Stéphanie Borios was awarded a Rothman Doctoral Fellowship for her project “Children’s Social Learning of Plants in the Peruvian Andes.” Borios used her fellowship to spend eight months conducting research in the Peruvian Andes. After taking an intensive summer Quechua class in Cusco, she spent most of her time in a small rural community, studying the social relationships and learning strategies on which children rely to learn about plants. She was especially interested in evaluating the importance that peers play in this learning process and how information transmission occurs in daily activities and relies on observation, play and work.
For her study, Borios selected a community close to Calca, Peru. In this community, families mainly engage in subsistence agriculture, herding, and weaving. Natural resources are thus critical to the development of their activities and their identity. Borios studied this cultural transmission of plant knowledge as children engage with other members of their community in activities such as farming, herding, cooking, collecting firewood, and playing. She conducted her fieldwork with children and youth aged four to eighteen years old and combined ethnographic methods (participant observation and ethnographic interviews), free-listings, drawings, and a plant knowledge test.
With this research she contributes to the anthropology of childhood, bringing new insights into the dynamics of cultural transmission and children’s agency in this process. Her research also addresses a need in this field for studies about knowledge transmission beyond formal schooling. Our conception of what constitutes learning is biased towards modern Western methods of learning, with verbal instruction from the schoolteacher to the pupil, and through writing. It is important to reflect on the diversity and richness of cultural transmission under other circumstances, especially to look at the knowledge that rural children acquire from a very early age taking part in household and communal activities.
This research has become the basis of Borios’s dissertation. She has already presented portions of the research conducted as a Rothman Doctoral Fellow to the Society for Psychological Anthropology with the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group, the Florida Anthropological Student Association, and the Society for Economic Botany. She will also present it at the 112th American Anthropological Association annual meeting which will be held in November 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. As she concludes her analysis, she intends to disseminate her results to schools in the community where she worked and in Cusco or Lima, Peru. This will help to share rural children’s experiences and ways of learning with their urban peers. Borios also plans to prepare a travelling exhibition for schools in the Gainesville area to promote intercultural awareness between children in the Andes and Florida.
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