Staying, Flowing, Resounding: Children's Interactions and Space-Based Attachments on a Manu'a Island
Date of Degree
Jillian R. Cavanaugh
Linguistic Anthropology | Polynesian Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology
American Samoa, children, development, socialization, space, interaction
Since the 1980s, failing infrastructure and lack of basic services and opportunities in Manu’a, American Samoa, have pushed Manu’ans to resettle in Tutuila, the largest island in this US territory, or the States, leaving behind depopulating villages. Most Manu’an youth today leave after high school, to attend college or find jobs, including in the US Army. However, even as Manu’an children look towards futures off-island, their caregivers prefer them to grow up in Manu’a where, as they put it, lives are “easy”; because they belong to these islands, here Manu’ans live “free.” Based on 17 months of ethnographic, linguistic-anthropological research (2015-2017), this dissertation explores the forms this uniquely Manu’an freedom took in the lives and growth of children aged 2-14. Drawing on the insight, from language-socialization studies, that interactions can be a window onto developmental processes, I analyze patterns of interaction that structured the children’s daily activities and identify three metapragmatic principles that informed these patterns and, over time, the children’s psychosocial development. Children’s patterns of interaction centered space as an interactional resource. Accordingly, those three principles, which I dub staying, flowing, and resounding, were assumptions the children learned to make about people’s embodied, spatialized, aesthetic practices. I argue that as they learned to stay, flow, and resound in the island space they shared with each other, the children developed space-based attachments—attachments to space and attachments to others mediated by space—that anchored their sense of self, autonomy, and agency and regulated age-graded and other enactments of power. These attachments made individual autonomy the bedrock of contemporary Manu’an sociality, and enabled children to practice a generationally specific form of the nexus of spatialized belonging and freedom their elders felt defined Manu’an life. I suggest that these developmental outcomes matter today because they equip children to thrive in contemporary transregional Manu’a. While showing how anthropological perspectives can advance understandings of psychological processes, thereby supporting psychosocial policy-making, this project amplifies indigenous Oceanic theories that spatialize sociality, highlighting the role space plays in socialization as interfacing psychological and political life.
Gritti, Mariapaola, "Staying, Flowing, Resounding: Children's Interactions and Space-Based Attachments on a Manu'a Island" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.
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