Document Type

Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title

Different Faces of Attachment: Cultural Variations of a Universal Human Need

Publication Date



Cambridge University Press


To better understand attachment from a cross-cultural and historical perspective, I have amassed over 200 cases from the ethnographic and archaeological records that reveal cultural models (D'Andrade and Strauss 1992) of infancy. The 200 cases represent all areas of the world, historical epochs from the Mesolithic to the present and all types of subsistence patterns (Appendix 1). The approach is inductive where cases with similar models of infancy are clustered into archetypes. My principal finding from this analysis is that, in the broadest overview, infants are, effectively, placed on probation and not immediately integrated into the society. Attachment failure is not seen as a potential problem but, rather, premature attachment to an infant whose existence may be fleeting is to be guarded against. Most societies view infants and even children as not-yet-persons. Infants are born into a state of liminality or incompleteness. Among the Wari, a baby is compared to unripe fruit as it is "still being made"; (Conklin and Morgan 1996: 672) and the Nankani reserve judgment on the infant's humanity until they can be certain it is not a spirit or bush child (Denham et al 2010: 608). My presentation of results will first identify the main factors that give rise to delaying personhood and, second, to the cultural models which justify and guide the transformation of babies into persons. Variability in the way this non-personhood is characterized and in the steps that must occur to complete the process of constructing a person is great but not infinite. Hence, in the second half of the chapter, I will identify and discuss several archetypal cultural models of infancy.