Books by Meredith F. Small

Released: May 1, 1998

A look at the not-so-new idea that how babies eat, sleep, and cry is determined by the culture into which they are born—including a subtext that the ever-evolving parenting mode in the US may still not be all that baby-friendly. Small (Anthropology/Cornell; What's Love Got to Do With It?, 1995) is an expert on primate behavior and a convert to the infant science of ethnopediatrics, which brings together medical, developmental, and social science researchers to study babies not as unformed adults but as beings in their own right. To start off, Small reviews the evolutionary data, exploring why human infants have such a long period of dependency and how the intimate bond is created that primes adults to nurture their offspring over such a long period. The child-rearing practices of the African !Kung San and Gusii and the South American Ache groups, modern Japanese, and contemporary Americans are compared. The range is wide—the San mothers, for instance, are inseparable from their babies, carrying and nursing them "on demand" until they are four or five years old. Americans separate from their babies immediately, installing them in a separate bed or room, even before mother and child leave the hospital. These varied styles reflect the varied goals of the adult culture, the San emphasizing cooperation, the US individuality. Chapters are also devoted to crying, breast feeding, and sleep—including speculation that babies who sleep with a parent may be less at risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Small clearly approves frequent, if not continuous, bodily contact between child and parent, but emphasizes that successful parenting is a series of trade-offs. What works in one culture may fail in another. No breakthrough research here, but neatly packaged information that elicits new respect for babies and their ability to survive and thrive, whether in the Kalahari or in Chicago. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1995

The short answer is, ``Not much.'' Small (Anthropology/Cornell) is a student of primate behavior, particularly pertaining to mating and parenting. Her take on the subject, while decidedly female, is by no means doctrinaire feminist. The reason? There's so much variation in the social/sexual behavior of primates, nonhuman as well as human, that it would be folly to say that any proposed rationale for coupling was the answer. Instead, we are treated to quite detailed descriptions of the sexual lives of monkeys and apes and us that provide ample examples of polygyny, long-term pair bonding, ``fission-fusion'' behavior in which groups of females and males forage separately and come together to mate from time to time, and other variations. When it comes to human behavior, Small summarizes the most recent findings with regard to anatomy and physiology, obviously pleased to give the lie to the heritage of Victorian prudery: Women are just as likely as men to turn on to erotica andmore to her pointcan employ a variety of strategies (besides contraception) to encourage or discourage the potential of a given sex act to lead to pregnancy. She regards seriously the latest evidence that homosexuality may in part be genetic, but she asserts that the larger question is why human sexuality is a continuum, not nice neat packages of this or that. As for fantasies of sex via virtual reality or high-tech sex via surrogate motherhood, she sees them as just that: fantasies or high-tech solutions for the rich and famous. For the rest of us, mating is a complex drive that comes with positive reinforcement. We enjoy itplus it enables us to pass on our genes. Small is the first to admit she doesn't have all the answers; what she does point out is how much lore we need to unlearn, and that is the beginning of wisdom. (15 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >