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Responsibility in Childhood: Three Developmental Trajectories



Abstract In this article, we analyze the development of responsibility through the lens of the Peruvian Matsigenka, Samoan, and middle-class Los Angeles, California, childhoods. We propose that recognizing social awareness, social responsiveness, and self-reliance as keystone properties of responsibility supports an argument that children's routine work at home enables not only social but also moral responsibility, in the form of respectful awareness of and responsiveness to others' needs and reliance on knowledge that takes into consideration others' judgments. We document distinct modes of engagement in community and family activities evidenced in community ethnographies of children in Matsigenka, Samoa, and in middle-class Los Angeles, and propose seven arguments (related to sociopolitical organization, necessity, development, school priority, independence–interdependence, attention practices, and inconsistency) that bear on these observations. A contradiction in the values and practices for promoting independence and giving care is manifested exclusively in the L.A. families, creating a dependency dilemma for children of these families. If moral responsibility involves an active turning toward the other that engenders the capacity for compassion, our research indicates childhood socialization practices differentially facilitate or complicate achievement of this perspective. [responsibility, child development, socialization, Samoa, Los Angeles, Matsigenka]