Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Quantifying Childhood: Social Services, Social Sciences and Rural Households, Burkina Faso (1954-1989)

This project investigates how and why Burkina Faso became the primary West African country for national and international experiments in surveying rural childhood from the 1950s through the 1980s. It seeks to understand the interactions of social work and social scientific projects that studied the lives of children. The drive to quantify these lives had practical rationales, due to high child mortality rates and labor outmigration in Burkina Faso. Quantifying the lives of children through surveying had implications on the definition of authority. Colonial and postcolonial governments and local powers had interests in identifying how children fit into households in order to ensure political stability. This social scientific shift to study children's lives came about with a feminization of the civil service, particularly in the Ministry of Social Affairs and the growth of social anthropology and development economics. Understanding how social scientists and social workers developed surveys elucidates new definitions of childhood that focused on parental authority and child welfare, as well as the potential anxieties children and youth represented to authority. This project asks: How did social services define children's role in economic development of Burkina Faso? How did the development of social surveys and knowledge production about child welfare produce expectations about children's roles among government agents and in local communities? How did children define and experience these interventions? The project begins in 1950s, at the end of French imperial rule, with the creation of the social services in 1954. The project ends in the late 1980s, when the Thomas Sankara government expanded social welfare services at a time when other West African countries were cutting them. This period from the 1950s to the 1980s produced new definitions of childhood and child welfare that culminated with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.