Jessaca Leinaweaver

2010 Margaret Mead Award Recipient

mead_leinaweaver.jpgI did undergraduate work at Whitman College, majoring in anthropology and Spanish literature with a minor in gender studies, and I received the M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2005. The dissertation on which the book is based (Familiar ways: Child circulation in Andean Peru) won the Horace R. Rackham Distinguished Dissertation Award.

I worked at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada for 3 years (2005-2008) and then joined Brown University's Department of Anthropology in 2008. I am also a member of Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Along with child fostering and adoption, the topics of this book, my research interests include migration, gender, childhood, and aging. Currently I am doing ethnographic research in Madrid with Peruvian migrants and adoptees. The new project is funded by NSF, Wenner-Gren, and Fulbright. I have also completed international collaborative research (funded by Wenner-Gren as well) with a colleague in Peru, Jeanine Anderson, and thirteen anthropology students.

I became interested in this topic when I went to Peru in 1999 to study Quechua in Cuzco through Michigan's collaboration with the Centro Bartolome de las Casas. I had originally planned to study tourism and conflicting representations of present-day Quechua speakers in an area (Cuzco) where tourism about long-gone Incas was most lucrative. But on more than one occasion my friends and I were offered babies, and I was very struck by these encounters, some joking and others seemingly quite serious. So I began reading more deeply in the andean ethnographic literature about child-rearing and families, and found that it was quite common for kids to grow up in households that were not the ones they had originally been born into. That was the beginning of this study, which expanded to include a consideration of orphanages and of transnational migration, but which had its beginning in the localized movements of young people from one house to another, and the "gift" of a child. The book is about the various reasons why the urban Peruvians I knew engaged in this practice, which I called "child circulation" to highlight its similarities with practices in West Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere that anthropologists have studied such things. I found that the sending parents have certain ideas about how things will work, the receiving family another, and the young person her- or himself still others.