Society for Cross-Cultural Research and AAA Anthropology of Children and Childhood Interest Group Joint Meetings, February 16-19, 2011

Panel: Politics at Play: Children and the Politics of Everyday Life

Paper: ‘Cops and Vendors’: Children Negotiating Police in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas

In the streets and central plazas of Cusco, Peru, child vendors sell souvenirs and postcards to tourists. Yet their work is monitored and often limited by patrolling national and municipal police officers, as well as city-contracted security forces. Child vendors are targeted by different officers because they are children—based on concerns about abandonment, child labor, and delinquency—and because they are ambulante vendors working informally and illegally in the historic and touristic city center. Children and police negotiate one another utilizing strategies ranging from avoidance to compromise. Fear and playfulness jointly inform the ways that children react to, and narrate, their encounters with police. In turn, both police and children discuss how knowing who are “good” versus “bad” vendors/officers allows flexibility of practice, enabling all actors to deal with the contradictions behind and between policies that target transgressions of childhood and dictate sanctioned use of public space. This paper briefly explores the premises about childhood and children upon which these policies are based, and then discusses how children and police interact, with a focus on children’s creative tactics for engaging the moral economies and politics of space.

Aviva Sinervo