elevator-up-button-1024x440Using the elevator isn’t as easy as it sounds. Elevator logic and etiquette are actually rather complex and forever changing, and you suddenly realize (if you’re anything like me) that a day doesn’t go by when you’re not annoyed at somebody’s behavior or mannerisms while riding the elevator that day. It’s not like lifts have directions or a how to manual that everyone is required to read. Neither does it have visual diagrams that illiterate people can use to understand how to use this machinery. On top of that, using an elevator is not taught at primary school as an essential life skill, unfortunately.

I’ve really gotten used to the non-uniformity in elevator practices among riders, but it hasn’t escaped my critical eye. I feel like today’s blog post has been waiting to be written for about 10 years now. Well, at least I finally got around to it!

I feel like its commonplace for myself and other people to make occasional mistakes while riding an elevator and getting embarrassed over our actions. However, I believed these mistakes were a rare occurrence while I was growing up. But when I moved to India, the ratio of clueless elevator riders seems to exponentially increase. (Is this why buildings still have a liftwala to guide you?) Unfortunately, since I’ve been living in India, the error in people’s thinking and ways is all-too-evident to see.  Whether it is getting on the lift without paying attention to the direction it is going in, forgetting to press the button for which floor you’re intending to get to, or not pressing the appropriate ‘up’ or ‘down’ key when calling the elevator to you, elevators are contraptions used to serve knowledgeable and ignorant folks alike.


So let me just cut to the chase –  it doesn’t matter where the lift is at that point in time, whether you press the ‘up’ or ‘down’ button is very straightforward. If you would like the elevator to take you up to a higher floor – press the ‘up’ arrow. Even if the elevator is already on a higher floor and needs to come down to get you, you simply need to press the direction button for where you want to go. The elevator doesn’t need to be told how to act, you need to feed it information on where you want to go and it’s up to the machine to figure out how to do it. And if you want the elevator to take you down to a lower floor – press the ‘down’ arrow. Regardless of whether it is already on a lower floor and needs to come up to pick you up and take you back down, you simply inform the lift through the ‘down’ button that you’re destination is below you’re current location.

Related Sites:

How to Operate an Elevator and Make the World a Better Place (disorganisationguru.com)
How to Use an Elevator (katyjane.wordpress.com)
Nudging to choose elevator arrows correctly (mostlyeconomics.wordpress.com)
Going up in the world? Why where you stand in the lift reflects your social status (www.dailymail.co.uk)
How to use an elevator… this is silly but plz help? (in.answers.yahoo.com)
How to Ride an Elevator (www.wikihow.com)


Please respect my ownership of the words and ideas used herein, and do not use or share any portion of this series, in part or in whole, without my expressed permission. Thanks!

Prompt: Considering the term ‘island’ in its broadest sense, I take a look at ‘childhood’ and critically assess how the  archaeology of this ‘metaphorical island’ informs us about the concepts of isolation and interaction?

**This is Part 4 of a 4-post series**

Isle of Child

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this paper here

Material Culture

If childhood is seen to be an isolated or ‘special phenomenon’ then, at least in terms of archaeology, it is important to assess if there is a ‘Material Culture of Child(hood)’, as archaeology is most importantly a discipline involved with material culture.  ‘Childhood’ being more of a structural and imaginary concept, inferences have to be made from what children use and have as their material culture to gain a better understanding of childhood.  As said by McKechnie (2002: 130), islands usually have ‘monumental extremes’ that are said to be a result of isolation.  Therefore, it would be a good starting point to think from this angle with children.  Schools and places like Toys’R’Us are predominantly for children, as are different kinds of media aimed at children (see Buckingham 2000). Then there are also car seats and strollers or child-discounted services (i.e. tickets) which are ‘special’ to only children.  According to Wilkie (2000: 100), a whole range of products for children were being made (by adults) since the 1850s and it has been realized recently that children are also active ‘consumers’ in society (Buckingham 2000: 76). However, these are only the beginning of the list – it goes on and on.  According to the Venn Diagram (shown in the previous post), this is only classed as phase (1), which is the most isolated of all.

Much more exists but as one delves deeper, the boundaries become hazier between child and adult.  Therefore, clearly defining a material culture of children then interpreting and extrapolating to a material culture of childhood can be very problematic.  The next phase (2) can include stuffed animals, animation, and brands like Hello Kitty and Playboy Bunny, which all transgress and are found among the possessions and interests of both adults and children.  Toy replicas are found everywhere of cell phones, and guns (see Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 4). In the same way that islands are not alone and are  influenced by other islands and peoples around them – so children’s material culture influences and is influenced by other children and adults (see Lillehammer 2000: 21) due to us all inhabiting the same space and co-existing at the same time.

An Adult Childhood (Jaded ism 2007) A child laborer in India. His smile is beautiful....but do we know for sure if he is having a ‘childhood’ or not?

An Adult Childhood (Jaded ism 2007)
A child laborer in India. His smile is beautiful….but do we know for sure if he is having a ‘childhood’ or not?

So is there a material culture of children? If so, it is a very confusing category. If childhoods are diverse and variant, then so are the material cultures associated with these childhoods (see Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 11). One extreme case is that of child genius’ and prodigies whom, at early ages, take on roles that are very unlike those associated with ‘children.’  Talented children are treated no different from adults, other than an age-difference. The transgression is so vast that it becomes difficult to say whether the material culture is that of a child or adult. The point being made is that – unless clearly stated, age and status (Lille 1997: 223, 225; Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 11) are not determining factor to tell apart material culture of a child or adult.  Sofaer Derevenski (2000: 3) makes a good point of showing that we are biased against children when thinking about army uniforms and guns as well as sex in an example from South African children. Therefore, it is a paradoxical and complicated quest to try and find a separate ‘material culture’ of children as there is no such ‘separateness’ between the two (Lillehammer 2000: 22,24), especially in archaeological contexts.

However, it becomes even more of a fractured picture if archaeology makes a distinction between childhood and adulthood in the past.  It can make sense to have an anthropology of children but to have an archaeology of children will be a handicap as it will only give a one-dimensional view of this ‘utopian idea of childhood’ and miss out on the majority of the blurred margins that are more commonly found around the world’s children.

Archaeology of Childhood?

In archaeology, children have been passed by without much attention given to them (Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 8), like ethnic minorities and women (Buckingham 2000: 75; Wilkie 2000: 111).  So can there now be an archaeology of childhood? Well if it is not possible to have one of children, then it becomes near impossible to have one of childhood, at least today.  As Rapport and Overing (2000: 31) note, it would be problematic to study “research subjects whose being is a continuous becoming.”  Additionally, there is also the archaeologist’s bias to think of since they were once children as well and so misinterpretation is unavoidable (Lillehammer 2000: 23).

Even if it were possible to have such a sub-discipline, should there be one? Instead, more importance should be put on including children rather than excluding them (Hurcombe 1997: 17), but not necessarily to the extent of a separate branch within archaeology.  Children and adults should be studied in unison as having a separate specialization will only widen the gap between them.  Incorporation is the best course of action.  If anything, I have shown the interconnectedness and relativeness of children to adults so that paying more attention to the youngsters in the past societies will increase our understanding of the people and make clearer such interactions and values (Lillehammer 2000: 22).  We are on the road to including children and making them ‘visible’ in the archaeological record, but “there is still a long way to go before children become fully visible in archaeology” (Chamberlain 1997: 250).

Childhood: Island or Not?

Islands work as powerful metaphors of isolation in the Western world.  However, attributing islands with isolation is a social, rather than a natural, construct as island archaeologists have found that islands are not entirely isolated or bounded off from the rest of the world.  This is due to the notion that the sea acts as a ‘pathway’ rather than a ‘barrier.’ Similarly, childhood has also been depicted as an ‘isolated utopia’ in recent times.  However, this is also not a biological, but a social construct as it has been uncovered that there are many diverse ‘childhoods’ around the world.  Many factors influence its construction, including parents, who try and direct it, and children themselves, who use individual agency to re-define what kind of childhood they want.  Therefore, childhood can only be an island if there is fluid interaction with adulthood present.

The End!


Anderson, A. 2004. Islands of Ambivalence.  Pp. 251-273. In Fitzpatrick, S. (ed) Voyages of Discovery: the archaeology of islands. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger

Buckingham, D. 2000. After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. Cambridge: Polity Press

Chamberlain, A. T. 1997. Commentary: Missing Stages of Life – towards the perception of children in archaeology. Pp. 248-250. In J. Moore and E. Scott (eds) Invisible People and Processes: Writing Gender and Childhood into European Archaeology. London: Leicester University Press

Edmond, R. and V. Smith. 2003. Editors’ Introduction. Pp. 1-18. In R. Edmond and V. Smith (eds) Islands in History and Representation. London: Routledge

Eriksen, T. H. 1993. In Which Sense do Cultural Islands Exist? Social Anthropology 1:133-147

Falcon 2005. Falcon Jumbo Tom duBois Peter Pan 1000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle. Assessed 9 December 2007. http://www.comparestoreprices.co.uk/

Fitzpatrick, S. M. 2004. Synthesizing Island Archaeology. Pp. 3-13. In Fitzpatrick, S. (ed) Voyages of Discovery: the archaeology of islands. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger

Gillis, J. R. 2003. Taking History Offshore: Atlantic Islands in European Minds, 1400-1800. Pp. 19-31. In R. Edmond and V. Smith (eds) Islands in History and Representation. London: Routledge

Gosden, C. and C. Pavlides 1994. Are Islands Insular? Landscape vs. Seascape in the case of the Arawe Islands, Papau New Guinea. Archaeology in Oceania 29: 162-171

Hurcombe, L. 1997. Pp. 15-24 In J. Moore and E. Scott (eds) Invisible People and Processes: Writing Gender and Childhood into European Archaeology. London: Leicester University Press

Jadedism 2007. An Adult Child. Assessed 30 November 2007. http://www.treklens.com/

Kohn, T. 2002. Imagining Islands. Pp. 39-43. In W. H. Waldren and J. A. Ensenyat (eds) World Islands in Prehistory: International Insular Investigations. BAR International Series 1095. Oxford: Archaeopress

Lape, P. V. 2004. The Isolation Metaphor in Island Archaeology. Pp. 223-232.  In Fitzpatrick, S. (ed) Voyages of Discovery: the archaeology of islands. Connecticut: Praeger

Lesick, K. S. 1997. Re-engendering gender: some theoretical and methodological concerns on a burgeoning archaeological pursuit. Pp. 31-41. In J. Moore and E. Scott (eds) Invisible People and Processes: Writing Gender and Childhood into European Archaeology. London: Leicester University Press

Lille, M. C. 1997. Women and Children in Prehistory: resource sharing and social stratification at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Ukraine. Pp. 213-228. In J. Moore and E. Scott (eds) Invisible People and Processes: Writing Gender and Childhood into European Archaeology. London: Leicester University Press

Lillehammer, G. 2000. The World of Children. Pp. 17-26. In Sofaer Derevenski, J. (ed) Children and Material Culture. London: Routledge

Malone, C. and S. Stoddart 2004. Towards an Island of Mind? Pp. 93-102. In J. Cherry, C. Scarre and S. Shennan (eds.) Explaining Social Change: Studies in Honour of Colin Renfrew. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs

McKechnie, R. 2002. Islands of Indifference. Pp. 127-134. In W. H. Waldren and J. A. Ensenyat (eds) World Islands in Prehistory: International Insular Investigations. BAR International Series 1095. Oxford: Archaeopres

Rainbird, P. 1999. Islands out of time: towards a critique of island archaeology. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 12(2): 216-234

Rainbird, P. 2007. The Archaeology of Islands. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Rapport, N. and J. Overing 2000. Social and Cultural Anthropology: the Key Concepts. London: Routledge. Pp. 29-32

Sofaer Derevenski, J. 1997. Engendering Children, Engendering Archaeology. Pp. 192-202. In J. Moore and E. Scott (eds) Invisible People and Processes: Writing Gender and Childhood into European Archaeology. London: Leicester University Press

Sofaer Derevenski, J. 2000. Material Culture Shock: confronting expectations in the material culture of children. Pp. 3-16. In Sofaer Derevenski, J. (ed) Children and Material Culture. London: Routledge

Toren, C. 1996. Childhood. Pp.92-94. In Barnard, A. and J. Spencer (eds) Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology. London: Routledge

Van Gennep, A. 1960. The Rites of Passage. Translated by M. B. Vizedom and G. I. Caffee.  London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. First published in 1909

Waldren, J. 2002. Conceptions of the Mediterranean: Islands of the Mind. Pp. 1-6. In W. H. Waldren and J. A. Ensenyat (eds) World Islands in Prehistory: International Insular Investigations. BAR International Series 1095. Oxford: Archaeopress

Wilkie, L. 2000. Not Merely Child’s Play: creating a historical archaeology of children and childhood. Pp. 100-113. In Sofaer Derevenski, J. (ed) Children and Material Culture. London: Routledge

Please respect my ownership of the words and ideas used herein, and do not use or share any portion of this series, in part or in whole, without my expressed permission. Thanks!

Prompt: Considering the term ‘island’ in its broadest sense, I take a look at ‘childhood’ and critically assess how the  archaeology of this ‘metaphorical island’ informs us about the concepts of isolation and interaction?

**This is Part 3 of a 4-post series**

Isle of Child

Read Part 1 and Part 2 here

Island Terminology: specific examples

This feeling of ‘island-ness’ as explained by both Kohn (2002) and McKechnie (2002: 128) is often consciously done, adding to the feeling of ‘islanders’ as being very closed and ‘inward-looking’ peoples who distance themselves from all outsiders (Rainbird 2007: 18-19; Waldren 2002: 5). However, this is a very Western idea and non-Western ideas quite differ from this perspective.  The Tongan writer Hau’ofa describes the Western view of Utopia as a sort of ‘romantic exclusion’ while his people would more see it as ‘romantic inclusion’ full of connections and interaction (Edmond and Smith 2003: 12).

What is important to take into account is individual intention and agency involved in portraying an island identity (Eriksen 1993: 140-141; Lape 2004: 229).  This idea is of importance to ‘childhood’ as children and adults alike consciously act, display, or re-define their individuality and group identity through associations with peers and media (Rapport and Overing: 32; Buckingham 2000: 7).  It is even possible that adults who are children’s writers or make children’s television programmes present ‘childhood’ knowingly, as something quite different to themselves. Buckingham (2000) makes clear that these mental boundaries being erected are slowly crumbling down.  However, Hau’ofa above has shown that the relationship between children and adults should focus on the mutual understanding and co-existence among them.  Therefore, in Tonga terms at least, childhood can and is an island if the island is to mean anything other than isolation (see Lape 2004 and Venn Diagram below). Therefore, it now becomes important to re-address the original definition of ‘island’, followed by the possibility of ‘seascape’ as a solution to all the contradictions.

Manjree's Blog - Isle of Child Venn Diagram

Definition ‘Island’. Island themselves are only ‘land surrounded by water’ (Edmond and Smith 2003: 9). If so, then how does this simple straight-forward word come to mean or symbolise anything else? For Westerners, the contrast between land and sea makes for a sharp barrier… a point at which the ‘land-scape’ ends.  Fully enclosed in boundaries, islands have been notoriously seen as becoming infused with meanings of isolation (Lape 2004: 223; Kohn 2002: 39; McKechnie 2002: 131).  Therefore, it is through human intervention that a word or concept gains a multitude of meanings. Whether ‘island’ or ‘childhood’, both are social and cultural constructs (Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 8; Wilkie 2000: 100-101; Rainbird 2007: 5) minus the given facts that every island is barricaded and that every human being is a child at one stage.

Size Matters. If it was so simple to attribute ‘isolation’ to ‘island’ and ‘barrier’ to ‘sea’ then that does not explain how continents and huge land masses fit into this formula.  Consequently, it has been said by island archaeologists that islands such as Australia do not fit the criteria of an ‘island’ and so have been labelled as ‘continents’ instead (Fitzpatrick 2004: 6; Rainbird 2007: 20; Edmond and Smith 2003: 2).  Therefore, people’s constructs overpower the natural definitions of both terms.  Clearly speaking then, childhood is not an island as promoted or believed to be (Island Utopia) but has been made to be one by Westerners[1] – possibly because a child and an adult are oppositional and distinct from each other but childhood and adulthood are more fluid.

With reference to size, the population of childhood is indeterminable but there is no correlation between children and childhoods experienced. And in the past, as there was high infant mortality and at least 50% of the living were children (see Chamberlain 1997: 249-50), it would be a hindsight to say they could be separated from adulthood.  Isn’t it then possible that a place with less danger and more security can boast more ‘childhoods’ while ‘having to survive’ required them to have a more blurred relationship which resulted in fewer ‘childhoods?’

‘Seascape’.  Islands are sometimes (falsely) said to be ‘self-sustainable’ with no outside help (Eriksen 1993: 135).  If this is true, then children cannot be islands because they are always shown in relation to adults (Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 8).  Therefore, they cannot sustain themselves without adult influence.  However, I’d like to point out a fact hidden from many geographers and island archaeologists….as Model A shows, an island is said to be surrounded by water but what is underneath the water? It is land and soil (idea influenced by Rainbird 2007: 145-155 on ‘drowned landscapes’).  Therefore, the sea is not endless but does have a ‘bottom.’  And so, more realistically islands are surrounded by land (See Model A).

Manjree's Blog - Isle of Child Model A

Therefore, what was once thought to be an isolated island – a single unit of analysis, has recently been re-defined into this idea of sea as ‘pathway’[2] (Rainbird 2007: 57; Lape 2004: 223-224; Gosden and Pavlides 1994: 162; Anderson 2004) or a “sea of islands” (Hau’ofa in Edmond and Smith 2003: 8-9). If these different ideas were to be joined – this would lead the notion of ‘land as pathway’ and a ‘pathway of islands.’  Similarly, if children and adult are separate, this does not negate the fact that there is a ‘path’ between the two.  Same goes for childhood and adulthood.  Due to the influences that work both ways (see Rainbird 2007: 172), and the existence of this ‘path,’ it becomes difficult to put boundaries around the categories, leading to blurred margins and merging (see Buckingham 2000).

Gosden and Pavlides (1994) coined the term ‘seascape’ in order to make it more easily understandable what kind of factors influence a ‘seascape’ setting, making it possible for boundaries to go beyond the physical land (Lape 2004: 228-229). The factors that can influence the life of an islander are studied.  This only reinforces the fact that all of it is ‘landscape’ although, because of the sea, it is called ‘sea-scape.’ For childhood, the seascape can mean a multitude of things such as political and institutional pressures as well as children’s rights (Buckingham 2000:5), etc…  all of which influence (like ocean currents) how a childhood will be.

Physical boundaries are different from the ‘social boundaries’ made mentally by people due to human agency (Lape 2004: 224). Therefore, these boundaries do not necessarily happen on the outskirts of an ‘island’ – many boundaries being made inside each island or alternatively in the middle of the ocean around a whole series of islands (Eriksen 1993: 141, 144; Rainbird 2007: 54, 66).  Biogeography of island is changed by human ‘intervention’ (see Rainbird 2007).  As mentioned already, the main internal boundaries for childhood would be between the rich and poor as well as girls and boys (Buckingham 2000: 77-78) and may go so far as to incorporate families (parents + children) which cross across both categories, etc…  So saying the sea is a barrier is a bit outdated.  It would be more understandable to say that the “sea can create a sense of community” (Gosden and Pavlides 1994: 163) and be just as ‘familiar’ as the land (Rainbird 2007: 66), especially when speaking about children because they are in contact with ‘others’ for the majority of the day.  This could mean that they are more familiar with this ‘sea path’ than land. The connecting nature of all this land/sea is a clear indication that islands are not isolated – any more than continents, big landmasses, or mountains and volcanoes are – and are definitely not simple based on the complexity of studying seascapes (Lape 2004: 228).  And so I return to my argument that childhood can be an island as long as they are not termed as being isolated, because of the vast amounts of information that passes between children and adult on a daily basis.

Control or Agency. One vital part of the seascape of childhood is the fact that children, although separate, are influenced and ‘controlled’ by the authoritative ‘winds’ of parents/adults.  In the same way that people are restricted by their environment, similarly children are directed through ‘parental controls’ (see Wilkie 2000: 101; Buckingham 2000: 5)  Due to their dependency on adults to care for them, children are usually under the guardianship of their elders, which is a reason why they must be respected (see Toren 1996: 92).  As Model B shows, adults envelop the lives of children and are in ‘control’ of them from before ‘childhood.  For example, it is an uniformitarian principle that adults give birth to children.  Adults set up institutions such as schools where children are ‘taught’ how to become part of society and it is seen to be the duty of parents to ‘show’ children how to behave.  Everyone from children’s writers to toys manufacturers are run by the adult world (see Buckingham 2000: 8-9, 12).

Manjree's Blog - Isle of Child Model B

This idea of being ‘taught’ is easily comparable to the idea of ‘sailing nurseries’ in island archaeology (Irwin in Rainbird 2007: 66).  Sailing nurseries are somewhat enclosed areas of sea that can be used for experimentation and “development of maritime technology and navigation” (Rainbird 2007: 66) under supervision which would then result in sailing outside the boundaries of the nursery.  Now, complications are already visible when comparing these to the ‘control/taught’ factor of children by adults…the main problem being that there is nowhere ‘outside to go’ as shown by Model B.  Therefore, in order to clarify, I would like to term this as a “playground for child development.” This playground is a protected nursery for experimentation where one can then graduate out to from ‘childhood’ to ‘adulthood’, meaning from the realm of ‘child’ to that of ‘adult’ in a type of rite of passage (Vann Gennep 1960) through the ‘sea path.’ The Model also allows for interaction between the two groups and shows the blurred nature of this relationship like (3) in the Venn Diagram.

However, this relationship is not all passive from the side of children; their rebelliousness (see Buckingham 2000: 7) and agency are well known among anthropologists (see Toren 1996: 94). As Rapport and Overing (2000: 32) say, “To be a ‘child’ is to be both an agent and part of a world of socio-cultural structures run by adults.”  Therefore, dependence does not equate passiveness. As with sailing nurseries, experimentation is key…. and experimentation is only possible if children have agency.

To be continued…in Part 4 (end)


[1] Made into an ‘artificial island’

[2] Also said to be a ‘corridor’, ‘bridge’, ‘highway’, ‘route’, etc… in the literature.  To most this bridge is visible, but for those in the (1) phase of the Venn Diagram (like myself) it was of little consequence (see case study of Balearics people in Waldren 2002: 4-5; and Rainbird 2007: 22).

Please respect my ownership of the words and ideas used herein, and do not use or share any portion of this series, in part or in whole, without my expressed permission. Thanks!

Prompt: Considering the term ‘island’ in its broadest sense, I take a look at ‘childhood’ and critically assess how the  archaeology of this ‘metaphorical island’ informs us about the concepts of isolation and interaction?

**This is Part 2 of a 4-post series**

Isle of Child

Read Part 1 here

Concepts Defined (continued…)

On the other hand, childhood as a ‘construct’ that is variable on many factors, such as history, time, culture, region, etc…. makes the childhood ‘experience’ anything but a ‘homogenous’ one, according to Buckingham (2000: 6, 63).  It more fully allows for influences from different areas, including (in the Western concept/notion): children’s perceptions of each other/themselves; conceptions throughout history/past; adults’ views on their own childhoods; and adults’ views of ‘children’ at present (Lillehammer 2000: 20-21). This diversity also tolerates the possibility of having ‘unequal childhoods’ (Buckingham 2000: 76) or the ‘absence’ of one and justifying the ‘experiential’ gap between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ (ibid: 55). In the ‘social construct’ stance, childhood is portrayed in mutual relation to adulthood as they “give rise to one another” (Rapport and Overing 2000: 30). They are relative to each other because when ‘children’ become associated with ‘adults’ through drugs, sex, voting, work, etc… they are no longer classed as being in their ‘childhood’ (Buckingham 2000: 7). Therefore, it’s not possible to be both ‘mature’ (adult) and ‘immature’ (child) at the same time (Sofaer Derevenski 1997: 193), which gives the perception of there being a distinct ‘boundary’ between the two.  However, this is not entirely the case (Anderson 2004: 254).

This essay will follow the approach to ‘childhood’ as promoted by Sofaer Derevenski (2000: 8-12) who argues in favour of a separation between ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ which are not ‘interchangeable’[1], and a fusion of the two opposing sides of ‘construction and biological/natural’ stances[2].  Therefore, ‘childhood’ is said to be a ‘structural category’ while the ‘child’ is the ‘physical body’, making it a difference between the ‘imagined’ and ‘real’ (see Buckingham 2000: 9 and Rainbird 2007: 24 for island comparison).  As Sofaer Derevenski (2000: 11) says, “The body may have varying importance in different constructions of childhood and the ideology of childhood cannot be mapped directly onto the body.” This separation between ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ becomes crucial when talking about a sub-discipline for archaeology of childhood.

Islands prove to be ‘powerful metaphors’ (Lape 2004: 223, 229; Eriksen 1993: 133) that can help enlighten on the topic of ‘childhood’[3]. Islands have often been seen to be remote, ‘out of time’, ‘holiday’ getaways that are exotic, mysterious, and paradise-like (Kohn 2002: 39, Waldren 2002: 3, Rainbird 2007: 66-67, 168 and Gillis 2003: 19). In terms of ‘utopia’, as I saw ‘childhood’ to be, Gillis (2003) states that utopias were often believed to be islands (in the West) that were as of yet undiscovered on the map until the 18th century, at which point “Island Utopias” were “detached from its spatial location and moved into the realm of time, into the future for safekeeping” (Gillis 2003: 25).  This resulted in the end of childhood being a ‘real’ island to one that was ‘imagined.’

 ‘Islands’ have since been included into several academic disciplines, notably anthropology, because of perceptions of islands as advantageous settings to do ethnographic fieldwork as each island was seen to be singular ‘units of analysis’ (Eriksen 1993: 134; McKechnie 2002: 127; and Lape 2004: 226).   The idea of an island as something that can be studied on its own, itself makes it ‘isolated’ as a ‘unit’ of investigation (Eriksen 1993: 134, 140) while ‘geographical’ isolation of the sea, led to further studies of islands as ‘laboratories’ for containment, which has since been contested and disproved due to the impossibility of ‘total’ cultural isolation (see Fitzpatrick 2004: 4, 6; Lape 2004: 229; Gillis 2003: 29; Edmond and Smith 2003: 2-3).

And so, island metaphors have been useful in Western notions of thinking about ‘isolation’, either due to lack of interaction or choice (natural/forced), and ‘boundedness’ (physical/mental) (Eriksen 1993: 133, 144-145; Rainbird 2007: 54, 169; Edmond and Smith 2003: 2; Marlone and Stoddart 2004: 95; Lape 2004: 223) because of the “assumption that land is isolated when surrounded by [the barrier of] sea” (Gosden and Pavlides 1994: 162). Isolation and boundedness are to be understood in relation to ‘interaction’, similar to ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’ where both are needed for society to progress, as no island can be fully isolated (or fully connected) – all have ‘partial isolation’ and partial boundedness (Anderson 2004: 255; Waldren 2002: 3; Eriksen 1993: 134, 142-143; Lape 2004: 224; Fitzpatrick 2004: 4, 7).  Same holds true for boundaries – a few are always present because “a society must have boundaries in some respect or other in order to be a society” (Eriksen 1993: 140). In terms of childhood, this idea of partiality can be maintained by saying that there are literal and physical boundaries (i.e. beaches) that have their own ‘spheres of influence’ (Fitzpatrick 2004: 224; Anderson 2004: 254) within the ‘one island’ that include:

(1) those children who are ‘experiencing childhood’ at present,

(2) everyone in direct contact with these children (parents, teachers, doctors, children’s authors, children’s television producers, etc…) and adults who are trying to find their ‘inner child’ (see Buckingham 2000: 14) and finally,

(3) the rest of society (people whose only connection with children is that they themselves were once ‘children’ who were participants in their own ‘childhoods’ and that they co-inhabit the world with existing ‘children’), becoming a synthesis between the historical and metaphorical (Denning in Edmond and Smith 2003: 7-8).

Each ‘sphere’ (also visible on the Venn Diagram in the next post) impacts the others and information is ‘diffused’ in a complex three-way manner (see Rainbird 2007: 172) within our society, making it a very broadly connected ‘island.’  According to Edmond and Smith (2003: 5), this is “the paradox of the island – its simultaneous boundedness and limitlessness.”  Therefore, it is usually said that an ‘island’, ‘childhood’ in this case, has ties to outside contacts and networks even while preserving it’s ‘insular’ status (McKechnie 2002: 129 and Gosdena and Pavlides 1994: 162-163). It is also worthy to note, finally, that while ‘outsiders’ may conceive an island to be ‘exotic’ or ‘separate’, the same does not necessarily hold true for many ‘islanders’, including myself, who may not feel ‘bounded’ by their surroundings.  Additionally, it is also possible that they may be trying to portray themselves and the island as a place of (manmade) insularity (Kohn 2002: 39, 41; Rainbird 2007: 18-19, 24; and Waldren 2002: 3, 5; Eriksen 1993: 143).

To be continued…in Part 3 and Part 4 (end)


[1] This split between child and childhood has occurred recently due to industrialization in the mid 1800s as children have been taken off the streets and put into schools, making a forced separation between adults and children (see Edmond and Smith 2003: 10; Buckingham 2000: 7-8).

[2] Therefore, it is natural to be a ‘child’ but a ‘childhood’ can be absent based on different circumstances. Material ‘ingredients’ are needed for a ‘childhood’ and without them it cannot be had (Cunningham in Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 5).

[3] Malone and Stoddart (2004: 94) critique the overuse of metaphorical ‘islands’ in their article and say that islands are steadily moving away from physical reality.  They say that islands have “become predominantly conceptual and individual (i.e. a personal phenomenology), rather than based in reality” (Malone and Stoddard 2004: 101)

Happy Children’s Day everyone! And on a more serious note, it is my solemn wish that whatever is happening with the terror attacks in Paris and the world is resolved quickly and peace can prevail again for those who have been affected. I find I have nothing to contribute in words for everything that’s happening in current events, so it is back to my usual blogging…

In honor of Children’s Day, it seems like a good time to share one of my favorite academic pieces to date in a 4 part series. In this paper, I talk about the social construction of childhood, related material culture, and whether an ‘archaeology of childhood’ can exist. It is the first paper I thought of getting published in a journal, but the ideas about ‘childhood’ have probably become a bit old-fashioned and outdated. I wrote ‘Isle of Child’ for my Island Archaeology class taught by Paul Rainbird back in 2007, so the references are definitely on the older side. The whole essay has been divided into 4 blog posts for ease of reading, and the full bibliography of references will be available in the last post.

Please respect my ownership of the words and ideas used herein, and do not use or share any portion of this series, in part or in whole, without my expressed permission. Thanks!

Prompt: Considering the term ‘island’ in its broadest sense, I take a look at ‘childhood’ and critically assess how the  archaeology of this ‘metaphorical island’ informs us about the concepts of isolation and interaction?

**This is Part 1 of a 4-post series**

Isle of Child

Photo by Supreet Vaid

Photo by Supreet Vaid


Many attempts have been made by academics as well as non-academics in the ‘West’ to grasp and define the concept of ‘childhood’ and understand its relevance and history in lieu of societal importance; the lack of distinctly marked boundaries between ‘adults’ and ‘children,’ making it a futile attempt to try and incorporate children fully into the archaeological record just yet. Taking into account the ambiguity of terms like ‘child’ and ‘childhood,’ this essay hopes to fulfil a better understanding of these ideas by making comparisons to metaphorical ‘islands’ and using models, terminology and theories` pertaining to island archaeology to solidify this analogy. However, the often contradictory conceptions involved with the indefinable nature of these labels are an unavoidable consequence of such a study. The reasoning for ­­­­­­­­­­­­associating ‘childhood’ with ‘islands’ comes from the Western idea (and my own personal experience) of childhood as ‘utopia’ resulting in such attributes as innocence and bliss – attributes also used by anthropologists in explaining islands and islanders.  However, the recent Western perception of the ‘lost childhood’ will also be considered as a flip side to this coinage.  Being seen as something ‘distant’ and ‘imaginary’ from the ‘known’ world, the possibility of a ‘separate’ material culture of children and childhood to that of adults and adulthood will be addressed in retrospect. And so, notions of material culture, and in fact the future scope of a possible sub-discipline of ‘archaeology of child(hood),’ will be considered and assessed as a way of understanding people in the past better. This essay, therefore, (while always being informed by my personal experience) aims to adopt techniques used in ‘island’ archaeologies as a way of assessing the archaeology of ‘childhood’ (in the West) and determine the extent of its material culture, in relation to that of adults, taking into account the future possibility for an ‘archaeology of childhood.’

Before looking at the various contradicting and complex definitions of ‘childhood’ and ‘islands,’ my personal background will be briefly explained.  This will be done as a kind of reflexive ‘preface’ to understand how my ideas and thoughts about my own ‘childhood’ have biased or informed the kinds of conclusions I make throughout this paper[1].

Concepts Defined

Born and brought up on the largest Japanese island of Honshu was a wonderful experience.  My memories of Japan as a ‘child’ include an overwhelming sense of safety and security in my ‘bubble of happiness’… my Utopia (for history on ‘utopias’ see Gillis 2003).  I never visited the other three main islands (Hokkaido, Shikoku, or Kyushu) while I lived there and rarely visited places inside Japan (see case of Balearics in Waldren 2002: 4-5).  Instead, summer vacations were spent with family in India or on the beaches of Hawaii.  School, family, and friends filled up my life, as did the yearly trips abroad.

It was easier to fly around the world than to go across the country (see Rainbird 2007: 54 for fluidity of ‘island boundaries’).  Ironically, even though I watched hours of Japanese television after school and used Japanese on a day-to-day basis, I was educated and spoke to my school friends in English.  Hindi was spoken at home and with my relatives who also lived nearby, and we often watched Bollywood films that we rotated around our community. As I lived in a Jain, (predominantly Gujarati) community in Japan, I grew up with religious and cultural practices quite different from my Japanese neighbours (see Eriksen 1993: 141 for ideas of ‘cultural entropy’ in Mauritius).  Therefore, I equate an island as being no different from any other ‘land’ in terms of boundedness.

As to the question of what exactly ‘childhood’ is, I would say it is the period between infancy and adolescence, or until a big life-changing event occurs (see Lillehammer in Chamberlain 1997: 249 for similar thoughts).  Personally, I bound my own ‘childhood’ between the ages of four and eleven, when I moved out of Japan[2].  Therefore, I equate ‘childhood’ with ‘utopia.’ However, I do believe there are different lengths and experiences of childhood which are all nonetheless still grouped together as being separate from adulthood with clear cut boundaries that cannot be crossed (for more on ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ see Kohn 2002).

Among academics, contrasting viewpoints have been taken for the meaning of ‘childhood’ in a Western context[3].  Two examples are given below. Firstly, childhood is seen to be a stage in life when humans are asexual and in an “ambiguous phase before they reach sexual maturity” even though they are labelled as being ‘male’ or ‘female’ (Lesick 1997: 35). However, it is my opinion that even children are sexual beings, as they are often ‘taught’ about gender responsibilities through media and toys (see Wilkie 2000: 101-102) and are ‘incorporated’ into a gender category soon after birth through dress, name, and various ‘rites of passage’ (see Van Gennep 1960).  According to Sofaer Derevenski (1997: 195), three stages are undergone to understand gender and the last of them, ‘gender constancy,’ when an individual fully comprehends their own gender identity, occurs at the age of five – putting it well within the range of ‘childhood’ and pre-pubescence.  Secondly, children are also seen to be apolitical, which is contested by Sofaer Derevenski (2000) when she looks at military training of children in South Africa. However, in a Western context there is still little found to suggest that children have political rights (see Buckingham 2000: 195).

According to Buckingham (2000), the main point of contention is whether ‘childhood’ is seen to be a ‘natural’ state of being or if it’s a social and cultural construct.  Those who believe that childhood is a biological ‘given’ that is a mandatory phase of life based on aging (Lillehammer 2000: 20 and Buckingham 2000: 14 for psychology perspective) usually side with ‘childhood as being natural.’  Same goes for those who believe in the ‘loss’ or ‘death’ of childhood in recent times (Buckingham 2000: 3).  Arnold Van Gennep (1960: 61) describes childhood as “the period extending from birth to the beginning of adolescence, or to initiation … whose length and number vary among different peoples.”  This shows that even though part of the biological stance, childhood is not rigid and is contextually based.  It is also their perspective that due to electronic media (television, computers, etc…), children are increasingly more in contact with ‘adult’ themes leading to a premature loss of innocence (Buckingham 2000).

To be continued…in Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 (end)


[1] Notably the fact that this is written after having left my childhood and biasing my views of it.

[2] To label my own memories and enclose it within an age range is my bias as an ‘adult’ as are all my statements made about how my childhood was ‘a bubble of happiness’ because while I was living the experiences of my childhood, they were anything but ‘great.’  So, childhood is defined by adults (Buckingham 2000: 12) through second-hand measures.

[3] ‘Childhood’ is a culturally-specific term that is understood differently according to region.  Therefore, it will only be addressed in the Western context unless otherwise noted as it needs to be understood fully in our own society before we project ethnocentric biases onto other societies or into the past (i.e. Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 8).  It will also allow me to verify through my own experiences to see and judge who I believe to be right. Additionally, as this is a comparative study with (island) archaeology as well, which is a Western-centric discipline, I thought this would be the best option. However, having said that, I am probably guilty of making the grave mistake of extrapolating and interpreting other childhoods using the Western view of ‘island’ and ‘childhood’ and making the assumption that this is a universal when it in fact it’s only a Eurocentric one (ibid).

To celebrate my birthday and the start of a new year for me, I decided to get my hair chopped off into a small buzz on June 1st, 2015. Because my birthday is roundabout halfway through the year, I thought it would be a good time for new beginnings. Hair is a huge part of my identity, and I felt incomplete the way I was.

I’ve wanted to shave my head once (and be bald) to see how it feels at least once in my life. The thought has been with me for over a decade. I never had the strength to take the plunge because my parents and brother were dead set against it…until now.

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created using the Snap Collage App

Growing up as I did, having dark, thick, lush hair is a sign of health and beauty among Indians (the anthropology of hair – I’ve even written a thesis on it!). Cutting off one’s hair deliberately is done when grieving the loss of a parent, child, or spouse. This why some Hindu widows are seen with shaved heads, mourning for the rest of their lives. And individuals who join the ascetic order shave or pluck (in Jainism) their hair as well to show their renunciation of the worldly life and its associated attachments. It was also mentioned that it would be insensitive for me to be walking around in the UK looking like a Skinhead – believed to be the South Asian-hating British equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan (this is not a fair and whole picture of Skinhead members, but the stereotype). And in a more mainstream point of view, having no hair is obviously also linked to cancer patients and the side effects of chemotherapy. For all these reasons, I couldn’t go against my family and get the haircut I always wanted.

So, understandably, the fact that I nearly shaved it all off was not taken all too well by the family when they saw me after my transformation, but they have thankfully come to terms with it. When I had made up my mind to carry through with my plan a few days in advance, I had tried to prepare my grandparents and family members as best I could to minimize the shock factor. But my reasons for taking the plunge are unrelated to the reasons given by my family…and no less important.

I got my first professional haircut when I was in high school I think. Until then, my dad – who liked me with long hair – had always been in charge of trimming my hair. Going with my friends for my first haircut was a thrill and gave me a strong sense of liberation. My hair was still long, but it was nice to have it styled. It wasn’t long after that I convinced my mom to take me to get brownish highlights. I don’t think she realized what I had done until she saw my locks bleached and had a mini-shock. I don’t think my dad was best pleased either.

Anyway, not too many years later, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter. From below my shoulders to shoulder to a long bob etc… Every time I’d cut it, I’d wait for it to grow out for about a year before cutting it short again. The same goes for my highlighting experiments every year or so.

Getting a haircut is something of a stress buster for me though. If I’ve been particularly sad and stressed, I’m known to get up one morning, get dressed up, and head to any local hairdressers willing to give me highlights or a cut. Doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday, snowing outside, or a day when I knew I’d have to be in the library studying all night. I guess that’s the power of hair and a makeover. It’s an instant pick-me-up. So my family is used to seeing my medium length pixie cuts since I was in Chicago.

The decision to buzz my hair had multiple reasons. But first, these are the reasons I opted for the short buzz instead of my much-wanted shaved look:

  • I thought my scalp would be too itchy and hard to manage if I shaved my head
  • I didn’t know if the shape of my skull was pretty enough for me to feel confident (as opposed to embarrassed) about shaving it
  • My grandfather was ill at the time and I didn’t want everyone to misunderstand my shaved head as a sign of impending grief.
  • I didn’t want my hair growth to be in the ‘awkward and spiky’ phase when I attending my cousin’s wedding in 6 months.

Why I finally decided to get buzzed!:

1. I find this celebrity hairstyle to be bold, beautiful, attractive, and sexy.

2. I think going against the cultural norm is empowering for women and a major confidence boost.

3. It shows I don’t care what others think about me and that I’m comfortable in my own skin…being me.

4. I don’t have extra pressure (spouse or in-laws) stopping me from doing something I’ve really wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

5. I have never seen a picture of a female buzz I haven’t instantly loved.

6. I was always jealous of all my male friends who had short spiky fuzzball scalps and I wanted one myself!

7. I love having short hair but hate the feeling of hair falling into my eyes and face, and tickling the back of my neck, so this would be perfect!

8. If I can go through with this, I can do anything!

And the last 2 points are more philosophical and probably the most important:

9. I wanted 2015 to be a milestone year for me which would shed the negativity, hardships, and depression I had endured for the preceding 10 years with hopes of happiness, fearlessness, and contentment for the next decade. I wanted to replace my old skin with the brand new me!

10. Because Indian hair grows an average of 1cm per month, I wanted only the newest memories created in 2015 to grace my head, so to speak. So buzzing my hair to 2 to 4cms meant I could do that to some extent. I wanted to detach myself from the old pains and not have them burden me in my new quest.

Hi Everyone!

I think it’s getting to be nearly 2 months since I’ve written anything on here, and boy has it been a crazy and eventful 2 months! I’m getting ready to go to Chicago in a few weeks so that I can start my ‘MA Program in the Social Sciences’ which could more easily be described as my second MA in Anthropology and hopefully some History mixed in. So the countdown has officially begun. There is a lot more preparation to do before I make the big move, like finding a place to live (!) but hopefully luck hasn’t left me and it’ll all work out in the end.

Part of the prep of leaving home has been to help my mom (whose birthday it was today coincidently – Happy Birthday Maa!!) make some room in the house by getting rid of years and years of paperwork that I’ve hoarded since my high school days (eek!). So we’ve just got suitcases full and my cupboards are overflowing with clothes and lots of memorable junk, so the spring cleaning for Manjree has commenced. Boo-ya!

Anyway, so the good news is, while I was rummaging through stacks of projects and lecture notes, I found my ‘MEMORY PILE’ – which is literally a pile of poems, stories, essays, etc… that I’m really proud of from the olden days – which means I’ll have more to post on here soon. I thought I’d lost it, and it majorly sucked because nothing was saved on my computer since my last one unexpectedly died years ago. But thank god I’ve found it now and I’m not letting it out of my sight anymore… So a big yay and thumbs up!

I’m excited to share my writings with you…keep an eye open for upcoming posts!

~ Manjree