Changing childhoods

14 Mar 2024

Early-career researcher Jan David Hauck has received a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant – one of the most prestigious research awards in Europe – with LMU.

Dr. Jan David Hauck from the Rachel Carson Center has been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Center (ERC). The anthropologist will receive project funding of 1.5 million euros. Awarded for the scientific excellence of the applicants and the proposed project, ERC grants are among the most prestigious research awards in Europe.

Anthropologist Jan David Hauck is investigating the effects of environmental changes on the development of morality in children. | © privat

Development of morality and social behavior in Indigenous communities

Indigenous communities across the world are experiencing rapid changes to the spaces they inhabit. This includes phenomena such as deforestation and changing land use, which force them to radically alter their ways of life and subsistence. However, we know very little about how these changes may impact the development of children and particularly their moral understandings. In his ERC project CECC (Changing Environments, Changing Childhoods: A Cross-Environmental Ethnography of Moral Socialization in Three Small-Scale Societies), Dr. Jan David Hauck is now investigating how children in three small-scale Indigenous societies develop moral understandings and behavior in relation to different environments and environmental transformations.

Researchers frequently invoke environments as playing important roles in the formation of morality. This encompasses everything from the immediate home environments in which children grow up, to the evolutionary environments in which the human species evolved particular moral dispositions, such as cooperation or altruism. However, the respective environment is mostly taken for granted as stable context that determines the scope of human action. To date, there has been no detailed study of the ways in which particular environmental conditions and their transformations may affect moral socialization.

Dramatic environmental changes

This is where Hauck’s ERC project comes in, which aims to develop a new framework for the study of the role of environments in human moral development. To this end, Hauck will undertake longitudinal, family-based ethnographic studies in three Indigenous former hunter-gatherer communities in Paraguay, Malaysia, and Namibia. Each of these communities has experienced dramatic environmental changes and settled in villages or towns, but still goes on extended foraging treks in nearby nature reserves.

Comparing these two environments will allow the researchers to examine differences between past and present modes of existence and understand how environmental change impacts sociality and morality. Through video-based analysis, ethnography, interviews, and psychological experiments, Hauck and his international team of researchers will analyze children’s everyday interactions with caregivers and peers across environments, as well as reflexive understandings of attendant moral values.

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