Some Thoughts on the Cross-Cultural Study of Maternal Warmth and Detachment
Publication Date:December 1990
A number of studies have suggested that maternal detachment is common in tropical societies which suffer from high infant mortality. The author's own research revealed evidence of both detachment and positive affect. She suggests that maternal behavior in all societies can be best characterized as exhibiting maternal ambivalence. In order to pursue this thesis, the paper conducts a very brief survey of a) maternality as presented in mythology, folk tales, and rituals, b) cases of direct and indirect infanticide, and c) examples of mother infant relationships in the cross-cultural literature.
1. An unpublished interview by one of my students, with an Ibo woman however, offers considerable insight. The Ibo woman relates that when twins were born, it was (is?) customary for the mother to leave them alone in the home where they would be found and disposed of by disguised members of the community so that the mother would not know who killed her children. The mother of the interviewee, a strong Christian convert, offered to adopt these children with the mother's permission. She relates that most mothers helped her to run off with the babies before the disguised Ibo arrived. Unfortunately, like most other data the information is anecdotal and in this case third hand.
2. Many authors are aware of the problems with using predefined behavior lists. As Goldberg (1977) says there may be other ways that feelings can be expressed. Lewis and Ban (1977) point out that there can be different kinds of holding. I would like to propose the use of the Kestenberg Movement Profile, a method of movement notation and analysis which breaks up movements into fifty components and also measures the flow of tension changes in muscles. Not relying on culturally defined movements, it is relatively culture free. Since most of the movements studied are not consciously produced, it is also less troubled by observer effect. Movement profiles can be made from films of mothers and infants which provide good sampling of the movement day. Although the profile is primarily known among dance therapists, it would be a valuable addition to the anthropological tool kit.
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Janet Kestenberg Amighi, Ph.D.
Dr. Janet Kestenberg Amighi received her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in 1984. Her dissertation, Zoroastrians of Iran: Conversion, Assimilation, and Persistence is published by AMS Press, Spring 1990. She has taught anthropology at Tehran University, Cabrini College, and University of West Chester, Penn. She has also taught the Kestenberg Movement Profile at the Laban Institute for Movement Study in New York. Address correspondence to her at 763 Denton Hollow Road, West Chester, PA 19382.