What is it about?

In this paper three anthropologists who have spent their careers researching infant sleep from evolutionary and socio-cultural perspectives summarise the state of their field. They explore how anthropology addresses questions about infant sleep in different ways from the traditional approach, and highlight examples of how their research has changed policy and practice. The next phase, they argue, is to integrate the evolutionary and socio-cultural anthropological perspectives to challenge the dominant infant sleep paradigm.

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Why is it important?

Neither sleep, nor infancy, has been well-studied by anthropologists. This paper calls to attention the huge potential for anthropological research in these neglected areas and illustrates what has been accomplished by a small group of diligent and interdisciplinary anthropological researchers over the past 10-20 years.


Infant sleep research has been dominated by clinicians and psychologists, many of whom view infant sleep through specific historical and cultural lenses. Anthropology offers a new paradigm-shifting perspective to this research field that recognises the diversity of human biological and socio-cultural sleep and parenting practices, and the ways in which these relate to the ways we perceive and understand infant sleep.

Professor Helen L. Ball
Durham University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Toward an Integrated Anthropology of Infant Sleep, American Anthropologist, July 2019, Wiley,
DOI: 10.1111/aman.13284.
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