Toddlers using cultural tools in traditional and industrial cultures

Please observe differences and similarities in these two photos and report them below

A baby of 11 months from the Ituri Forest of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) cuts a fruit with a machete, under the eye of a relative. This is not an unusual situation in this culture, where infants are generally able to observe and participate in skilled cultural activities, according to Wilkie. (Photograph courtesy of David Wilkie) (from Rogoff, 1990, p.131).

This is a 13-month old toddler "reading" a book in the Soviet Union (now Russia) in June 1985. The photo was made in "dacha" (summer house) located near by Moscow (Photograph by Eugene Matusov).

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Date: Thursday, 20 September 2007
Time: 07:53:17 PM -0400


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Name: Mark Smith
Date: Thursday, 24 January 2002
Time: 08:23:03 PM -0800


I find it interesting that in the Zairian culture, the community finds it comfortable and natural for children to use "real" tools and important socially meaningful (adult) objects. Contrast this with the Russian (Western/Industrial) culture, where the child is "reading" a child's book. This is not an object adults use and is meant solely for the child.

What are the implications of this? It seems that there's age segregation of material objects and the use of such objects in the Western culture while such segregation is not practiced in the Zairian forest. For the Western child, this means that being "raised Western" requires the production of materials suited for the child's use, such as books. The Western child may look at pictures of a machete, but not use it. Doesn't this lead to the necessity in Western culture for schooling, towards the production of materials and "scaffolds" in which the child is gradually exposed to the objects and use of those objects considered necessary for being successful in an adult world?

The community represented on the left doesn't view things, it seems, in such a way. The child, through his participation with others in his community, is allowed to use the tools of the community directly. Notice that the community members are present in the background, allowing the child to participate not only with tools but also (potentially) with important activities, such as preparation of a meal.

Name: Deb Coffey
Date: Monday, 17 March 2003
Time: 11:02:37 AM -0500


The Zaireian (sp?) child is seemingly watched much more closely by adults, and there is another child in the background.

There is one set of legs and (presumably) someone wielding the camera in the Russian picture.


Apparently the child is more integrated into a more "communal" community in the picture from Zaire--or, perhaps, a very large family. Either seems different from the Russian picture.

Does this mean that there is more encouragement of individual rather than communal activites and values in Russia (in Western Culture in general)?