mitchell 1984, 504)

Media representations are powerful. Not only do they embody the appealing veneer of journalistic impartiality, which seems to objectively reflect world in unadulterated ways, but also they help to generate public opinion and thus create consensus when crafting and mobilizing particular policy responses.

Such an image-policy nexus is exemplified in the hyper-mediatized phenomenon of clandestine migration out of West Africa during 2006 and 2007. While the Western route was effectively crippled by the implementation of border controls and surveillance technologies, the images we see today of boat migrants leaving North African shores bear a striking similarity to those circulated nearly a decade ago.

In order to highlight the productive relationship between image and policy, this photo essay explores some of the visual and rhetorical representations of West African boat migrants that circulated widely in the European and American press during what was called a “wave” of clandestine arrivals in the Canary Islands.   …read more on the Youth Circulations blog.

2006, Juan Medina / Reuters
2006, Juan Medina / Reuters


Fieldwork Under Fire

By Cindy Dell Clark

Far from the stereotype anthropologist who heads to the field in an exotic, adventurous location, I am a homebody. My research has been conducted entirely in the United States. My informants are American parents and American kids as young as five. But I’ve run into adventure, especially recently.

Last Fall, as part of a hands-on, civic engagement class in Applied Anthropology at Rutgers University- Camden, my students were assigned to conduct interviews with 7th graders at an inner city Camden, NJ school not far from campus. Each of my college students had to conduct two interviews with the same 7th grader, as part of a child-focused evaluation of an after school program. My undergraduates had been anxious prior to their first field observation and initial interview, but once they had that first visit completed, they gained considerable confidence. The day before they headed out to the field for their second interview, in small groups, they were self assured and optimistic about the work ahead.

On their appointed day, four of my students arrived at the school grounds, right at the end of the school day, with grammar schoolers still milling around the playground. Two of the Rutgers students had gone inside, and two were just arriving when a man shot a woman in the school’s parking lot. The woman fell, dead. One of my students saw the shooting, and one heard the shots fired but did not see it.

Camden is no stranger to shootings. The school had drilled its student population in a lock down process numerous times. The well-drilled routine kicked in, and within moments everyone—including all four of the Rutgers student interviewers—were locked inside the furnace rooms with kids, teachers, and each other. They remained on lock down for a strained suspension of time until the police came and gave the all clear.

To protect the privacy of the teachers and students, I will not describe what happened in the furnace room, nor will I detail the ways in which the shooting caused not atypical trauma reactions in my students. Fortunately, we have a trauma-experienced psychologist on staff at student health services at Rutgers Camden; she accepted my invitation to visit my classroom at our next session immediately after the shooting. This debriefing session was very healing for everyone, those who went through the experience directly, and those who became upset in sympathy with the four students who were directly involved. This class had become close knit, even before the shooting, and the students were comfortable with each other as they together confronted what had happened. The Rutgers-based psychologist left her business cards to make it easy to contact her for follow-up one-on-one appointments. As a clinician, she advised us that the students should plan to return to the school and make up their interviews as soon as possible, since post-trauma avoidance can trigger complicating reactions over time.

I personally drove and accompanied the students when they returned, with some apprehension, to the school grounds. I stayed in the school hallway while they successfully conducted interviews with 7th graders, who had been locked in the furnace room right along with their interviewers. Resilience of character was in evidence, all around.

Urban fieldwork, in my experience, has the potential to endow students with a fuller grasp of lived social reality. The dose of reality those Applied Anthropology students got in my class was profound, and they appreciated the lives of the children they studied with deepened sensitivity to their struggles.

If student ratings are any indication that I handled this experience appropriately, I perhaps did. The course received a perfect score on class evaluation surveys weeks later. Apparently, the steps I took turned out to be right for my students in this difficult situation: first, getting immediate psychological support for them by a trauma-knowledgeable clinician, and second, showing personal care and support to each student by accompanying them to the school (and crime scene) so they could again interview the 7th graders, all the more aware of the tough environment in which the interviewed boys and girls dwell.

The alleged murderer (who shot the woman in front of witnesses on a sunny afternoon) was ultimately arrested. The murder was reported in the local newspapers with a small story, but was not considered noteworthy enough to be featured prominently in area media.

Doing research in America in the 21st century, violence is endemic to the culture and therefore endemic to informants’ worlds. It takes courage to delve into children’s lives in our society; researchers and student-researchers are not beyond the reach of guns and trauma when astonishingly, shootings at schools have come to be taken in stride.

Cindy Dell Clark is currently a member of the ACYIG Advisory Board and Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University Camden. 

Blog Editor’s Note: If you would like to blog about your experience conducting research with children and youth, or have resources or advice to share with the ACYIG community, please contact Dori Beeler at dbeeler1[at]


ACYIG blog needs you!

We welcome submissions from ACYIG members for our blog!

The blog is a less formal venue for budding ideas, thoughts on critical issues that might not fit elsewhere, and a time-sensitive way to engage with a broader community of scholars and the public.

The topics are open, but here are a few ideas and possible themes:
  • children/youth in the news — Experts on topics that are coming up a lot in the current news write about their take on current events, parse out the news coverage or what isn’t being addressed, give deeper ethnographic insight into what is at stake, perhaps provide historical perspective, etc.
  • important issues related to children/youth that are NOT in the news — Things we know about as researchers that we wish had media coverage, and why.
  • photography from the field / brief photo essays
  • questions of ethics and the IRB — specifically in relation to research with minors and protected populations
  • the “anthropology of childhood and youth” outside of typical anthropology departments
  • status and future of being an “anthropologist of childhood/youth” in the U.S.; job advice & related
  • “why study children?” – novel perspectives and creative applications for thinking about the relevance of our discipline
  • notes from the field — open-ended reflections on research w/ kids
  • kids’ perspectives on participating in research
  • childhood and youth in popular culture, etc.
  • summaries of discussions that occur on our listserv (or other such community resources)

Please note that submissions are screened internally and decisions about posting pieces are made quickly, so this is of course not a formal academic publication nor is it to be considered peer reviewed. It is, however, a great way to get more people to view your ideas and publicize your work, and to help publicize the anthropology of childhood and youth!

For more information on submitting to our blog, please contact Bonnie Richard at [email protected].



Widening the Frame: Unaccompanied Youth

by Lauren Heidbrink & Michele Statz

In the past few weeks, New Mexico’s Artesia Family Residential Center has become the most recent flashpoint in the media coverage of child migration. Continue reading Widening the Frame: Unaccompanied Youth