Stunted?: An Ethnography of Growth and Development

Anthropology Seminar Series

Speaker

Dr Annie McCarthy

Venue

Room 1.13, Coombs Extension (8), Fellows Road, ANU

Date

Wednesday, 9 August, 2017 - 09:30 to 11:00

Globally one in four children or 159 million children are stunted. Stunting, understood biomedically as low height for age is considered a largely irreversible process resulting from chronic malnutrition, particularly during the first two years of a child’s life. Yet stunting, wasting (low weight for height) and malnutrition are linked to a whole range of negative health, educational and social outcomes for children that go far beyond questions of stature. Data about child stunting provides a clear an immediate sense of ‘biological lack’ just as it frames stunted children as biologically deficient, and their families as morally complicit in this failure of genetic potential. Yet the extent to which this lack is experienced by children and their families through biomedical and public health frameworks is largely unknown. Thus while recognising the very real biological effects of malnutrition and poor sanitation, this project seeks to question euro-centric and homogenising measures growth and development, in order to foreground the lived and practical experience of growth as a project of daily life in poor communities in North India.

India has 48 million stunted children under the age of five, the highest number of children suffering from stunted growth in the world. Looking both ethnographically and historically through the lens of anthropometrics— that have long constituted ideas of development in India— this new project seeks to develop a way to foreground the experiences of ‘stunted’ children and the obstacles they identify to their own growth. In particular, it seeks to contextualise notions of growth within the familial and community structures in which children are ‘grown.’

Extending my doctoral work which explored slum children’s ability to pursue and formulate their own projects of development even within NGO spaces governed by global development logics, this project seeks to likewise engage with language child development as both a biological and moral project. In particular, it seeks to foreground the different moral grounds upon which growth and development is understood, and thereby provide a space for the stunted child to describe the directions of their own growth, outside of biomedical frameworks that foreclose many of the possibilities an ethnographic commitment to children’s agency requires.

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