‘A troublesome girl is pushed through’ – morality, biological determinism, resistance, resilience and the Canadian child migration schemes (1883-1939)

Wendy Sims-Schouten

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Abstract

The current article critically analyses correspondence and decisions regarding children/young people who were included in the Canadian child migration schemes that ran between 1883-1939, and those who were deemed ‘undeserving’ and outside the scope of the schemes. Drawing on critical realist ontology, a metatheory that centralises the causal non-linear dynamics and generative mechanisms in the individual, the cultural sphere and the wider society, the research starts from the premise that the principles of ‘less or more eligibility’ lie at the heart of the British welfare system, both now and in historic times. Through analysing case files and related correspondence of children sent to Canada via the Waifs and Strays Society and Fegan Homes, I shed a light on the complex interplay between morality, biological determinism, resistance and resilience in decisions around which children should be included/excluded. I argue that it was the complex interplay and nuance between the moral/immoral, desirable/undesirable, degenerate and capable/incapable child that guided practice with vulnerable children in the late 1800s. In judgements around ‘deservedness’, related stigmas around poverty and ‘bad’ behaviour are rife. Within this, the child is punished for his/her ‘immoral tendencies’ and ‘inherited traits’, with little regard for the underlying reasons (e.g. abuse and neglect) for their (abnormal) behaviour and ‘mental deficiencies’.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 8 Jun 2021

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