Astuti, Rita, Solomon, Gregg E. A. and Carey, Susan
Constraints on conceptual development : a case study of the acquisition of folkbiological and folksociological knowledge in Madagascar.
Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development,
Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development.
How different are the concepts held by children who grow up in a North American middle class neighborhood and by children who grow up in a rural Malagasy fishing village? By probing Malagasy children’s and adults’ conceptual representations of human and animal kind, biological inheritance, innate potential and family relations, the studies presented in this Monograph address current debates about the acquisition and the nature of concepts in the domains of folkbiology and folksociology. Cross-cultural and developmental studies of this kind bear on the hypothesis that conceptual development in these domains is supported and constrained by innate conceptual content. If so, one would expect cross-cultural universality in the relevant adult concepts and their early emergence in childhood regardless of widely different input conditions. We chose to conduct these studies among the Vezo of Madagascar because the ethnographic literature has attributed to them folkbiological and folksociological theories that are radically different, even incommensurable, with those of North American adults. Vezo therefore provide a challenging test for the innate conceptual constraints hypothesis. Four studies probed aspects of biological and sociological reasoning of Vezo children, adolescents and adults through a number of adoption scenarios. Despite ethnographic reports to the contrary, we found cross-cultural convergence in adult concepts of biological inheritance, but the pattern of development of this concept differed greatly from that seen in North America. Moreover, in agreement with the ethnographic literature, we found that Vezo adults have constructed a distinctive theory of social group identity. However, we found that children’s reasoning in this domain is under the influence of endogenous constraints that are overturned in the course of development. Finally, we found cross-cultural convergence in adults’ concept of species kind, as well as evidence for the early emergence of this concept. In light of these findings, we discuss the nature of the constraints on children’s conceptual representations, the developmental process through which the adults’ concepts are constructed, and relations between Vezo theories of folkbiology and folksociology.
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