Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Invisible Hands: Child Labor and the State in Colonial Zimbabwe

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Invisible Hands: Child Labor and the State in Colonial Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Invisible Hands: Child Labor and the State in Colonial Zimbabwe. By Beverly Carolease Grier. Social History of Africa. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2006. Pp. xii, 284; 19 illustrations. $29.95 paper.

Beverly Grier's monograph, Invisible Hands: Child Labor and the State in Colonial Zimbabwe, is a welcome addition to the historiography of Zimbabwe and to the emerging field of child studies in Africa. By a careful reading of archival documents and attending to often brief comments or off-handed observations in secondary sources, Grier manages to bring to light significant detail about child labor from about the mid-nineteenth century to the 1950s in colonial Zimbabwe.

Combining current analytics of the social construction of childhood with feminist political economy approaches to labor migration in African settler colonies, Grier examines the role children played in the social reproduction and forms of capital accumulation found in (and promoted by) patriarchal households in late precolonial societies, in settler enterprises, and state legislation and policies in colonial Zimbabwe, while highlighting children's agency in terms of resistance to the demands made upon them. She starts with a chapter sketching out the gender and generational division of labor, socio-cultural categories of age, and forms of power and appropriation shaping male and female children's labor in nineteenth-century Shona and Ndebele societies. Although reliant on scattered references and academic models of precolonial social formations in southern Africa, this chapter nicely sets up her main argument concerning how early colonial political and economic practices and sociocultural forms of generation and race interacted with these precolonial arrangements, taking advantage of some of the preexisting forms of authority for settler capital accumulation and being taken advantage of by African youth escaping demands of parents and other relatives and guardians.

In the remaining chapters, Grier tacks back and forth between different sectors such as peasant agriculture in the native reserves, European farms, the mines, and the urban areas, examining how changes in production and legislation were often intimately interconnected to struggles over control of children's labor and definitions of childhood itself. Grier argues that whereas rural African patriarchs often sought to emphasize the junior status of children to bend them to their own strategies of accumulation and survival as a way to minimize their own dependence on settler economic subjugation, many African boys and girls drew on European understandings of childhood, colonial regulations, and entered settler labor markets as a way to try to alter their home situation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.