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Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent (Anglais) Broché – 4 mai 1999


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Several years ago, The American Museum of Natural History in New York City sponsored a special exhibit of human ancestors. Their goal was to bring to the public a four-million-year record of original human fossils. These fossils are usually locked in museum vaults in Africa, Asia, and Europe, privy only to the eyes of qualified scientists. But that spring, the average person was going to have an opportunity to see their ancestors, not in the flesh but in the bone. For me, an anthropologist, this was a dream come true to see the actual fossils that I had spent so many years studying and teaching about. I drove to New York the first weekend it opened, excited as a teenager on a first date. I had seen photographs of all of these fossils and played with plaster casts of many. And now I was going to see what Louis Leakey, Don Johanson, and others had seen when they reached down and scooped one of our ancient ancestors out of the dirt.

I walked up the main steps of the museum, passed under the banner announcing the exhibit, and entered. It was dark, and quiet, with only a few people milling about. The ambiance suited me--it echoed my own sense of anticipated reverence. Before me, the first exhibit was a tall glass case lit from above. Inside was a child's face, set high at adult eye level so that our gazes met. There was no flesh on this skull, no eyes, no mouth, just the empty face of a child with a set of battered teeth. I froze, sucked in my breath, and stared.

This was the "Taung Baby," a two-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus, discovered in 1925 and once thought to be the missing link between humans and apes. Long ago, when this little kid died, he or she somehow ended up in a limestone quarry where the bone tissue leaked away and was replaced by stone. Two million years later, quarry workers chucked this hunk of rock into a box of possible fossils that they routinely passed on to Raymond Dart, a British anatomist working at a South African university. Dart used his wife's knitting needles to pick away at the stone until the small face appeared. Dart was used to finding baboon fossils in his shipment, but this was no monkey, the brain was too big and the face was too flat. It was, Dart was convinced, the first evidence of the ape-human split. We know now that Taung and its relatives were a kind of human that walked upright but still had small brains, and that they were possible ancestors of our species, Homo sapiens.  A child, then, led the way to understanding our past.

And here was that same face that Raymond Dart had looked at sixty years before.The face is gray stone, dished in from forehead to mouth, but with a flat nose. The eyes, were they in their sockets, would stare straight ahead. The right side of the inner skull is filled with a geode, sparkling crystals that give Taung a jewel-like glow. And that is appropriate. This skull, and the stone impression of this child's brain that Dart also found, are as precious as diamonds to those who are trying to figure out the human path of evolution. Staring at that skull, I was struck by the fact that this ancient child was somebody's baby long ago. Perhaps she was sick, or maybe he was accident-prone, or perhaps this baby was some predator's dinner. Standing there, I could picture him or her long ago, smiling, laughing, and reaching out to grab a mother's breast. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

From a biological point of view, the Taung child represents a specific stage of development for Australopithecines, our ancestors that lived from four to two million years ago. Paleontologists tend to concentrate on adults of any species because adulthood is the mature end product; but fossilized babies and children also give clues to anatomy and physiology, to rates of development and growth. Children are not just miniature versions of adults. There are sound evolutionary reasons why infants and children look and behave the way they do; childhood is a specifically evolved stage in the life course. The Taung child emphasizes the fact that we are not born as adults but go through a lengthy period of growth and change. In this child, and all children, are some of the most important secrets of our anatomy and behavior. There are reasons why mice are born blind and human babies cannot hold their heads up. Natural selection has opted for fawns to stand on their own soon after birth, for human infants to smile automatically, and for baby chimpanzees to cling to their mothers' fur. And all of this makes some sort of natural biological sense. The pattern of birth, infancy, and childhood in any species follows a particular course that eventually outlines adult biology and behavior.

The Human Infant Design

In the summer of 1990, on a trip to Africa, I had the opportunity to hold a wild baby chimpanzee. Its mother, and all its relatives, had been killed by a poacher. The poacher was caught before the infant was shipped off to some European zoo, and for now he was housed at a hotel where the sympathetic manager had made it a policy to take in abandoned animals. Cradling the infant ape in my arms was uncanny: she felt just like a small child, only hairier. She squirmed a bit, looked at me with frightened brown eyes, and cooed softly, lips pouting out. After a few anxious minutes, she stretched her long arms over my shoulder toward the woman who usually cared for her, reaching for the only mother she now had.

That chimpanzee felt so much like a human child for a good reason--about 98 percent of our genetic material is identical to that of chimpanzees. We are, in fact, more closely related to chimpanzees than chimpanzees are to gorillas. I state this fact to underscore a point: Human babies, and human adults for that matter, are animals. We are primates, a kind of mammal, and our babies are animal babies. Although humans like to think of themselves as unique, we share much of our physiology and behavior with others of our kind, with other primates. For example, the shape of our head follows a continuum with other primates that shows a reduced snout and an enlarged brain
case with a full forehead and forward-facing eyes. Our teeth are primate teeth, rather than dog teeth or alligator teeth. Our eyes see the way monkeys' eyes see, with color vision and good depth perception to facilitate swinging through the trees. And our flexible hands--the hands that can pick ripe fruit off a tree, type these words or tie a shoe, hold a flower or build a model plane--distinguish us, and all primates, from other mammals that have paws. Our whole upper skeleton reflects an even closer relationship to other primates, apes in particular. Using a human anatomy book, one can dissect a chimpanzee or a gorilla and find everything in the right place. We have the upper bodies of long-armed apes. The only difference, in a broad anatomical sense, is the fact that the human pelvis, legs, and feet have been adapted to upright walking. So much of our physiology is simply that of an upright-walking primate. The point is that human babies, like all babies, are animals of a certain species, born with certain physical and mental abilities and lacking some others. As this book will show, much of the animal context of human babies and children can be understood best through the lens of biological evolution. Taking this tack, one cannot think about babies as early unformed organisms or shadows of the adults they are to become. They are instead simply what they have been designed to be.

Revue de presse

"So packed with compelling information about parenting practices around the globe that the reader may have trouble putting it down."
--Salon

"Nothing less than a liberation. For too long parents have agonized...that there is one 'right' way to raise an infant. With engaging wit and profound scholarship...Small opens our eyes to the variety of child-care practices in other cultures."
--James Shreeve, author of The Neanderthal Enigma

"Wise, humane and packed with information."
--Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, professor of anthropology, University of California, Davis.

"In elegant, engaging prose, Meredith Small shows the mother-child relation to be a microcosm of society."
--Frans B. M. de Waal, Ph.D.


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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 320 pages
  • Editeur : Anchor; Édition : Reprint (4 mai 1999)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0385483627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385483629
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,2 x 1,7 x 20,3 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.5 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 49.288 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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Première phrase
Several years ago, The American Museum of Natural History in New York City sponsored a special exhibit of human ancestors. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index
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Format: Broché
Un livre à offrir à tous les jeunes parents inexpérimentés et anxieux, prisonniers des idées reçues ou des conseils "éclairés" des amis, des parents voire des pédiatres. Il existe autant de manières de s'occuper d'un bébé que de cultures et d'environnements différents. Ce livre est instructif, passionant et...libérateur . Il nous invite à faire confiance à notre bon sens et à notre instinct. Pédiatres et spécialistes de la petite enfance des pays dits développés ne détiennent pas la vérité absolue quant à la manière dont il faut prendre soin des tout petits. Nos choix ne sont ni libres, ni forcémment éclairés; ils sont avant tout le produit de notre société et de ses valeurs. Ailleurs, les enfants sont allaités 2 voire 3 ans, dorment parfois avec leur parents ou bien encore passent entre les mains de dizaines de proches...et ne s'en portent pas forcémment plus mal.
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Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Ce livre donne un éclairage très intéressant sur le maternage et comment notre culture occidentale, individualiste, a forgé notre manière de nous occuper des nouveaux-nés, déconnectée des besoins réels des bébés. La question est de savoir comment revenir à un bon compromis dans la vie de tous les jours.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 95 commentaires
167 internautes sur 168 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Unique -- Small actually gives evidence for her conclusions 13 janvier 2001
Par Richard Berndt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Although it is isn't a "How to" book, "Our Babies, Ourselves" is by far the best book I've read on baby rearing. Meredith Small presents different cultures' techniques for raising children, then analyzes them using an anthropological perspective. Small examines how these cultures differ in such areas as nursing, where babies sleep, carrying babies, and how quickly to respond to a baby's cries.
Small names specific studies as evidence. She uses research evidence, as well as her experience, to draw conclusions on benefits and drawbacks to these various approaches. She is not "objective" as one reviewer states -- she has her opinions, but she informs the reader what evidence and reasoning she bases her conclusions on.
The main message I get from the "How To" baby books I've read is "You should raise your child the way we say because we're smarter than you." Whether it's "What to Expect the First Year," the Sears books (which I agree with much of) or others (not to mention "Babywise"), the most evidence these authors give is "(unnamed and unexplained) studies say we're right."
Small presents the evidence in favor of quick response when baby is hungry, crying, or has another need. She also favors co-sleeping and slings for carrying babies, based on the research she presents. You can disagree with her conclusions (though I agree with most), but at least she is open with her evidence.
Besides further opening my eyes to other cultures and other ways to raise babies, this book was most beneficial to me in emphasizing that evolution determines how the human race developed and why babies have the needs they do. People pushing in the 1950's and 60's for bottle feeding, putting babies face down to sleep, letting babies cry it out, putting babies in separate rooms to sleep, etc., not only did it without scientific evidence, they also were going against babies' biological needs, determined by millions of years of evolution. Now I think of evolution and what reasons babies have for a particular behavior when deciding how to deal with an issue.
41 internautes sur 42 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An eye-opening book and a true learning experience 1 juillet 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I highly recommend "Our Babies, Ourselves" to any parent interested in an anthropologically and biologically-oriented approach to parenthood, especially motherhood. It provides numerous data on how biology affects the parent-baby relationship as well as the baby's behavior and objectively presents how various cultures (including the United States') worldwide accommodate and/or neglect these biological factors and the impact that accommodation or neglect has on the parent/baby relationship.
I got this book when my baby was 3 months old and for me it confirmed every instinct I had as a first-time mother who knew nothing of raising a child prior to having one. I carry my baby in a pouch any time I can; I breastfeed; I'd let the baby sleep in my bed if I could (my husband and I have a waterbed and it's not safe for babies), etc. All of these behaviors are highly, highly beneficial to babies for specific biological reasons.
This is not a "how to" book, nor does it promote any particular approach to child rearing. It is objective and actually rather academic in nature, yet intriguing and easy-to-understand.
Read the book! It's worth it!
18 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
wonderfully refreshing! 6 juillet 2005
Par AMG - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I love this book! From day one with my son, I felt the instict to breastfed him on cue, hold him all day, and co-sleep with him at night. Needless to say, I received much unwanted and ill-advised advice to do just the opposite. Thankfully I am stubborn and I refused to do anything that went against my mommy instinct. This is a wonderful book that not only validates all of the above practices, but explains why our US culture is so adamantly against them. I have given this book as a gift to moms-to-be to show them that there is another way to parent. Thank you Meredith Small!
40 internautes sur 45 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Extremely interesting, but not "light reading" 1 janvier 2000
Par Kelly - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I've really enjoyed this book - its extremely interesting and thought provoking and well written. However, it is also gets pretty in depth into evolutionary science and biology. I have enjoyed that quite a bit and learned an awful lot, but it is definitely not light reading as far as that goes. It is more scientific than I expected, which I actually like a great deal, but it is different from what I originally thought I was buying. This book is less of a "how to raise your child" type book and more of an "evolutionary and biological cross cultural study of infants and children and how different child rearing practices influence personality and culture". Which I found absolutely fascinating myself. I highly recommend the book - but with the caveat that you need time to sit down and concentrate on it, which is hard to do with small children around!
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Give this book as a baby shower gift 18 juin 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Instead of reading advice from "girlfriends" or "baby-wise" sleep trainers, new moms and dads should read this book! Accessible, yet based on sound science, Small outlines just how far Western culture has deviated from providing for the biological needs of babies. The author documents how two mainstays of baby care in much of the US - the separation of babies from parents at night and the practiced of scheduled (usually formula) feedings - violate the highly evolved biological needs of babies. The book also provides food for thought on topics such as colic, which is unknown in other cultures, and the importance of frequent contact between babies and caregivers.
I read this book when my first child was an infant, and have just re-read it now that I have another baby. Don't be lulled by what friends/relatives/society make you think you should do when it comes to caring for your baby. Read this book and make your own decisions.
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