Nurturing social networks as a household resource: A comparative study of child nutrition in fishing villages in northwest Madagascar

Date of Completion

January 2000


Anthropology, Cultural




The study examined social networks, household resource distribution and fosterage in three fishing villages in northwest Madagascar. Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to collect survey and anthropometric measures from 614 people in 98 households, Detailed case study data on meal observations, annual income and other resource and socioeconomic variables were collected from a subset of 24 households. The dependent variables for child well being were derived from anthropometric measurements of height, weight, and age for children from two to seventeen years of age. I observed distinct patterns of variation in the following independent variables: isolation, economic and subsistence pursuits, types of wealth, social support, and the occurrence of fosterage between the three villages. ^ The analytical results show significant relationships between households that were involved in social support, types of wealth and fosterage. Some forms of social support were significantly related to nutritional outcomes. The relationship between social support and anthropometric outcomes is consistent with the Malagasy concept of fihavanana, which represents a sense of communal connectedness of kin and non-kin. ^ My research provides a bridge between social network analysis, resource distribution and nutritional outcome analysis. It does this by acknowledging that people and their relationships can function as a resource. By this, I mean that people form networks and specifically promote exchange of labor and people to help maintain networks for their survival. I used child nutrition as an outcome variable to evaluate simultaneously social networks and the distribution of resources within and between households. This use of an outcome variable that is common to both analyses is a new approach. I was able to show that the social networks had a discernable effect on children but found less evidence for a strong role for resource distribution in terms of material wealth or income activities. What I discovered was that children themselves can be viewed as a resource in the context of their contribution to the development and maintenance of social networks. ^