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

J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat

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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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Kovats-Bernat has set the bar high with this book. I encourage anyone, within or outside academia, who has an interest in the welfare of street children in counties like Haiti, to read this book. The Journal of Haitian Studies

" Kovats-Bernat's penetrating analysis of street childeren in Port-au-Prince joins a growing body of contemporary and relational ethnographies that not only take the readers to the street but also confront the social relations between street people, the state, and the larger political economy. Sleeping Rough is a book both raw and alive. Making the important link between the street child and a global system mutated by colonialism, military intervention, arms-trafficking, debt and structural adjustment, Kovats-Bernat has created a brilliant ethnography: compassionate, provocative, handsomely illustrated with his own photographs and yet always aware of the larger social, political, and economic context." Journal of Anthropological Research

" Fascinating insights into a world at once so close and so distant from the shores of the United States." Latin American Politics and Society

"Fascinating yet challenging to consume. Confronts sensibilities and invites introspection. Kovats-Bernat engages with his subject matter, others in his field, and the reader, and he does so in a stimulating and inviting manner." Journal of Latin American Studies

"An original contribution to the anthropology of Haiti. It is one of the few ethnographies that focus on Port-au-Prince. Recommended to anyone interested in issues of social inequality, political agency, human development, and urbanism in the Caribbean. It provides insight into an important, and relatively unknown, aspect of current Haitian existence." New West Indian Guide

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