Children in the City: Home, Neighborhood, and Community

By Pia Christensen; Margaret O'Brien | Go to book overview

4

'Displaced' children?

Risks and opportunities in a Caribbean urban environment

Karen Fog Olwig

During the nineteenth and early twentieth century many children on the Danish West Indian island of St John moved alone to the city of Charlotte Amalie on neighbouring St Thomas in order to stay in the homes of better-off people. For the children, this move to St Thomas constituted a dramatic change in environment. On St John they had lived with their families in scattered rural settlements in an African-Caribbean community of poor small farmers. On St Thomas they stayed with strangers in the fast-moving, multicultural urban environment of the port city of Charlotte Amalie. For the children, life in Charlotte Amalie constituted both a danger of being exploited as inexpensive domestic labour and an opportunity to experience the more cosmopolitan ways of life in the city and take advantage of the resources that it had to offer. On the basis of archival research and interviews with St Johnians who spent all or part of their childhood in Charlotte Amalie, this chapter explores children's move to the city as both risk and opportunity. In exploring this urban experience of St Johnian children the chapter seeks to provide historical depth to and a cross-cultural perspective on contemporary studies of urban childhood. 1

According to the historian Harry Hendrick, it is difficult to elucidate children's experiences in the past, because children's points of view are rarely documented in the public records and thus they are not recognised as 'historical actors' (Hendrick 2000:42-3). Hendrick goes on to argue, however, that the purpose of historians

is not simply to describe, however objectively, past cultures. It is rather to unmask the hidden and apparently natural structures of inequalities that existed (and continue to exist) between adults and children, to show how these affected the latter as historical subjects, to examine their influence on the evolution of age relations and to illustrate their significance for the varying concepts of childhood.

(Hendrick 2000:45-6)

I suggest that a focus on structures of inequality sheds important light on the St Johnian children's position as historical actors on St Thomas. Structures

-46-

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Children in the City: Home, Neighborhood, and Community
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface xv
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • 1 - Children in the City 1
  • References 11
  • 2 - Place, Space and Knowledge 13
  • Notes 27
  • 3 - Children's Views of Family, Home and House 29
  • 4 - 'Displaced' Children? 46
  • 5 - Shaping Daily Life in Urban Environments 66
  • 6 - Children in the Neighbourhood 82
  • References 98
  • 7 - The Street as a Liminal Space 101
  • 8 - Neighbourhood Quality in Children's Eyes 118
  • 9 - Regenerating Children's Neighbourhoods 142
  • Notes 160
  • 10 - Improving the Neighbourhood for Children 162
  • Notes 180
  • 11 - Planning Childhood 184
  • Note 204
  • Index 206
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