Children of Fate

Childhood, Class, and the State in Chile, 1850–1930

Children of Fate

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 16 illustrations, 1 map Published: October 2009

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone

In modern Latin America, profound social inequalities have persisted despite the promise of equality. Nara B. Milanich argues that social and legal practices surrounding family and kinship have helped produce and sustain these inequalities. Tracing families both elite and plebeian in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Chile, she focuses on a group largely invisible in Latin American historiography: children. The concept of family constituted a crucial dimension of an individual’s identity and status, but also denoted a privileged set of gendered and generational dependencies that not all people could claim. Children of Fate explores such themes as paternity, illegitimacy, kinship, and child circulation over the course of eighty years of Chile’s modern history to illuminate the ways family practices and ideologies powerfully shaped the lives of individuals as well as broader social structures.

Milanich pays particular attention to family law, arguing that liberal legal reforms wrought in the 1850s, which left the paternity of illegitimate children purposely unrecorded, reinforced not only patriarchal power but also hierarchies of class. Through vivid stories culled from judicial and notarial sources and from a cache of documents found in the closet of a Santiago orphanage, she reveals how law and bureaucracy helped create an anonymous underclass bereft of kin entitlements, dependent on the charity of others, and marginalized from public bureaucracies. Milanich also challenges the recent scholarly emphasis on state formation by highlighting the enduring importance of private, informal, and extralegal relations of power within and across households. Children of Fate demonstrates how the study of children can illuminate the social organization of gender and class, liberalism, law, and state power in modern Latin America.


Children of Fate will be a point of reference in the history of childhood in Latin America and beyond, not only because of its skillful interweaving of laws and forgotten lives, but also because of the eloquent balance struck between social and legal histories and private and public relations. It is accessible without being simplistic, adventuresome without leading the reader somewhere very obscure. While the historiography is specific to Chile, the book has something for most scholars of Latin American history. It can also be read alongside the most debated writings on the history of European childhood.” — Tobias Hecht, Journal of Social History

“[Children of Fate] proved to be a fascinating and well documented investigation on how civil law in Chile handled the problem of poor, marginalized, illegitimate children during an 80 year period of modern history.” — Nancy Thomas, Mil Gracias Blog

“[A] groundbreaking study of the ways in which cultural, social, and legal constructs defining family and kinship produced and propagated social hierarchy and socioeconomic inequality. . . . This book makes an important contribution to a relatively scant body of historical work on family, class, and the state in pre-1930s Chile. . . . Milanich’s study is also commendable for its effective use of a difficult and fragmented source set spread over several cities and institutions.” — Alison J. Bruey, History

“Milanich has written a fascinating and historically dramatic work that elegantly blends narrative and analysis. She places her study in a welcome comparative context that encompasses Latin America and the North Atlantic. . . . Children of Fate is an indispensable and original work that opens up a fundamental problem relating to the relationship between the family, class and the state in the liberal era. Its very originality drives forward a debate in which it will be an obligatory reference.” — Sol Serrano, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Nara B. Milanich’s engaging study of filiation, class, and the state in republican Chile represents a significant contribution to this literature. Her detailed and well-researched study will be of value to scholars of family law and childhood as well as those interested in the relationships among liberalism, patriarchy, and the reproduction of class and social hierarchy in nineteenth-century Chile.” — Christine Ehrick, American Historical Review

“Nara Milanch’s complex and engaging book, Children of Fate, analyzes the intersections between the history of childhood and the formation of the liberal state in Chile from the 1850s to 1930. . . . Milanich sets up an ambitious task for herself. . . . She accomplishes it beautifully. . . . Children of Fate is a model for future historical scholarship on childhood in Latin America.” — Eileen M. Ford H-Childhood, H-Net Reviews

“Nara Milanich has written a smart, innovative book about children in republican Chile that is sure to become a benchmark in several fields of Latin American history. Children of Fate will be of special interest to scholars of the modern period because it is among the first English-language books to identify itself with the ‘history of childhood’ genre. . . . It blazes through diverse sources such as lawsuits, wills, orphanage records, and genealogical albums to expose the gap in elite constructions between children defined as kin, who inherited status, and the rest — the kinless, rootless, and illegitimate. . . . By exploring how some children were counted as kin and some were not, Milanich makes it clear that historians’ neglect of children as a topic has impoverished our understanding of how class was made and remade in modern Latin America.” — Bianca Premo, Labor

“Nara Milanich’s Children of Fate is a fascinating study of the central role that family relations and kinship have played in Chilean society. Through a very extensive analysis of judicial cases, notarial records, and archival materials from the Casa de Huerfanos, she shows how illegitimate children and their mothers navigated a changing and complex legal world, looking for a place in a society formally and informally defined by family and class hierarchies.... Children of Fateprovides a very engaging analysis of Chilean history through the lens of children and family, redefining our understanding of this critical historical period.” — Angela Vergara, Canadian Journal of History

“This book is a major contribution to the field of Latin American childhood studies that emerged in the 1990s, as well as to studies of family history, gender, and the state. Scholarly, well-researched, and provocative, it is also well-written, engaging, and easy to read. Milanich weaves together her themes of childhood, kinship, family, class, inequality, and the state spectacularly well. Her discussion of the way in which the Chilean state reflected and upheld graduations of class and how this shaped both the life experiences of being a child and expectations about children is truly commendable.” — Jean B. Grugel, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“This richly researched and closely argued study by Nara Milanich examines the experiences of children from 1850 to 1930 to reveal how Chile’s liberal state, premised on individual equality before the law, produced inequality. . . . Most importantly, Milanich makes it clear that the history of childhood permeates metahistorical questions about social and cultural change and class and state formation and lies at the heart of the answers.” — Ann S. Blum, Hispanic American Historical Review

“With Children of Fate—a book that is thoroughly researched, insightfully argued, and beautifully written—Nara Milanich makes a compelling case for how attention to children can illuminate two issues central to the broader historiography of modern Latin America. . . . Children of Fate is a pathbreaking book that deserves a wide readership.” — Sarah C. Chambers, Journal of Family History

"Children of Fate is a social history of childhood . . . but this is not its only object of study . . . Milanich contributes to an understanding of Chilean state formation and the organization of civil society."
— Francisca Rengifo S., Revista de Historia Iberoamericana

Children of Fate is a remarkable historical account of the intertwining of family law, vernacular kinship practices, and class in late-19th-century Chile.” — Clara Han, PoLAR

Children of Fate is truly original, with an extraordinary level of insight and analysis. Nara B. Milanich shows how class identity was manipulated by the liberal state in a way that maintained hierarchies, and she illustrates her arguments with rich examples gleaned from extensive archival research. A brilliant, first-rate book.” — Elizabeth Kuznesof, author of Household Economy and Urban Development: Sao Paulo, 1765 to 1836

Children of Fate tells a thoroughly engrossing, emotionally moving story about children in Latin American history. Nara B. Milanich’s extremely powerful and original arguments about family, law, class relations, and state formation in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Latin America have major ramifications for rethinking Latin American social and labor history and will undoubtedly help reshape the agenda of future social and political history in the field.” — Heidi Tinsman, author of Partners in Conflict


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nara B. Milanich is Assistant Professor of History at Barnard College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations and Tables ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: State, Class Society, and Children in Chile 1

I. Children and Strangers: Filiation in Law and Practice

1. The Civil Code and the Liberalization of Kinship 41

2. Paternity, Childhood, and the Making of Class 70

II. Children of Don Nobody: Kinship and Social Hierarchy

3. Kindred and Kinless: The People without History 103

4. Birthrights: Natal Dispossession and the State 128

III. Other Peoples' Children: The Politics of Child Circulation

5. Vernacular Kinships in the Shadow of the State 157

6. Child Bondage in the Liberal Republic 183

Epilogue: Young Marginals at the Centenary: One Hundred Years of Huachos 216

Appendix 239

Abbreviations 245

Glossary 247

Notes 249

Bibliography 309

Index 333
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, Society for the History of Children and Youth’s Best Book Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4574-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4557-2
Publicity material