The Acquisition of Cultural Knowledge of Hierarchy by Samoan Children Open Access

Odden, Harold Leroy (2007)

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This doctoral dissertation examines the processes of cultural learning by which Samoan children (0-12 years of age) come to understand local concepts of hierarchy, social rank and respectful behavior. This is a particularly important domain of cultural knowledge in contemporary Samoa as titular chiefs exercise wide-ranging social, political and economic powers in their families and villages, and concerns with relative rank organize social interactions between all members of society. Consequently being able to understand local models of hierarchy is an essential component of children's developing social and cultural competence.

This dissertation documents how children are socialized to use observational, imitative, and participatory learning as primary modes of social learning, as they adapt to familial demands and practices, prevailing ethnotheories of child development, and other aspects of their developmental niche. The ways in which social learning is structured in this context in which children develop to more adequately understand the nature and full range of variation in developmental processes.

Samoan patterns of social learning have an important influence on the intergenerational transmission of cultural knowledge and practice. Research findings suggest that rather than a simple replication of existing systems of inequality (i.e. with children of higher-ranking households attaining greater cultural competence than lower-ranking ones), an emphasis on observational learning means that endogenous factors such as the child's motivation to learn, and social factors such as positive social relationships with one's elders moderate the importance of family rank. These findings fit a Samoan cultural emphasis on gaining competence in the chief system through long-term service to chiefs, parents and descent group elders. The research also points to a number of different "leveling mechanisms", including the village primary school, that serve to widely disseminate opportunities to learn one's culture that undercut more restrictive forms of intergenerational transmission. The implications of the study's findings to our understanding of the complex interactions of cultural practices, social organization, and processes of human development over ontogeny are discussed.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Cultural knowledge and cultural models

Chapter 3: The heart of hierarchy in Samoa: The matai system

Chapter 4: Research design and methods

Chapter 5: Building rapport with children and the community

Chapter 6: Developmental niches of Samoan childhood

Chapter 7: The household, patterns of social learning, and children's early experiences of hierarchy

Chapter 8: Learning the matai system as a “community child” in the village

Chapter 9: Proximity to chiefly activity and the role of leveling mechanismsin the differential distribution of knowledge

Chapter 10: The role of formal pedagogical institutions in cultural transmission: The local primary and Pastor's schools

Chapter 11: Children's developing understandings of the matai system

Chapter 12: Children's culture, cognitive heuristics and the imprint of Samoan culture

Chapter 13: Conclusions

Appendix 1: Parental beliefs and practices questionnaire

Appendix 2: Test of conceptual knowledge of the chief system and test of respectful vocabulary


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