Tending the Gardens of Citizenship: Child Saving in Toronto, 1880–1920s


197 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3913-8
DDC 362.7'09713'541'09034




Reviewed by Henry G. MacLeod

Henry G. MacLeod teaches sociology at Trent University and the
University of Waterloo.


Tending the Gardens of Citizenship uses a Foucauldian historical,
sociological approach that focuses on the emergence and implementation
of social programs rather than on the more conventional history. The
author draws on Michel Foucault’s writings on governmentality to
analyze the history of Ontario’s child protection system at the turn
of the 20th century and its current state. She is interested in the
emergence and development of child saving, as it was known at the time
in the prevailing discourse, and in the role of state intervention.

Governmentality is concerned with how knowledge and beliefs about
different social issues emerge and are problematized, and with the
policies and programs that governments use to deal with these issues.
Child protection is an activity of the government. Chen looks at the
problematization of cruelty and neglect in the 1880s, noting that
Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society emerged from the Toronto Human
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, which first cared for animals
before including children. She also examines the problematization of
neglectful parenting, which emerged at the same time from the fear that,
as a result of inadequate parenting, children would not become proper
citizens. Her study is concerned with the changing notion of how to
cultivate citizens. When child saving appeared, people were worried that
children would grow up to be bad citizens. Today, children are victims
who have to be protected to become good citizens.

Chen’s Foucauldian history of the child welfare system in Toronto
makes an important contribution to our understanding of current child
protection legislation and practices. She looks at alternatives, such as
shelters, that were available to policy-makers. A key chapter discusses
the gardening metaphor used in child saving writings—that is, children
who are treated like valuable plants and properly tended grow up to
become good citizens. Chen also explores the role of class, religion,
and gender. Although highly academic, her book is worthy of
consideration by anyone interested in child protection issues.


Chen, Xiaobei., “Tending the Gardens of Citizenship: Child Saving in Toronto, 1880–1920s,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17107.