Publisher: African Studies Association

Child Labor and Africanist Scholarship: A Critical Overview

Beverly Grier
KEYWORDS: Child Labor and Africanist Scholarship: A Critical Overview


Though children's labor has been critical to African economies historically, Africanist scholars tend to treat child and adolescent workers as invisible. In this essay, the reasons for this neglect are explored, as are the consequences of such neglect for theory and empirical research. Suggestions are made for pursuing research on child and adolescent labor that places young workers within the broader context of economic, social, and political relationships and processes. The essay critically reviews the extant scholarly literature on children and work in the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial periods and concludes that child labor is either underresearched or undertheorized to the detriment of our understanding of gender, patriarchy, agency, the formation of worker and political consciousness, capital accumulation, and the state. The essay argues that children have shaped and continue to shape history in Africa and that childhood is a terrain of struggle in which numerous social and political forces (including children, patriarchy, capital, and the state) seek constructions that suit their particular (and changing) interests. The essay makes a plea to Africanist scholars to take children more seriously in their research.

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