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The Afterlife Is Where We Come From: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa Paperback – January 1, 2004

2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226305028 ISBN-10: 0226305023 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


"The Afterlife Is Where We Come From is filled with richly layered (and often moving) material on the daily lives of Beng people, especially on what they say about babies and how what they say informs their day-to-day practice in caring for infants. . . . The breadth of [Gottlieb's] knowledge is admirable and the book is engagingly written and bound to be widely read by the public at large as well as by anthropologists."

(Christina Toren Anthropological Quarterly)

"The Afterlife Is Where We Come From is a sophisticated, insightful and compelling analysis of infants, infant care, and Beng Religious ideology. . . . Gottlieb's approach to the study of infants is systematic, comprehensive, and satisfying. The resulting analysis is beautifully organized and provides a model for all of us seeking to explicate complexity without reductionism. . . . This book will be a welcome addition to the growing number of courses on the anthropology of children and youth, as well, as to anthropologists teaching or researching the life cycle, family, African ethnology, and religion. It has the added attraction of being highly readable by both scholar and undergraduate."

(Lisa Mitchell The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 2005-03-25)

"This text would be extremely informative for undergraduate and graduate students. . . . This wonderfully reflective text should provide the impetus for formulating research possibilities about infancy and toddlerhood for this century." -- Caren J. Frost, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

(Caren J. Frost Medical Anthropology 2005-04-18)

“Alma Gottlieb’s careful and thought-provoking account of infancy sheds spectacular light upon a much neglected topic. . . . [It] makes a strong case for the central place of babies in anthropological accounts of religion.  Gottlieb’s remarkably rich account, delivered after a long and reflective period of gestation, deserves a wide audience across a range of disciplines.”

(Anthony Stimpson Critique of Anthropology 2006-05-11)

"[Afterlife] contributes to the field of anthropological research on children at many levels, revealing above all that children can be imagined by adults in ways that differ markedly from Western popular, religious, and scientific models alike."
(Nicolas Argenti Current Anthropology)

“A tour de force of deep ethnography, nuanced reflexivity, and characteristic elegance.  Alma Gottlieb has produced a sparkling text on an utterly neglected topic—the anthropology of infancy—­that will challenge and change the way we think about culture and do ethnography.”<Charles Piot, Duke University
(Charles Piot, Duke University)

The Afterlife Is Where We Come From is some of the finest anthropological work I have ever seen. The book is not just an analysis of Beng babyhood but a complete analysis of life as a Beng. Alma Gottlieb is able to tie together the slippery strands of ritual, ideology, daily practice, and expression to come up with a comprehensible look at Beng life.”<Meredith Small, Cornell University
(Meredith Small, Cornell University)

“Welcome to the Beng world, where toddlers welcome strangers, and parents consult infants and diviners to better accommodate the desires and gifts that very young babies bring from their former lives in the afterworld. This delightful, insightful, and quite provocative book about very small people makes a very large contribution—an anthropology of infancy enables us to rethink nature and culture in new and important ways.”<Rayna Rapp, New York University
(Rayna Rapp, New York University)

“This is a wonderful book—intelligent, clear, fascinating, humane, and often very moving. Gottlieb strikes the perfect balance between intellectual detachment and personal empathy. The book is a long overdue and extremely exciting start to an anthropology of infancy. But any reader who cares about children will be caught up in the story of the Beng people and their babies. Like all the very best anthropology it makes us conscious simultaneously of the idiosyncrasies of our own techniques of child rearing and the universal human significance of the relations between babies and the people who take
care of them. The book gives us a chance to discover and empathize with a very different, faraway world of mothers and babies, and at the same time makes us think about our own children in a new way.”<Alison Gopnik, author of The Scientist in the Crib
(Alison Gopnik, author of The Scientist in the Crib)

The Afterlife is Where We Come From is marvelously written. Gottlieb is
able to contextualize Beng infancy in terms of specific issues arising out of the slender field of anthropology and infancy, while at the same time drawing attention to how infant research might proceed in the future... Specialists in the study of infancy will find this book to be invaluable for its topical completeness and powerful methodology."<Phillip Kilbride, Bryn Mawr College
(Phillip Kilbride, Bryn Mawr College)

“With the publication of this astonishing book about reincarnation beliefs and infant development in West Africa, the study of the cultural psychology of childhood has come of age. . . . Read The Afterlife Is Where We Come From for an eye-opening interpretation of the local cultural meanings of developmental milestones, such as the transition from crawling to walking or the child’s early articulation of intelligible speech. Read the book as a brilliant exposé of the dangers of presumptively universalizing culture-specific ideals for human development. Read it to deeply fathom why infant development is not, and perhaps ought not to be, the same wherever you go.”<Richard Shweder, University of Chicago
(Richard Shweder, University of Chicago)

From the Inside Flap

When a new baby arrives among the Beng people of West Africa, they see it not as being born, but as being reincarnated after a rich life in a previous world. Far from being a tabula rasa, a Beng infant is thought to begin its life filled with spiritual knowledge. How do these beliefs affect the way the Beng rear their children?

In this unique and engaging ethnography of babies, Alma Gottlieb explores how religious ideology affects every aspect of Beng childrearing practices—from bathing infants to protecting them from disease to teaching them how to crawl and walk—and how widespread poverty limits these practices. A mother of two, Gottlieb includes moving discussions of how her experiences among the Beng changed the way she saw her own parenting. Throughout the book she also draws telling comparisons between Beng and Euro-American parenting, bringing home just how deeply culture matters to the way we all rear our children.

All parents and anyone interested in the place of culture in the lives of infants, and vice versa, will enjoy The Afterlife Is Where We Come From.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226305023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226305028
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #619,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alma Gottlieb is a cultural anthropologist. She earned her BA from Sarah Lawrence College in anthropology and French (1975), and her MA (1978) and PhD (1983) in cultural anthropology from the University of Virginia. Among other works, she is the author of The Afterlife Is Where We Come from: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa (2004), and Under the Kapok Tree: Identity and Difference in Beng Thought (1992); the co-author (with Philip Graham) of Braided Worlds (2012) and Parallel Worlds: An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa (1993--winner of the Victor Turner Award/Society for Humanistic Anthropology); the editor of The Restless Anthropologist (2012); and the co-editor of Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation (1988--winner of the Most Enduring Edited Collection Award/Council for the Anthropology of Reproduction) and A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Seven Societies (2000).

Since 1983, Gottlieb has taught anthropology, women's studies, and African studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; she has also been a visiting professor and researcher at Princeton University, Brown University, the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris), the Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas (Lisbon), the National University of Côte d'Ivoire (Abidjan), Lewis and Clark College (Portland), and elsewhere. Her major field research has been among the Beng people of Côte d'Ivoire and, more recently, among Cape Verdeans with Jewish heritage (on and off the islands). A past president of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, her research has been funded by the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Science Research Council, Wenner-Gren Foundation, and other agencies.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on September 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
I had to purchase this book for a college course & it is excellent! Easy to read and understand. A little detailed with a lot of references and facts, but that is why it is used for school. Even if it was not for a class I would have purchased it.
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By R. M. GONZALEZ on October 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Had to read this book for class and it did not disappoint. A little long for my liking but I am not complaining.
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