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Benjamin Smith

HD Program Coordinator, HD Internship Coordinator & Associate Professor of Human Development

Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith



On Sabbatical Spring 2024

Office Hours

Dr. Smith is on sabbatical for the Spring 2024 semester.

Advising Area

  • General


Dr. Benjamin Smith is a specialist in how processes of language learning help childrento become more fully cultural beings (i.e., processes of “language socialization”). In his early work on this topic, he focused on how these processes of socialization crucially involve non-human agents and things. In a series of studies on boyhood in the Peruvian Andes, he has shown how the emergence of masculine authority in boyhood there hinges on the ability to wield authority over agents conceived of as non-human or not-fully-human: alpacas and sheep, disruptive younger brothers, and material things in the context of game play. His more recent, theoretical work brings a more fully sociopolitical lens onto these processes. Writing with co-author Dr. Elise Berman, he has shown how processes of “growth and learning” are unequally distributed across populations; being framed, ideologically, as a type of person capable of “growth” is privilege. He has published this work across 13 different articles. Along with co-author Dr. Berman, he is currently under contract with the Oxford University Press to produce a new edition of the OUP Handbook of Language Socialization. His broad writing on the sociopolitical contexts of language and culture in childhood inform a broad pedagogical program centered on socialization, language, childhood, and the way that inequality shapes processes of socialization. His interests in social science theory and qualitative methods serve, also, as a foundation for the HD core curriculum.

Another, parallel domain of specialization for Dr.Smith is his writing on the history of mental illness and its treatment in the United States. This work has centered on the emergence of concepts of “real selfhood” in the humanistic therapeutic practices developed in the post-World War II era United States. Most recently, Dr. Smith has – in collaboration with Dr. Boutin of the Anthropology Department – initiated an investigation of the history of developmental disability at the Sonoma Developmental Center. Dr. Smith’s research and writing on these issues also increasingly informs his teaching on mental health, disability, and the culture and language of biomedicine.


Ph.D., University of Chicago 2011

B.A., Wake Forest University 1999


Linguistic anthropology, semiotics, language socialization, cultural approaches to human development, therapeutic and medical discourse, histories of disability and mental health, Andes, United States