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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Children learn their culture’s moral system by participating and observing everyday life. Yucatec Maya children’s cultural environment is organized on three intertwined principles: autonomy, belonging, and work. As they develop, they must integrate them into a single system that motivates their moral behavior. From infancy, children assert and caregivers respect their autonomy to organize their own activities, learning, and social engagement. Belonging entails reciprocal caring within an age hierarchy of responsibility and respect. Work is not only exercising competence but also “pitching in.” Understanding these more complex meanings lead Yucatec Maya children to see that their actions matter to their family, and they recalibrate their idea of autonomy to include the opportunity to make a difference. A model for studying the development of children’s moral understanding is demonstrated by ethnographic data: study the child-in-context and interpret everyday behavior as evidence of moral action as defined by the culture.

Keywords: culture, moral socialization, child-in-context, ethnography, autonomy, social belonging, work, responsibility, respect, self-concept

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