Spatial Approaches to the History of Child Labour in Colonial Ghana

Polyvocia SOAS Journal of Graduate Research, 2 (2010). pp. 31-45.

Jack Lord

“This article uses spatial analysis to explore the nature of child labour in colonial Ghana (the Gold Coast). Spatial analysis of traditional archival sources and secondary literature demonstrates that our historical knowledge of child labour is narrowly focused on the colony’s most ‘colonial’ spaces and institutions. This article uses a novel set of sources – primarily autobiographies and probation records – to begin filling in the epistemological void surrounding the use of child labour in the domestic economy. Spatial analysis of these sources reveals that children were vital economic actors at scales ranging from the hearth and the household, to the town and the region. Child labour was used within the household to produce directly and to increase the mobility of more productive adults. Child labour was also key to the articulation of the household to wider economic spaces. The colonial period saw dramatic spatial changes in the use of child labour. Children began to work in new places, in new ways and at a greater distance from their natal household – these processes shed light on how the socio-economic and geopolitical reshaping of West Africa impacted upon the everyday lives of individual children.”