The 1938-1939 Moyne Commission in Barbados: Investigating the status of children

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While the process of reform which took place in the British West Indies following widespread riots in the 1930s was clearly set in motion by the anti-colonial class struggle against authoritarian plantocratic regimes, it was ultimately mediated, muted, and mandated by the investigations and recommendations of the Royal Commission of Enquiry dispatched by the Colonial Office in the wake of the rebellion. In this paper, I focus on the intense inquiry into the status of children and young persons (with respect to family, health, education, employment, the penal system, and public welfare) conducted by the commissioners, specifically on the island of Barbados. I examine the commission's two week-long hearings as a site of negotiation, often contentious, among both Colonial Office-appointed and local reformers, local plantocratic elites, and (as a decidedly minority voice) local anti-colonial nationalist forces. The recordings of the commissioners meetings with various groups, indicating both the direction of their questions and the answers they received (along with their own comments and repartees), offer an insight into the process by which reform was ultimately shaped and managed in Barbados and elsewhere, connecting the British West Indies to a more global liberal-imperial reform and restructuring project. The commissioners, acting as authoritative transatlantic vectors of liberal imperialism, took aim at both the oligarchy and the dysfunctional culture of the laboring classes. The focus on Barbados yields particularly rich insights because of its British West Indian profile of a "double-edged exceptionalism"-with a system that was at once the most punitive and the most extensive provider of schooling with regard to children. I use the context of the Moyne Commission inquiry to examine both the historical record of the treatment of children and youth by the Barbadian state and the "managed" negotiation of reform under the stewardship of authorities of British liberal imperialism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-535
Number of pages21
JournalAtlantic Studies : Global Currents
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2014


  • Barbados
  • Child labor
  • Children
  • Illegitimacy
  • Moyne Commission
  • Schooling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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