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. Drawing extensively from judicial and notarial sources and the records of Santiago’s Casa de Huérfanos, Milanich elucidates the instrumental role of kinship in state and class formation. Families able to document their relationships had access to the state’s expanding repertoire of entitlements, which fortified their status and privilege. In contrast, a “kinless” underclass was excluded from legal, social, and political benefits.

The concept of filiation, encompassing the parent-child relationship, genealogy, and civil status as legitimate or illegitimate, is central to Milanich’s analysis. Chile’s liberal civil code of 1857 instituted state oversight of the life cycle and tightened the means for establishing filiation. Milanich explores the law’s consequences by examining...

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