The Afterlife Is Where We Come From
The Afterlife Is Where We Come from was published by the University of Chicago Press (2000). Selected chapters and chapters appeared in Anthropology Today, American Anthropologist, Anthropological Quarterly, and Anthropology and Humanism; and in En Substances: Systèmes, pratiques et symboliques — textes pour Françoise Héritier, edited by Emmanuel Terray, Jean-Luc Jamard, and Margarita Xanthakou (Fayard, 2000); Research in Education in International Education: Experience, Theory, and Practice, edited by Liora Bresler and Alexandre Ardichvili (Peter Lang, 2002); and A World of Babies, edited by Judy DeLoache and Alma Gottlieb (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
A Portuguese translation appeared with the University of São Paolo Press (Editora FAP-UNIFESP, 2013).
“A tour de force of deep ethnography, nuanced reflexivity, and characteristic elegance. Alma Gottlieb has produced a sparkling text on an utterly neglected topic—the anthropology of infancy—¬that will challenge and change the way we think about culture and do ethnography.”
-Charles Piot, author of Nostalgia For the Future: West Africa after the Cold War
“With the publication of this astonishing book about reincarnation beliefs and infant development in West Africa, the study of the cultural psychology of childhood has come of age. . . . Read The Afterlife Is Where We Come From for an eye-opening interpretation of the local cultural meanings of developmental milestones, such as the transition from crawling to walking or the child’s early articulation of intelligible speech. Read the book as a brilliant exposé of the dangers of presumptively universalizing culture-specific ideals for human development. Read it to deeply fathom why infant development is not, and perhaps ought not to be, the same wherever you go.”
-Richard Shweder, author of Thinking Through Cultures: Expeditions in Cultural Psychology
“The Afterlife Is Where We Come From is some of the finest anthropological work I have ever seen. The book is not just an analysis of Beng babyhood but a complete analysis of life as a Beng. Alma Gottlieb is able to tie together the slippery strands of ritual, ideology, daily practice, and expression to come up with a comprehensible look at Beng life.”
-Meredith Small, author of Our Babies, Ourselves
“Welcome to the Beng world, where toddlers welcome strangers, and parents consult infants and diviners to better accommodate the desires and gifts that very young babies bring from their former lives in the afterworld. This delightful, insightful, and quite provocative book about very small people makes a very large contribution—an anthropology of infancy enables us to rethink nature and culture in new and important ways.”
-Rayna Rapp, author of Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America
“This is a wonderful book—intelligent, clear, fascinating, humane, and often very moving. Gottlieb strikes the perfect balance between intellectual detachment and personal empathy. The book is a long overdue and extremely exciting start to an anthropology of infancy. But any reader who cares about children will be caught up in the story of the Beng people and their babies. Like all the very best anthropology it makes us conscious simultaneously of the idiosyncrasies of our own techniques of child rearing and the universal human significance of the relations between babies and the people who take care of them. The book gives us a chance to discover and empathize with a very different, faraway world of mothers and babies, and at the same time makes us think about our own children in a new way.”
-Alison Gopnik, author of The Scientist in the Crib
“The Afterlife is Where We Come From is marvelously written. Gottlieb is able to contextualize Beng infancy in terms of specific issues arising out of the slender field of anthropology and infancy, while at the same time drawing attention to how infant research might proceed in the future. . . . Specialists in the study of infancy will find this book to be invaluable for its topical completeness and powerful methodology.”
-Phillip Kilbride, co-author of Street Children in Kenya: Voices of Children in Search of a Childhood
Selected reviews of The Afterlife Is Where We Come from:
“Occasionally, one reads a book that is worth raving about to academic and non-academic friends alike. This beautifully written ethnography about Beng babies in Côte d’Ivoire is one such book . . . Gottlieb has taken seriously Paul Farmer’s critique of anthropology that it does not pay attention to structural violence, even when it affects the communities among which we work. She makes a strong case for how structural violence has affected the lives of Beng young people, particularly in terms of infant mortality and sickness. She criticizes sharply the lack of affordable vaccines, medical personnel’s paternalism toward their patients; the lack of accessible clinics and dispensaries; and the under-recording of infant deaths, which she traces back to structural adjustment’s effect on the Ivoirian government and economy . . . This is a rich and absorbing book, and I recommend it highly to anthropologists for showing us why the culture of infancy is an important area of study; to Africanists for its linking of ritual, the wider political arena, and children; and to all parents for revealing alternative caregiving practices and conceptions of child development. I, for one, have not been able to look at babies in the same way since. I applaud Gottlieb’s accomplishment.”
-Cati Coe, Africa
“The Afterlife Is Where We Come From is filled with richly layered (and often moving) material on the daily lives of Beng people, especially on what they say about babies and how what they say informs their day-to-day practice in caring for infants. . . . The breadth of [Gottlieb’s] knowledge is admirable and the book is engagingly written and bound to be widely read by the public at large as well as by anthropologists.”
-Christina Toren, Anthropological Quarterly
“[The Afterlife] contributes to the field of anthropological research on children at many levels, revealing above all that children can be imagined by adults in ways that differ markedly from Western popular, religious, and scientific models alike.”
-Nicolas Argenti, Current Anthropology
“Alma Gottlieb’s careful and thought-provoking account of infancy sheds spectacular light upon a much neglected topic. . . . [It] makes a strong case for the central place of babies in anthropological accounts of religion. Gottlieb’s remarkably rich account, delivered after a long and reflective period of gestation, deserves a wide audience across a range of disciplines.”
—Anthony Simpson, Critique of Anthropology
“Gottlieb’s personalized presentation of discussions with adults, children, and infants enables the reader to understand what infants might be experiencing as they move away from wrugbe (the soul village of the ancestors) to being people in the human village . . . Gottlieb’s experience as a mother and the input of her son adds much to the depth of her ethnography. Throughout the text, her comparison of how middle-class Euro Americans handle the events of childhood (e.g., sleeping, eating, toilet training, etc.) informs us about how the structuring of daily life for infants leads to developing and promoting competent and capable adults. . . This text would be extremely informative for undergraduate and graduate students. Part of its charm is the portrayal of dialogues between Gottlieb and her many interviewees. From the conversations that are included in the text, it is clear that Gottlieb and the families in Bengland shared much—not only in interviews, but in terms of living together over time as well. . . This wonderfully reflective text should provide the impetus for formulating research possibilities about infancy and toddlerhood for this century—the lacuna of information about these stages of human development from a current anthropological perspective is only now being seen.”
-Caren Frost, Medical Anthropological Quarterly
“The Afterlife Is Where We Come From is a sophisticated, insightful and compelling analysis of infants, infant care, and Beng Religious ideology. . . . Gottlieb’s approach to the study of infants is systematic, comprehensive, and satisfying. The resulting analysis is beautifully organized and provides a model for all of us seeking to explicate complexity without reductionism. . . . This book will be a welcome addition to the growing number of courses on the anthropology of children and youth, as well, as to anthropologists teaching or researching the life cycle, family, African ethnology, and religion. It has the added attraction of being highly readable by both scholar and undergraduate.”
-Lisa Mitchell, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology
Description of The Afterlife Is Where we Come from from the back cover:
“When a new baby arrives among the Beng people of West Africa, they see it not as being born but as being reincarnated after a rich life in a previous world. Far from being a tabula rasa, a Beng infant is thought to begin its life filled with spiritual knowledge. How do these beliefs affect the way the Beng rear their children?
In this unique and engaging ethnography of babies, Alma Gottlieb explores how religious ideology affects every aspect of Beng child-rearing practices—from bathing infants to protecting them from disease to teaching them how to crawl and walk— and how widespread poverty limits these practices. A mother of two, Gottlieb includes moving discussions of how her experiences among the Beng changed the way she viewed her own parenting. Throughout the book she also draws telling comparisons between Beng and Euro-American parenting, bringing home just how deeply culture matters to the way we all rear our children.
Anthropologists, anyone who is interested in the place of culture in the lives of infants and vice versa, and indeed all parents will enjoy The Afterlife Is Where We Come From.”