Cultural Pathways in Parenting
Child Fosterage


Research Interests:

I am an assistant professor in the department of Psychology at Creighton University in Omaha NE. I am originally from Nebraska, growing up on a farm and received my BA and my Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, having the opportunity to be mentored by Carolyn Pope-Edwards. While my roots are in the Midwest, my work has taken me to other parts of the world. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia, Southern Africa and received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Benarus, India. Those experiences were very formative as I entered graduate school in developmental psychology and I have continued to ask questions regarding the psychological underpinnings of culture and human development. I have conducted research on gender norm development and masculinity in Namibia, specifically looking at how hegemonic ideas of masculinity fuel the HIV/AIDS crisis. This was my first real attempt at cross cultural research. The study emerged from saying I use to hear floating around southern Africa in the late 1990’s when treatment was not yet available to anyone. “You’re not a man if you don’t have AIDS” or “AIDS didn’t come to Africa for dogs it came for men. I looked at the social representation of masculinity of Namibia men using this metaphorical language; an attempt by men to understand unfamiliar concepts using existing explanatory models.

While in graduate school I was enrolled in an ethnography course taught by Pat Draper. We read some of Caroline Bledsoe’s work on child fosterage in West Africa and I have really never looked back. All of the questions I had about family life while I was a Peace Corps volunteer (with no anthropology training, mind you) were being reformulated in my head. My  research since has focuses on the indigenous child care practices and child fosterage in Africa, again drawing implications for HIV/AIDS orphans. Most of my research has been in the north of Namibia with Aaumbo families exploring the cultural logic of the child fosterage system. I have also conducted life history interviews with women who were fostered as children and analyzed the 2000 and 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, examining how education and height and weight differ among Aaumbo children with varying relationships to the head of households.

I presented a paper at the 2012 SCCR Meeting in Vegas titled: Parenting into an economy of Affection: Behaviors and Values in northern Namibia pulls in ideas of political economy to developmental psychology. This paper explores how families in the north of Namibia are engaged in socialization of children into both the market economy and the economy of affection. Hyden (1983) defines the economy of affection as “a network of support, communications and interaction among structurally defined groups connected by blood, kin, community or other affiliations. Two ideas prevail in the economy of affection: (1) the norm of reciprocity, and (2) the right to subsistence. This can be seen in the logic of child fosterage as well as parental ethnotheories.

Namibian mothers endorse highly tradition and power but are less likely to endorse autonomy and self-direction. The economy of affection is important as it helps shed light on the social behavior of child care in general and the practice of ovafika (apprenticeship fosterage) in particular,

A lot of my time now is also spent incorporating these ideas into my Cultural Psychology and Psychology of Gender course at Creighton University in Omaha NE. I mentor several undergraduate student research projects as well as my own. I am the campus coordinator of Creighton’s study abroad semester in the Dominican Republic. I get the chance to teach about once a year in the DR and am in the process of created a shared classroom so students can be enrolled in the Cultural Psychology class both at Creighton and in the DR. Each semester my Cultural Psychology class sets up an apartment for a refugee family that will arrive in Omaha that current month. The class gets everything for the apartment (beds, dishes, food, toiletries) and picks them up at the airport. This activity has sparked a recent study looking at Karen refugee parenting practices.