Sleeping Rough in Port-au-Prince: An Ethnography of Street Children and Violence in Haiti

J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat

Details: 256 pages    6 x 9
Cloth: $59.95   ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3009-8   
Paper: $29.95   ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3302-0   
Pubdate: 12/31/2006
Review(s): 5 available

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"Without parallel in the genre that has come to be known as ethnographies of street children. . . . a superb reading of Haiti's political culture and its impact on the street child's daily life as lived in a culture of violence for them and other citizens of this nation state."--Philip L. Kilbride, Bryn Mawr College

In this ethnographic analysis of the cultural lives of children who are "sleeping rough" in Port-au-Prince, Kovats-Bernat expands the traditional bounds of anthropological thought, which have only recently permitted a scholarly treatment of "the child" as a valuable informant, relevant witness, and active agent of social change. Refuting the commonplace notion that street children are unsocialized, Hobbesian mongrels, the author finds these children adopt strategies to carve a social and cultural space for themselves on the contested streets of Port-au-Prince, individually and collectively playing a surprisingly vital role in Haiti's civic life as they shape their own complex political, economic, and cultural identities.

Kovats-Bernat conducted his fieldwork from 1994 to 2004--the violent decade of Haiti's transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. Witnessing firsthand the effects of political and civil violence and poverty on the cultural lives of the Haitian people as well as the 2004 uprising of rebel soldiers against the government, he saw the Haitian president ousted and yet another violent transfer of political power in Haiti. The book also draws on the author's experience living on the streets with scores of street children, as well as their encounters with paramilitary agents, national policemen, former Haitian army soldiers, aid and development workers, United Nations and U.S. officials, the deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, death squad members, and Vodou bush priests.

This comprehensive, accessible account of the social and cultural worlds inhabited by dispossessed children in Haiti is recommended for anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of Latin American, Haitian, and Caribbean studies.

J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat is assistant professor of anthropology at Muhlenberg College.

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