A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Eight Societies (2nd edition–fully updated for the 21st century)


Why study childcare practices around the globe?

Childcare provides the first experiences of a person in this life.  Yet childcare practices vary dramatically across time and space precisely because they are firmly embedded in divergent physical, economic, and cultural realities.  We aim to illustrate how the childrearing customs of any community, however peculiar or unnatural they may appear to an outsider, make sense when understood within the context of that society, as well as within its broader geopolitical context.

Written as a set of eight pregnancy or childcare manuals in the style of a parenting expert such as Dr. Benjamin Spock or Penelope Leach, this book combines the charm of storytelling with the scientific accuracy of ethnographic research.

Every chapter has two authors: the actual contributor (a respected scholar who’s spent years researching the society discussed), and an imagined author created by that scholar (reflecting composites of real people known by the scholar in that society).

Beneath this literary fiction, all the actual information presented in the book is factual, based on years of ethnographic research in each society featured. Each chapter blends scholarly writing about these societies via a user-friendly narrative, giving the reader eight fun-to-read guides to eight worlds of babies.  

Our eight “how-to” childcare guides (for communities ranging from urban Chinese to semi-rural Peruvians to urban Somali-Americans) offer eight very different perspectives on parenting from the 2,000+ guides currently in print in English—each with its implicit claim that there is one “best way” to raise all the world’s children.

What’s new in the second edition of A World of Babies

Nearly everything!

This edition contains seven entirely new case studies, one updated case study, and an updated Introduction, to focus on the enormous challenges of parenting in the 21st century.

You can download a Table of Contents here, and view a Table of Contents online here.

Unlike the original edition (which chronicled local, small-scale groups), this new edition emphasizes large-scale societies and groups located in urban or semi-urban settings, from China to Europe.

Our eight case studies sample a good cross-section of the world’s societies: two in Europe (Portugal and Denmark); two in the Middle East (Israel and the Palestinian Territories – West Bank/Gaza); one from Asia (People’s Republic of China); one from North America (US); one from Latin America (Peru); and three in Africa or the new African diaspora (Côte d’Ivoire, and African immigrants in Portugal and the US).

A good cross-section of the world’s religions also appears in these new chapters, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Confucianism, and indigenous religions.

By design, Muslims are heavily represented in the new edition. We include a diverse trio of Muslim families’ childrearing practices (in Minneapolis, Lisbon, and the Palestinian Territories) to counter the essentialist Othering that occurs all too easily concerning Muslim families’ lives. At the same time, we present a chapter on Jewish childrearing practices in Israel to provide a balanced perspective on the Middle East.

In the sixteen years since the first edition of A World of Babies, children’s lives have changed dramatically around the globe. We’ve highlighted both positive and negative changes in the new collection. Our chapters address the important issues confronting families aiming to survive and thrive in the 21st century:

  • What impact do globalization and migration have on parents’ and children’s lives?
  • How can adults raise stable, healthy children in extraordinary contexts of poverty, violence and war?
  • What are the childrearing challenges for Muslim and Jewish families living in the twin shadows of post-September 11th Islamophobia and anti-Semitism?
  • How should new parents and grandparents manage inter-generational conflicts over childrearing agendas in contexts of rapid social change?
  • What difference does systematic government support of families, via family-friendly policies and services, make for the well-being of parents and children?

Finally, since the first edition of A World of Babies appeared back in 2000, access to materials about childcare has increased exponentially, including hundreds (maybe thousands) of “Mommy Blogs” and other online advice. Our new edition takes the Internet as a parenting resource into account.

You can see a podcast interview with me about the book here.

A more recent podcast conversation with me about the book is here.

Follow regular updates about the world’s babies and young children on the book’s Facebook page here.

There’s a lovely guest post on the Facebook page here about the value of the book for medical professionals, authored by pediatrician Dr. Lisa Lewis.

Finally, if you’re interested in purchasing a copy, some options include:

  • Independent online bookseller (Bookshop) here.
  • Publisher’s webspage (U. of Chicago Press) here.
  • Apple books webpage here.
  • Barnes & Noble webpage here.
  • U.S. Amazon webpage here.
  • U.K. Amazon webpage here.
  • U.K. bookseller (Waterstone’s) here.
  • French Amazon webpage here.
  • Indian Amazon webpage here.
  • Swedish bookseller’s webpage here.
  • Australian bookseller (Booktopia) here.

Advance praise for the second edition of A World of Babies:

“This thoughtful and engaging book should be read not only by anthropologists and psychologists but by all expectant mothers. It makes American childrearing seem distinctly exotic. At the same time, it shows how much all mothers share. The effect is both liberating and moving.”

–Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor, Stanford University

“Gottlieb and DeLoache’s first edition of A World of Babies earned the right to be called a classic of anthropology. Using an engaging comparable format across chapters and cultures, they gave readers the opportunity to learn how parenting, and the ideology that guides it, varies across the globe and through history. Although one might expect the second volume of A World of Babies to be a simple update of the same studies, Gottlieb and DeLoache have instead done the unexpected—they present an entirely new volume with seven new studies of parenting practices. Taken together, these books set the example of how anthropology, when done well, can open minds to the possibility that there is more than one way to do just about anything, including parenting. I can think of no better way to become a more thoughtful, insightful, and therefore better parent than reading both editions of A World of Babies.”

–Meredith F. Small, Professor Emerita, Cornell University

“I cannot effuse enough about the second, fully revised edition of A World of Babies! The first edition has been a mainstay in my classroom for over a decade, and I have frequently given it as a gift to new parents. The creative, innovative, quasi-fictional design of both editions—’imagined childcare guides’ authored by ethnographers studying in a broad range of cultures, writing as if they are imparting knowledge to new parents as a childcare expert, such as a grandmother, midwife, or diviner—makes A World of Babies an enjoyable and impactful read for students and new parents alike. At a time when it may seem like there is no ‘right’ way to raise a child (Should babies sleep alone in cribs, or in bed with their parents? What’s the best way to bathe newborns or potty train toddlers?), it is refreshing to read a book which concludes that, in fact, there are many ‘right’ ways to raise children.”

—Christa Craven, associate professor of anthropology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the College of Wooster

“They had me at page 1: Recounting a few of the differences in different beliefs held around the world about raising babies made me eagerly read for more. Students of child development at all levels of education need this book to help them gain perspective on their own culture’s childrearing practices. Practices that appear “natural” and unquestionable are in fact deeply rooted in physical, cultural and economic realities that are unseen background. The conceit of the book is brilliant. After a brief geographic and historical overview, each of the eight societies the book covers uses a different fictional character embedded in that society to create a childcare manual. Although written by different authors, the chapters are united in style.  I can see this book generating extensive discussion and provoking endless consideration of the role of nature and nurture in child development.”

–Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor, University of Delaware

“This very accessible yet soundly scholarly book reads like a novel describing the same event from different perspectives, thereby shedding light on the socio-culturally constructed nature of what we might think of as an “objective” and self-evident “truths” about early child development. A ‘must read’ for students and researchers in the area of developmental psychology as well as a ‘great read’ for anyone interested in the world of babies.”

–Alexandra M. Freund, Professor of Psychology, University of Zurich

“The editors, in the second edition of World of Babies, have made a great book out of a very good one. The work is unique in combining perspectives not normally found in a single case study. That is, they provide a solid, well-contextualized ethnographic account of infancy and child-rearing in eight diverse, non-mainstream societies AND a historically contextualized view of the varying effects of modernization on these same societies and their treatment of fertility and infancy. In effect, we learn much about the enormous diversity in cultural practices vis-à-vis babies and about the contemporary forces that provoke change and resistance to change.”

–David F. Lancy, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Utah State University

“Imagine an infant or child in your mind’s eye. If you could do one thing that would be the most important to influence the life of that child, what would you do? Most mention individual actions such as to love the child, insure attachment security, provide good nutrition, provide stimulation and talk, insure friends and peers, and perhaps a trust fund. Of course all these are important, but A World of Babies brilliantly and creatively illustrates what really is the most important influence: decide where on earth –in what family and cultural community and resource ecology – is that child going to grow up? How to show love, what is stimulation, how to provide a sense of security to others, what foods and resources are available, how boys and girls are raised – these and so many other diverse family beliefs and practices matter for children in all their wonderful variety around the world. A World of Babies provides terrific and vivid personal examples reminding us of the importance of family, culture, history and context in children’s lives in today’s globalizing world.”

–Thomas S. Weisner, Professor of Anthropology, UCLA Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences (Semel Institute), and the UCLA Center for Culture and Health

“This lively, well-written book is authoritative, but not in the usual way. It’s not going to tell you how to give birth or raise your child. Instead, it will tell you many ways to do it, each blending a deep cultural tradition with the modern world. It’s the perfect antidote to the worst parenting myth: There is one right way, and if I don’t find it my child will suffer. Treat yourself instead to A World of Babies, and encounter a wide world of ways.”

–Melvin Konner, Emory University, and author of The Evolution of Childhood

“This is a fantastic book! I am going to use it right away with both my large undergraduate class and advanced graduate seminar. Because of my own collaborative research on social change and childrearing in China, I was particularly interested in one chapter – the one on social change in China: from cultural revolution to childcare revolution. And it did not disappoint! It is an impressive array of authors, each with deep knowledge of the culture for which they are preparing their ‘advice.’”

–Patricia Greenfield, UCLA

“Clever, refreshing, indeed witty way to engage readers in heady matters not only in the study of children, childhoods and socialization, but also in the conduct of ethnographic field research and the ways in which we present our work.”

–Myra Bluebond-Langner

“[C]aptivating . . . yet, again, Professors Gottlieb and DeLoache manage to spin their baby-care magic for both students and professionals alike. . . . [T]he seven new (and one updated) chapters provide, as did the first edition, a sparkling set of ‘manuals’ but with an even greater degree of wit, clarity, and intimate cultural knowledge, spreading cross-cultural insights that at times shock, amuse, and entertain, but always shed further light on the diverse . . . ways both biology and culture find expression in how we care for our babies.”

–James J. McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, University of Notre Dame