Ep. #5 Stunted thinking: Annie McCarthy talks slum children, NGOs, and stunting in Delhi

iTunes Button (via NiftyButtons.com)“…the child operates as a powerful figure in our society, where children can mobilize anything, from anxieties about same sex marriage to fears about children in detention, and all these things that we see in our own society today.”

Subscribe on AndroidDr. Annie McCarthy, who teaches anthropology at the Australian National University, tells our own Jodie-Lee Trembath about the moral pitfalls of aid and development in the slums of Delhi, India, how the poor and the young take power back from NGOs that may inadvertently objectify them, and how “stunting,” a term that should describe low height for age, becomes a shorthand for cultural assumptions about family life. Annie also talks about teaching, what it’s like to research children, and the importance of getting to know “the anthropologist behind the anthropology.”

Find Annie’s work on her Academia page, or follow her on Twitter at @anni_mc.


Ferguson, James.  (1990).  The anti-politics machine : “development,” depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho.  Cambridge [England] ; New York :  Cambridge University Press

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx [accessed 7 Jan 2018]


“We’ve all seen those images of those children with the bloated bellies and the fly-besotted eyes… We’re very familiar with the rendering of that kind of abject state of child poverty and the way it’s used as a kind of lever to get donors to generously part with their money.”

“…the word ‘stunted’ was just so much more than a kind of bodily referent, you know, I just felt like, well, you know, you don’t know anything about me. You don’t know what I might do in my life, you don’t know where I might go in my life. You know, maybe I’m going to be a few centimeters shorter than I would have been, but who even knows what I would have been? Who are you to say that my life is somehow less than it could have been?”

“It’s eugenics that enables this population norm to measure people against.”

“It’s like, okay, these kids have survived, but the rest of their lives are kind of called into question by these paradigms, and the life of the nation [India] more broadly.”

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the schools of Culture, History, and Language and Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

Feature image by Dr Annie McCarthy – A group of girls work together to create a booklet advocating against child marriage as part of an activity for a media NGO that visits their South Delhi slum weekly.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Show notes by Ian Pollock

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