Most studies of social interactions with peers, including studies of friendship, assume that the basic rules and values about children's interaction in European American culture are universally shared by all cultures around the world – for example, parental goals for children's social interaction, concepts of friendship, and patterns of interacting with other children. Ethnographic studies of other cultures strongly suggest that this is not a reasonable assumption to make. Rules about social interaction in general and the nature of friendship in particular vary widely from one culture to the next. Thus, the culturally structured goals for the socialization of children and the daily activities of children also differ (e.g., Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Under these conditions, children's social behavior, including their interaction with other children, will differ widely by culture. This chapter illustrates such variation through a case study of Yucatec Mayan children growing up in their traditional village in Mexico. These children spend most of their time interacting with family members, including their siblings and other children who are their close relatives. Friendships and other significant peer relationships outside of this family circle are rare. This chapter examines how the literature on friendship and peer interactions is relevant for interpreting these children's experiences as well as how this case study is relevant for reevaluating current theories about children's social interactions.
Activity theory is the theoretical perspective that underlies this study.