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Cultural concepts of parenting

This study is part of a larger cross cultural research project on "parenting ethnotheories", where mothers of three months old infants were interviewed about their ideas on good parental care for small babies. They were confronted with picture cards, displaying different parenting behaviours from their own cultural community and were asked to comment on the appropriateness and inappropriateness of such behaviour. This paper addresses 40 of the German language interviews with a total 78,484 words. The central focus of this analysis is the frequency and distribution of modal particles as used in these interviews and as compared to two other corpora with a total of 60,000 words. The results indicate substantial differences with respect to the most frequently used particles, which can be explained by the attitudes of these women towards the particular topic being addressed in the interviews.

The particle halt was used 17 times more often, whereas the usually very frequent doch was used 16 times less than usual. Based on the meaning of these particles in the German language, conclusions can be drawn concerning the more or less conscious representation of parenting ideas. The women interviewed regarded their ideas as unchangeable (as expressed in halt) and are convinced that others share their worldview (as expressed in the low incidence of doch).

It is widely acknowledged that psychological phenomena are constituted by cultural processes that operate on biological predispositions. Cultural processes are evident in shared activities and shared ideas. In this sense cultural concepts are collective products that emerge from social processes and transcend any individual idea (Ratner 2002). Parental attitudes towards socialization and child development constitute such cultural concepts that are shared among members of sociocultural communities (Keller/Yovsi/Voelker 2002; Keller/Voelker/Yovsi 2005; Keller et al. 2004; Super/Harkness 1996; LeVine 1988).

A characteristic of cultural concepts of parental ideas and belief systems on socialization and child development is that their nature is implicit (D'Andrade, 1984; Weisner/Gallimore/Jordan 1988). Therefore, specific contents such as developmental timetables and customs of childcare may be adopted readily by a person from their culture and these become their personal beliefs, with little, if any, reflection, questioning or consideration of alternatives (Goodnow 1985). Culturally determined parental ideas and belief systems have generally been analyzed with respect to differences in content. For example it has been repeatedly demonstrated that Euro American middle class parents value autonomy and independence in their children, whereas Asian, African, South and Middle American parents value relatedness, obedience and proper demeanor (Harwood 1992; Keller/Demuth/Yovsi 2004).

Cultural concepts of parenting