Childhood Studies Children and Consumer Culture
by
Daniel Thomas Cook
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0006

Introduction

Social research on children as consumers (in the case of this article, up to teenage years) arose in the 1970s but did not take hold as a field of study until the 1990s. The child consumer is most often understood as an emergent social phenomenon that did not exist to any great extent prior to the 20th century, although studies in material culture and literature find evidence of goods for children’s use manufactured and sold as early as the 1700s in Europe. Hence, historical work is a particularly strong thread of inquiry in this area in which scholars, focusing almost exclusively on the US context, investigate how childhood became a site for commercial-consumer activity. Theoretically and conceptually, two problems inform the study of children’s consumer culture, historically or otherwise: One problem centers on the issue of what constitutes children’s consumption, since children rarely are purchasers of their own goods. This article focuses on those studies and discussions whereby the author(s) foreground and address the specifically commercial meanings, activities, and contexts arising in and through interaction with the marketplace in some manner. Hence, many studies of children’s material artifacts or culture are not represented here, mainly for purposes of definition and focus. A second problem in the study of children’s consumer culture revolves around determining the extent to which children are understood as victims or dupes of commercial promotion or, alternatively, are seen as actively engaged in commercial life. Long a formative dichotomy in the scholarly and public understanding of the child consumer, this “exploited versus empowered” distinction often divides scholarship on the topic. It underlies the theories, methods, histories, and topical areas of the subject and implicates the place and role of parents in the consumer dynamic.

General Overviews

Buckingham 2000 offers a thorough critique and overview of the presumptions underlying the tension between good and bad media, particularly as it is manifested in concerns about the disappearance of childhood as ushered in by electronic media. Kline 1993 demonstrates how commercial interests, education, and entertainment have converged historically to produce a context in which children’s culture has become children’s consumer culture. Seiter 1993 focuses on the parent–child tensions that are implicated historically and in contemporary media culture as children’s desires were in the process of gaining both public and domestic legitimacy. Schor 2004 delves into the practices and motivations of the contemporary children’s market research and advertising industries, exposing some of the deep pathologies of market culture. Cross 2004 offers a history of the transformation from the “cute,” wondrous child who was indulged materially by her parents to the “cool,” defiant child who has emerged from consumer culture, in opposition to her parents. Sammond 2005, through the author’s study of Disney, provides a template for investigating how the efforts of various actors—commercial, academic, governmental—have unwittingly combined to construct a model of a “generic” child, which, in turn, has taken on the character of a natural subject informing subsequent action by market actors, educators, and others on behalf of the child. Pugh 2009 suggests that children are concerned less with the goods themselves than with the social “dignity” the goods provide by enabling them to belong to a social world, finding that much of parents’ efforts are directed at managing their children’s ability to belong. Buckingham 2011 is a recent work that contextualizes contemporary theories and debates surrounding children’s consumption, reframing these debates in light of children’s ability to make their own meanings with consumer goods.

  • Buckingham, David. After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000.

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    A review and critique of a variety of approaches to assessing the relationship among children, electronic media, and the commercial world at large—a significant challenge to Neil Postman’s “disappearance of childhood” thesis—questioning simple notions of “good” and “bad” media and consumption by and for children.

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  • Buckingham, David. The Material Child: Growing Up in Consumer Culture. London: Polity, 2011.

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    Written by a leading scholar in the field, this book offers a comprehensive and critical overview of the debates and issues related to contemporary children’s consumption, punctuated with case studies on obesity, sexualization, media, and education.

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  • Cross, Gary. The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    In this study, Cross theorizes and demonstrates the tension between constructions of the “cute” child invoked by marketing and nostalgically sought by parents and the “cool,” distant child also produced by commercial means. Historically, he argues, the “cool” has been displacing the “cute” in popular culture.

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  • Kline, Stephen. Out of the Garden: Toys and Children’s Television in the Age of TV Marketing. London: Verso, 1993.

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    An in-depth and sweeping treatment of the historical interlacing of children’s literary and popular culture with the rise of consumer culture and television. Kline’s book, in an examination of advertising and the rise of character-based toys and their impacts on children’s play, set the key terms of the study of children’s consumer culture.

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  • Pugh, Allison. Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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    Based on in-depth ethnographic research, this book argues that contemporary children’s consumer culture becomes manifest in an “economy of dignity,” wherein children manage their social relations and to which parents often adjust and attend.

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  • Sammond, Nicholas. Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930–1960. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

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    A study of how the generic notion of the “normal child” arose out of commercial and academic discourse. Sammond places particular emphasis on how both the Disney corporation and Walt Disney the man and figure helped make popular entertainment confluent with, or at least nonthreatening to, the imagined child.

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  • Schor, Juliet B. Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. New York: Scribner, 2004.

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    A social economist powerfully dissects the infiltration of marketing strategy in the lives of contemporary children and families, outlining the psychological and health risks of unchecked consumerism as well as possibilities for alternatives.

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  • Seiter, Ellen. Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

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    Combining historical analyses of advice to mothers and the marketing of toys to children and parents with a detailed examination of commercial videos aimed at children, this book opened new avenues of inquiry by reorienting the debate on children’s consumer culture to incorporate children’s understandings of goods and advertising and parents’ role in the marketing mix.

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Reference Works and Bibliographies

Jacobson 2008 is a useful anthology of essays that includes some original reprints of selected advertisements and trade-journal discussions from the 1920s and 1930s that focus on capturing the child market. Vegesak, et al. 1997 is a volume that consists of a number of interesting and insightful essays written by educators, designers, and social researchers that comments on various aspects of children’s material culture in the context of a museum exhibition on that topic.

  • Jacobson, Lisa, ed. Children and Consumer Culture in American Society: A Historical Handbook and Guide. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.

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    An anthology of essays and sources aimed at bringing the history of the consumer lives and contexts of childhood into the history of American society generally. Features useful reprints of historical documents and insightful essay chapters.

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  • Vegesak, Alexander von, Jutta Oldiges, and Lucy Bullivant, eds. Kid Size: The Material World of Childhood. Milan: Skira, 1997.

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    Numerous essays on various aspects of children’s material culture populate this book, which arose from a museum exhibition in Germany in the 1990s. The chapters by Bullivant, Forsström, and Alvito and Reali address commercial life most directly.

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Anthologies

The anthologies published on children’s consumer culture cover a range of topics. Jenkins 1998 is a valuable reader that was the first to compile a number of writings on the topic of children’s culture, including some materials form the 1930s and 1940s. Since then, two edited volumes have been published with papers from the biannual Child and Teen Consumption Conference. Ekström and Tufte 2007 is a volume that brings together marketing and social perspectives with various “cultures” of child consumption. The chapters collected in Buckingham and Tingstad 2010 bring empirically driven theoretical perspectives to the fore, challenging the exploited versus empowered dichotomy. Denisoff 2008 is a collection that offers a corrective both to the strong scholarly focus on 20th-century childhood and to the social, marketing, and cultural approaches that tend to dominate the field, with a strong representation of literary-oriented pieces. The chapters compiled in Marshall 2010 provide concise, useful treatments of key issues in contemporary studies of children as consumers, doing a good job of blending marketing and social research.

  • Buckingham, David, and Vebjørg Tingstad, eds. Childhood and Consumer Culture. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230281844Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A volume comprised of original contributions of theory and research by sociologists, historians, and media scholars that delve into history, marketing practices, consumer socialization, and the social identities and contexts of consumption for children and families.

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  • Denisoff, Dennis, ed. The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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    The chapters in this edited volume explore the themes of playthings, desire, nationhood, and the “terrors” of consumption in the literary and historical contexts of the 19th century.

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  • Ekström, Karin, and Birgitte Tufte, eds. Children, Media and Consumption: On the Front Edge. Gothenburg, Sweden: Nordicom, 2007.

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    Papers from the Second International Conference on Pluridisciplinary Perspectives on Child and Teen Consumption address issues related to children’s media culture, brand and advertising culture, and family culture, combining social-cultural and marketing perspectives.

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  • Jenkins, Henry, ed. The Children’s Culture Reader. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

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    A compendium of contemporary and historical articles and essays, some excerpted and edited, that together identify some of the contours of children’s “culture” and how it has taken shape in and through popular, market-oriented means.

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  • Marshall, David, ed. Understanding Children as Consumers. SAGE Advanced Marketing Series. London: SAGE, 2010.

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    This collection of papers by British, European, and American scholars, mainly from marketing and business schools, intentionally and intently focuses on what children do with goods, brands, and marketing messages, rather than on how children are exploited by commercial culture.

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Journals

Only one journal, Young Consumers, is dedicated to the study of children as consumers. There are, however, a number of scholarly periodicals that publish research that investigates the relationship between consumption and children and childhood. Some of these are oriented to the study of consumption or popular culture: Journal of Consumer Culture, Journal of Consumer Research, and Journal of Popular Culture. Others focus on childhood or aspects of youth experience: Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research and Girlhood Studies.

Histories

Historical treatments far and away offer the most comprehensive overviews and approaches to the study of children as consumers. Each of the following texts takes as its subject the precipitating combination of factors that have made the child consumer a possible and viable social subject and social actor. There has yet to be a comprehensive historical account of children’s consumption, which is in large part because each history brings its own theoretical conception of consumption and childhood. Treatments tend to differ on what the authors consider to be the key actor in children’s commercial lives: parents or industry. Plumb 1975, one of the earliest discussions of children and consumption by a historian, makes a case for connecting education and middle-class parental aspirations with increased expenditures on children in 18th-century England. In the case of the American doll industry, Formanek-Brunell 1993 demonstrates how technology and industrial production transformed a formerly female-dominated craft into a commercial enterprise run by men, whose promotions of the figures of the dolls gave expression to particular ideologies of gender and girlhood. Cross 2004 understands much of 20th-century children’s culture as being driven by parents’ desires to recover an innocence of their childhoods, by seeking to evoke it in their children through buying them goods. The focus on commercial industries and activities is heavily represented in historical approaches, due in part to the availability of materials. Leach 1993, Cook 2004, and Jacobson 2004, most of which focus on the 1900–1940 period in the United States, each produce useful accounts of the making of the child consumer, which is at least in part due to the efforts of those in industry, but also to those of educators and policymakers. For Nasaw 1992 and Garvey 1996, children are understood to be active in their engagement with the commercial world, be it through scrapbooks or popularizing the early Nickelodeon theater houses: they worked to shape this world for themselves, rather than being helplessly delivered to it.

  • Cook, Daniel Thomas. The Commodification of Childhood: Personhood, the Children’s Wear Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer, 1917–1962. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Through an examination of the development of the US children’s clothing industry in the 20th century, Cook argues that beliefs in and constructs of the knowing, willful child consumer have been informing commercial practice since the 1920s and that the origins of contemporary debates can be found there.

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  • Cross, Gary. The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Cross offers a unique perspective on the underlying dynamics of the development of acceptance of children’s consumption, arguing that the tension between the “cute” child of parental nostalgia and the “cool” child of popular fiction and marketing informs the history of the development of children’s consumer culture.

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  • Formanek-Brunell, Miriam. Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, 1830–1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

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    An interesting and detailed study both of the rise and transformation of the American doll industry and of how children, particularly girls, made use of the objects and were brought into a consumer culture of their own.

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  • Garvey, Ellen Gruber. The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    An analysis of children’s scrapbooks reveals children’s active engagement with the images and values of an increasingly consumer-oriented society from the 1880s to the 1910s, which functions both as a kind of personal record and expression and as a form of gender training.

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  • Jacobson, Lisa. Raising Consumers: Children and the Mass Market in the Early Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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    A study of how ideologies of the market and family helped shape and legitimate an emergent children’s consumer culture in the early 20th century in American culture. The boy consumer, the emergence of play and playrooms, and children’s savings programs sponsored by banks are among the subjects examined.

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  • Leach, William. “Child-World in the Promised Land.” In The Mythmaking Frame of Mind: Social Imagination and American Culture. Edited by James Gilbert, Amy Gilman, Ann Fabian, Donald M. Scott, and Joan M. Scott, 209–238. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993.

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    Leach details how various “institutional collaborators,” such as retailers, social workers, and politicians, together helped build a child world of goods and spaces in urban department stores, mainly New York, during the Progressive Era.

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  • Nasaw, David. “Children and Commercial Culture.” In Small Worlds: Children and Adolescents in America, 1850–1950. Edited by Elliott West and Paula Petrik, 14–25. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1992.

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    Focusing on New York City and other urban areas of the American Northeast, this chapter explores some ways that children searched for and found amusements in commercial outlets, especially in the new Nickelodeon theater house, much to the consternation of reformers.

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  • Plumb, John H. “The New World of Children in Eighteenth-Century England.” Past and Present 67.1 (1975): 64–95.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/67.1.64Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In one of the first historical studies examining the relationship between children and consumer markets, Plumb examines how children’s education came to be seen as an “investment” by parents in 18th-century England, arguing that this new conceptualization paved the way for commercial markets such as educational books and toys. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Theories

Theoretical treatments specific to the child consumer have been somewhat lacking, perhaps because the need has not been felt to theorize “the child” or “consumption,” because both areas of study boast robust histories and conceptual discussions. As well, moral overtones associated with children, marketing, and advertising have tended to make thinking beyond the exploited versus empowered dichotomy difficult. Buckingham 2000 is a work that offers a thorough critique and overview of the assumptions underlying this dichotomy, particularly as they are manifested in concerns about the disappearance of childhood as ushered in by electronic media. Martens, et al. 2004 seeks to theorize the child in the context of parental relations and the transmission of cultural capital. Cook 2008 concurs and argues that the notion of the child should serve to reorganize consumption theory, particularly in its presumption of an individualized actor. Pugh 2009 argues that there is a necessary connectivity between parents and children, by theorizing that children’s “dignity” and belonging are enabled by consumption and often become a preoccupation of parents, finding much of parents’ efforts directed at managing their children’s ability to belong. Zelizer 2002 expands the notion of children’s economic participation to include work and provisioning in addition to consuming or desiring to consume. Langer 2004 examines how those in the culture industry conceptualize and use the notion of the child, making the case that how such industries operate must be included in the theoretical mix.

  • Buckingham, David. After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000.

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    A thorough treatment of the debates and assumptions underlying simplistic notions of “good” and “bad” media and consumption for children, offering a significant critique of Neil Postman’s “disappearance of childhood” notion.

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  • Cook, Daniel Thomas. “The Missing Child in Consumption Theory.” Journal of Consumer Culture 8.2 (2008): 219–243.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540508090087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An often-cited overview and critique of cultural-consumption theory that illuminates the importance of the absence of children in theoretical approaches to consumption and consumer culture, including the ways in which children are implied in family consumption and consumption is implied in family planning. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Langer, Beryl. “The Business of Branded Enchantment: Ambivalence and Disjuncture in the Global Children’s Culture Industry.” Journal of Consumer Culture 4.2 (2004): 251–276.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540504043685Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article examines the strategic use of sacralized understandings of childhood both by the children’s culture industry and its critics and considers the disjunctive global flows of enchantment, exploitation, and critical intervention mediated by information-communication technology. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Martens, Lydia, Sue Scott, and Dale Southerton. “Bringing Children (and Parents) into the Sociology of Consumption: Towards a Theoretical and Empirical Agenda.” Journal of Consumer Culture 4.2 (2004): 155–182.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540504043680Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important review and critique of the sociology of consumption that applies Bourdieu’s theories to the understanding of children’s place in consumer life, making a case for the necessary inclusion of the role of parents in children’s consumer lives. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Pugh, Allison. Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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    An ethnographically based study of consumption practices and contexts of children and parents in the multiracial/multiethnic and diverse class landscape of urban northern California, which are understood through an “economy of dignity” of children’s sense of “belonging” socially, as well as their ability to do so.

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  • Zelizer, Viviana. “Kids and Commerce.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 9.4 (2002): 375–396.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568202009004002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This review of exemplary studies illuminates children’s extensive role in diverse forms of economic activity, such as production, consumption, and distribution of goods and activities, which can vary significantly depending on social location and relationships between household members. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Methodologies

In general, recent research on children has been developing into a specialized area of writing and practice. Key to these new approaches has been a focus on interpretive-qualitative methods, including interviews, ethnographic fieldwork, focus groups, and visual methods that seek to gain access to the child’s perspective and that attempt to make children active participants in the research process. Two overviews, Mitchell and Reid-Walsh 2002 and Cook 2009, offer different perspectives on the qualitative research on how children have been or should be studied. Mitchell and Reid-Walsh 2002 provides a useful discussion of the issues researchers may encounter when studying children, cautioning against temptations to engage in nostalgia and encouraging researchers to recognize how children can lead the investigation of their own lives. Cook 2009 outlines the history and different ways that market practitioners, academic marketers, professional market researchers, and social-cultural scholars have taken up the mantle of qualitative research to study children’s consumption. In addition to these overviews, there are some exemplary studies that discuss methodological issues in the context of conducting research, as in Willett 2009, which features online research, Sparrman 2009, which features focus-group interviews that uncover various constructions of child–adult relations, and Freeman 2009, which features an analysis of children’s interactional talk about the meanings of Coca-Cola. Diamond, et al. 2009 is a study of the store American Girl Place, which highlights how intensive ethnographic research can bring into relief the dynamic interactions among children, parents, brands, and the built environment. Chin 2001 is an ethnography of the consumer lives of African American children, which stands as the most thorough study of its kind, specifically focusing on children and their consumer worlds.

  • Chin, Elizabeth. Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

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    A groundbreaking ethnographic study of African American elementary school children and their families, which examines the various ways that consumer goods, media images, urban geography, and poverty combine to produce interpretations of and approaches to consumer culture that do not comport either with popular stereotypes or academic understandings.

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  • Cook, Daniel Thomas. “Knowing the Child Consumer: Historical and Conceptual Insights on Qualitative Children’s Consumer Research.” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 10.4 (2009): 269–282.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473610911007111Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A history of qualitative approaches to children’s consumption, featuring approaches employed by academic market researchers, social science researchers, and, to a lesser extent, market practitioners, finds that psychologically oriented, developmental conceptions have been displaced by social and anthropological views, resulting in an acceptance of the child as a knowing, competent consumer. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Diamond, Nina, John F. Sherry Jr., Albert M. Muñiz Jr., Mary Ann McGrath, Robert V. Kozinets, and Stefania Borghini. “American Girl and the Brand Gestalt: Closing the Loop on Sociocultural Branding Research.” Journal of Marketing 73.3 (2009): 118–134.

    DOI: 10.1509/jmkg.73.3.118Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article features results from an ethnographic study of the Chicago flagship store of American Girl, wherein the authors demonstrate how the built environment and branding of the products provide girls, mothers, and grandmothers with resources to construct and reinforce affective ties to one another and to engage in legitimized gender performances. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Freeman, Olivia. “‘The Coke Side of Life’: An Exploration of Pre-schoolers’ Constructions of Product and Selves through Talk-in-Interaction around Coca-Cola.” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 10.4 (2009): 314–328.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473610911007148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A discourse analytic approach to the interpretation of children’s talk-in-interaction suggests that the preschool consumer is competent in accessing and employing a consumer artifact such as Coca-Cola as a malleable resource with which to negotiate product meanings and social selves. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. Researching Children’s Popular Culture: The Cultural Spaces of Childhood. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    The authors address a number of key issues unique to the study of children’s cultural consumption and production, including the role of adult memory, children as visual ethnographers, the child’s bedroom as a cultural text, and websites.

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  • Sparrman, Anna. “Ambiguities and Paradoxes in Children’s Talk about Marketing Breakfast Cereals with Toys.” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 10.4 (2009): 297–313.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473610911007139Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focus-group interviews with young children about insert toys in breakfast cereal boxes reveals that children deploy the hybrid agents of the child-adult, the adult-child, and the childish child, which contradicts research that dichotomizes children and adults and that presumes children’s understandings of consumption based on age stages. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Willett, Rebekah. “‘As Soon as You Get on Bebo You Just Go Mad’: Young Consumers and the Discursive Construction of Teenagers Online.” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 10.4 (2009): 283–296.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473610911007139Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This award-winning article uses discourse analysis of interviews with fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds who use the Internet site Bebo to uncover the ways that the participants in the study position themselves in relation to discourses surrounding teenagers as consumers on social networking sites.

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Consumer Socialization

Studies of consumer socialization have sought to determine when and how children acquire knowledge about the social meaning of goods, the persuasive intent of advertising, and the value of things. Ward 1974, a seminal article on consumer socialization, set the parameters for most consumer socialization research in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. John 1999 reviews and reorganizes the field in terms of children’s developmental capabilities and the agents of socialization. In the first decade of the 21st century, scholars began to call this paradigm into question. Ekström 2007 concentrates on the lack of social context offered by many consumer socialization approaches, while Cook 2010 finds the notion of consumer socialization itself too hemmed in by psychological and developmental assumptions to be of any use, proposing the idea of “commercial enculturation” instead. Waerdahl 2005 is a study of Norwegian girls that interestingly ties consumer socialization with the long-standing sociological concept of “anticipatory socialization.”

  • Cook, Daniel Thomas. “Commercial Enculturation: Moving beyond Consumer Socialization.” In Childhood and Consumer Culture. Edited by David Buckingham and Vebjørg Tingstad, 63–79. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230281844Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critique of consumer socialization theory from the perspective of cultural consumption and childhood studies that argues for an approach that acknowledges the active, knowing child consumer and recognizes multidirectional influences between children and adults. Puts forth a call for a new conception of “commercial enculturation” to replace consumer socialization.

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  • Ekström, Karin. “Consumer Socialization Revisited.” In Research in Consumer Behavior. Vol. 10. Edited by Russell Belk, 71–98. Oxford: Elsevier, 2007.

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    This chapter questions and critiques existing notions of consumer socialization as being restrictive and decontextualized and calls for focusing on the dialogic character of consumption.

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  • John, Deborah Roedder. “Consumer Socialization of Children: A Retrospective Look at 25 Years of Research.” Journal of Consumer Research 26.3 (1999): 183–214.

    DOI: 10.1086/209559Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article retraces and reorganizes a quarter century of consumer socialization research from a marketing and consumer behavior perspective, offering a unified account of the process of children’s “maturation” into adult consumers by way of applying a modified version of Piaget’s developmental stages to children’s consumption.

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  • Waerdahl, Randi. “‘Maybe I’ll Need a Pair of Levis before Junior High?’ Child to Youth Trajectories and Anticipatory Socialization.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 12.2 (2005): 201–219.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568205051904Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interviews with twelve-year-old Norwegian girls illustrate how they anticipate a change of school, making use of Robert Merton’s concept of “anticipatory socialization” to examine the ways in which material possessions communicate and express their understanding of this transition. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ward, Scott. “Consumer Socialization.” Journal of Consumer Research 1.2 (1974): 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1086/208584Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A seminal article that outlines the theory, conceptualization, stages, and implications of how children learn to be consumers, based mainly on applying developmental psychology to children’s consumer behavior. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Social Inequalities

Most research on children as consumers tends to assume a middle-class and often ethnically white/European child and family to be the subjects. Studies that question these ethnic and class presumptions illuminate significant differences from the original literature in what constitutes consumption and also what constitutes childhood. Chin 2001 is an ethnography that remains an important touchstone for those who seek to examine how consumption is framed by income and the related politics of race and geography. Power 2005 powerfully illuminates how single mothers on government assistance in Canada struggle with the social stigma of their children being understood as Others, in large part because they cannot consume in line with their peers. Pugh 2009 takes up this tension of children’s peer cultures, arguing that and demonstrating how consumption makes a difference in children’s social invisibility and is a preoccupation of parents who seek to manage it. Thorne 2008 shows how social differences, such as those based on ethnicity and class, among children in an ethnically and economically diverse context become marked, exaggerated, or erased by children’s use of commercial goods, images, and references. Williams 2006 features research on toy stores, revealing how multiple interacting forms of social discrimination and social distinction are at work in the retail environment, involving children and parents as well as store workers.

  • Chin, Elizabeth. Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

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    This ethnographic study of poor African American children’s consumption practices and contexts challenges both popular representations of and academic approaches to the nature and dynamics of consumption, by placing the experiences and voices of these children at the center of analysis and interpretation.

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  • Power, Elaine. “The Unfreedom of Being Other: Canadian Lone Mothers’ Experiences of Poverty and ‘Life on the Cheque’.” Sociology 39.4 (October 2005): 643–660.

    DOI: 10.1177/0038038505056023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interviews with single, struggling Canadian mothers reveal the various strategies that they employ to obtain key consumer items and provide key experiences for their children, so as to avoid the sense of being “Other,” or outside of “normal” life, defined in part through consumption.

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  • Pugh, Allison. Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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    In-depth ethnographic research with racially and economically diverse parents and children in urban northern California provides the basis for Pugh to make visible how social difference is marked and negotiated in minute, everyday interactions, as well as through the larger structures and patterns of economic inequalities.

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  • Thorne, Barrie. “‘The Chinese Girls’ and ‘The Pokémon Kids.’” In Figuring the Future: Globalization and the Temporalities of Children and Youth. Edited by Jennifer Cole and Deborah Durham, 73–97. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2008.

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    This chapter discusses how children of various ethnicities, classes, and races in a Northern California school negotiate social differences among themselves through the use of popular-culture images and texts that help them both to mark and bridge these differences. These school situations are examined in the context of various forms of globalization.

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  • Williams, Christine. Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping and Social Inequality. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

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    An ethnographic study conducted on the floors of two retail toy stores, which reveals the dynamics among parents and children in a retail environment as well as the various race and class dynamics between sales personnel and parents and children.

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Parents and Children

An emerging area of research and writing centers on how parents, often mothers, are deeply and intricately implicated in children’s consumer behavior and their identities as consumers. An emphasis on how consumption activities can be understood as a form of care characterizes much of this area of inquiry. Seiter 1993 makes the case for the necessary inclusion of mothers in the study of children’s consumer culture. Both Power 2005 and Pugh 2009 demonstrate how parents, particularly mothers, matter in the provisioning not only of goods but also of their meanings to their children, often in conversation with the children’s peer cultures. Clarke 2008 approaches the issue by deploying the anthropological distinction between commodities and gifts in order to understand how goods matter in the social valuation of personal relations between children and mothers and among child peers. Martens, et al. 2004 seeks to theorize the child in the context of parental relations and the transmission of cultural capital. Cook 2008 concurs with Martens, et al. 2004 and proposes the notion of “co-consumption” as a way to reorganize consumption theory, particularly in the theory’s presumption of an individualized actor. Thompson 1996 identifies the “juggling lifestyle” of many middle-class mothers who work to make ends meet and how this condition provides marketing opportunities. Written by marketers, Coffey, et al. 2006 makes the case for seeing the child and mother as a single unit of research and promotion.

  • Clarke, Alison J. “Coming of Age in Suburbia: Gifting the Consumer Child.” In Designing Modern Childhoods: History, Space and the Material Culture of Children. Edited by Marta Gutman and Ning de Coninck-Smith, 253–268. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

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    A thoughtful ethnographically based study of the normative and moral dimensions of gift giving between parents and children and among children in North London, illuminating the contradictory understandings and conflicted relations that play out in the spaces between commodity and gift.

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  • Coffey, Tim, David Siegel, and Greg Livingston. Marketing to the New Superconsumer: Mom & Kid. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Marketing, 2006.

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    Market research professionals describe how mothers and children merge into a single consuming entity, with examples of mutual influence and co-decision-making, and offer advice on how to understand, target, and engage this “superconsumer.”

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  • Cook, Daniel Thomas. “The Missing Child in Consumption Theory.” Journal of Consumer Culture 8.2 (2008): 219–243.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540508090087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through a review and clique of key consumption theories, this article demonstrates the virtual invisibility of children and notions of the “child” in various key conceptualizations of consumption. It makes the case that children are not outside of or a special case in consumption but must be seen as integral to any approach to the meaning and dynamics of consumer life. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Martens, Lydia, Sue Scott, and Dale Southerton. “Bringing Children (and Parents) into the Sociology of Consumption: Towards a Theoretical and Empirical Agenda.” Journal of Consumer Culture 4.2 (July 2004): 155–182.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540504043680Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These authors bring the work of Bourdieu into conversation with the sociology of consumption, convincingly demonstrating that the understandings and practices of parents must be considered when studying the child consumer.

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  • Power, Elaine. “The Unfreedom of Being Other: Canadian Lone Mothers’ Experiences of Poverty and ‘Life on the Cheque’.” Sociology 39.4 (2005): 643–660.

    DOI: 10.1177/0038038505056023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The experiences of single mothers on government assistance bring into stark relief the clear and painful normative pressures on them to consume for their children, as a way to obviate the social stigmatization as economically, hence morally, “Other.”

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  • Pugh, Allison. Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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    Research with children and parents in urban northern California, who occupy differing class and racial-ethnic locations, brings to fore the significant and deep ways that parental concerns and aspirations inform and intermingle with children’s peer lives and with their understandings of their social and life course trajectories.

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  • Seiter, Ellen. Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

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    Based on historical analysis of advice to mothers, advertisements for toys and examination of media made for children, this book represents an important point of departure for the study of children’s consumption, in its insistence on the necessity to look beyond individual child consumers and to include parents, marketers, educators, and others in the conceptual mix.

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  • Thompson, Craig. “Caring Consumers: Gendered Consumption Meanings and the Juggling Lifestyle.” Journal of Consumer Research 22.4 (1996): 388–407.

    DOI: 10.1086/209457Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of how mothers of the baby-boom generation juggle multiple responsibilities and understandings of consumption in the context of conflicting ideals and cultural beliefs regarding motherhood, children, femininity, and notions of care. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Education and Learning

For decades, parents, pundits, and politicians have expressed significant concern about the extent to which commercial life, media, and popular culture may be influencing children and, particularly, may be affecting their education and learning. Cross 1997 points to the long history of the connection between consumer goods and children’s learning or education, particularly in the development and marketing of “toys that teach.” Buckingham 2007 expounds on contemporary efforts by the market for pedagogically oriented goods for children to connect fun and learning and involve parents. At the same time, some theorists argue that popular culture and consumption have a place in children’s lives and cannot and should not be ignored or assumed to have only a negative influence. Seiter 1999 is a study of popular culture in preschool that lays out some of its class dynamics. Kenway and Bullen 2001 shows how popular culture activates children’s interests—a dynamic that can be used pedagogically. Similarly, Dyson 1997 and Marsh 2000 address how children’s popular-culture texts can be used to encourage and enable literacy. Martens 2005 offers a broad perspective that examines how the relationship among consumption, learning, and children can take multiple forms.

  • Buckingham, David. “That’s Edutainment.” In Children, Media and Consumption: On the Front Edge. Edited by Karin Ekström and Birgitte Tufte, 33–46. Gothenburg, Sweden: Nordicom, 2007.

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    A discussion of the contemporary market for “fun” educational products for children, with a focus on new media in the form of CD-ROMs, games, and websites; the design, form, and pedagogy of these digital texts; and the ways in which they are used by consumers, both parents and children.

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  • Cross, Gary. Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    A history of toys in American culture and society from the 1890s onward, discussing the various marketing claims and popular beliefs about the educational, developmental, and character-building benefits of increasingly commercialized playthings for children.

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  • Dyson, Anne Haas. Writing Superheroes: Contemporary Childhood, Popular Culture and Classroom Literacy. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1997.

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    Interviews with and observations of elementary-school children inform this study of how children appropriate popular-culture texts in their fiction writing to take on various powerful personae.

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  • Kenway, Jane, and Elizabeth Bullen. Consuming Children: Education-Entertainment-Advertising. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2001.

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    A largely theoretical approach to looking at how consumer media culture both enables children’s active participation through the pleasures of consuming and frames it in commercial terms. The discussion centers on the possibilities of and obstacles to creating pedagogies that are mindful of the strong presence of media culture in children’s lives.

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  • Marsh, Jackie. “Teletubby Tales: Popular Culture in the Early Years Language and Literacy Curriculum.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 1.2 (2000): 119–133.

    DOI: 10.2304/ciec.2000.1.2.2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article explores how the incorporation into a nursery-school curriculum of the television series Teletubbies in England provided motivation and excitement for many children who had been having trouble with language and literacy.

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  • Martens, Lydia. “Learning to Consume—Consuming to Learn: Children at the Interface between Consumption and Education.” British Journal of Sociology and Education 26.3 (2005): 343–357.

    DOI: 10.1080/01425690500128882Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By way of a discussion of Chin 2001 (cited under Social Inequalities), this article illustrates how children’s consumption-related learning may originate from outside the market, making the case for research that focuses on children and the domestic contexts of consumption. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Seiter, Ellen. “Power Rangers at Preschool: Negotiation Media in Child Care Settings.” In Kids’ Media Culture. Edited by Marsha Kinder, 239–262. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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    The author uses social-class differences to explain the differing approaches to the acceptance and use of popular-culture characters and images in two different preschool daycare settings.

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Tweens

“Tween” is an age-stage designation, usually referring to children between about eight and twelve years old, who are said to be between childhood and teenager-hood. Arising initially as a market category in the 1990s, scholars, market researchers, and parents and children themselves have since that time come to recognize the tween as a phase of the life course. Lindström and Seybold 2004 provides perhaps the most baldly commercial view of tweens of any marketers. Cook and Kaiser 2004 historicizes the category, demonstrating its roots in the 1950s and arguing that it arises mainly out of the sexual and identity ambiguity of young girls who are in transition to teenager-hood. The tween girl, however, has an existence beyond the marketplace, according to Mitchell and Reid-Walsh 2005, which finds interesting connections across cultural contexts. Waerdahl 2005 demonstrates in fine detail how young Norwegian girls understand and negotiate their transition to a new school, and thus to a new phase of life, with and through consumer goods.

  • Cook, Daniel Thomas, and Susan D. Kaiser. “Betwixt and Be Tween: Age Ambiguity and the Sexualization of the Female Consuming Subject.” Journal of Consumer Culture 4.2 (2004): 203–227.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540504043682Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A history of the changing notion of the tween as a market and social category that encodes uncertainty and concern regarding girls’ maturity and sensuality and of how these concerns continue to translate into and find expression in commercial goods, spaces, and images. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Lindström, Martin, and Patricia Seybold. Brandchild: Remarkable Insight into Today’s Global Kids and Their Relationship with Brands. London and Sterling, VA: Kogan Page, 2004.

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    The report of an extensive marketing study of tweens’ attitudes and relationship to brands, written for a popular audience and detailing the extent of the tween market, tweens’ use of media, and their consumer experiences.

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  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. Seven Going on Seventeen: Tween Studies in the Culture of Girlhood. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.

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    This collection of essays shows that “tween” is not a simple or unified concept nor is it limited to a certain class of girls in a few countries, challenging the assumption that the tween girl is wholly derived or emergent from the consumer market.

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  • Waerdahl, Randi. “‘Maybe I’ll Need a Pair of Levis before Junior High?’ Child to Youth Trajectories and Anticipatory Socialization.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 12.2 (2005): 201–219.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568205051904Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interviews with twelve-year-old Norwegian girls illustrate how they anticipate a change of school, making use of Robert Merton’s concept of “anticipatory socialization” to examine the ways in which material possessions communicate and express their understanding of this transition. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Holidays

Children and childhood are implicated in holidays and holiday celebrations in a myriad of ways, and consumption for, by, and around them often appears as part and parcel of the celebration. Kooistra 2008 discusses how the links among consumption, childhood, and Christmas were forged and depicted in 19th-century British publications, making these connections appear as natural and naturalized from the outset. Cross 2004 argues that the historical trend toward centering holidays such as Christmas and Halloween around children arose from adults’ impetus to preserve some sense of their own childhood innocence, which was increasingly lost in modernization. The connection between consumerism and holidays, according to Schmidt 1995, extends well past Christmas and Easter into Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, all of which implicate the changing but always central role of women in the celebrations. Otnes, et al. 1994 finds a high level of brand knowledge and desire in children’s requests to Santa Claus, leading the authors to conclude that the efforts of marketers pay off in their favor. Children not only know and request brands for holidays but also participate in detailed negotiations surrounding gift economies with peers, as Sirota 1998 shows in the author’s study of French children’s birthday parties.

  • Cross, Gary. “Holidays and New Rituals of Innocence.” In The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture. Edited by Gary Gross, 83–120. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    The author argues that modern holidays have been tamed from their unruly origins mainly through a process of domestication, whereby the focus of the event has migrated from carnivalesque celebration to evoking a sense of wondrous childhood innocence.

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  • Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen. “Home Thoughts and Home Scenes: Packaging Middle-Class Childhood for Christmas Consumption.” In The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture. Edited by Dennis Denisoff, 151–172. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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    In 19th-century Britain, the ties among children, Christmas, and consumerism was regularly dramatized in periodical publications, newspapers, and gift books, such as Home Thoughts and Home Scenes (London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1865), wherein images of warm, sentimental domestic life mixed easily with scenes of gift giving at the holiday time.

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  • Otnes, Cele, Kyungseung Kim, and Young Chang Kim. “All I Want for Christmas: An Analysis of Children’s Brand Requests to Santa Claus.” Journal of Popular Culture 27.4 (1994): 183–194.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0022-3840.1994.2704_183.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study of children’s letters to Santa Claus in the United States finds that over half the requests were brand specific, with nearly 85 percent of the letters mentioning at least one brand name. Girls tended to have a wider range of brand requests than boys, who seemed to favor popular items. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites: The Buying & Selling of American Holidays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    Although this is book centered less directly on childhood than the other texts, it provides a useful discussion of the origins, practices, and commercialization of many holidays from a US perspective that nevertheless offers interesting historical detail and insight into the entanglements of commerce and ritual celebrations.

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  • Sirota, Régine. “Les copains d’abord: Les anniversaires de l’enfance, donner et recevoir.” Ethnologie Française 28.4 (1998): 457–471.

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    An ethnographic study of middle-class Parisian families reveals a shifting landscape, whereby children increasingly participate in choosing birthday gifts for their friends and, in the process, demonstrate a fine-grained sense of matching the appropriateness of the gift to the intensity of the relationship. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Food

Children’s food has taken a significant place in the study of children’s consumer lives as it has become a topic of global import. How children and parents think about and understand food and the place of it in their daily lives often clashes with the images and practices arising from the marketplace. Young 2003, in its review of research of studies on the topic, addresses the key issue of the extent to which children are influenced by food advertising, concluding that the confounding factors are too numerous to pinpoint advertising as a culprit. Kline 2010 is an impressive overview of global discourses about children’s food and an assessment of the risks of many of these confounding and multifaceted factors in understanding the “globesity epidemic.” Key to this area of research is understanding children’s perspectives on food and grasping its place in their everyday lives. Marshall and O’Donohoe 2010 exemplifies such an understanding in the authors’ study of how the implications of the categories of foodstuffs matter in how children involve food in everyday situations. Brembeck 2008 emplaces food consumption in the physical site of McDonald’s in Sweden, which serves as an intersection point for multiple articulations of children’s consumer subjectivities as they are informed by corporate and noncorporate constructions of childhood. La Ville, et al. 2010 focuses particularly on the “fun” factor in food, showing how fun food can translate into fun or playful situations around eating. Sparrman 2009 provides an interesting perspective on the ways in which children make sense of marketers’ attempts to make food fun and eating playful.

  • Brembeck, Helene. “Inscribing Nordic Childhoods at McDonald’s.” In Designing Modern Childhoods: History, Space, and the Material Culture of Children. Edited by Marta Gutman and Ning de Coninck-Smith, 269–281. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

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    An essay on the changing dynamics among McDonald’s, Happy Meals, and the inscription of a consumer identity on Swedish children, demonstrating the interplay among children’s subjectivities, marketing, and multiple constructions of childhood.

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  • Kline, Stephen. Globesity, Food Marketing and Family Lifestyles. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230304741Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the politics of the relationship between the globesity (global obesity) “epidemic” and the risk discourse on how concerns about children and family lifestyles underlie and underwrite contemporary moral panics about childhood and adult obesity.

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  • La Ville, Valerie-Inès de, Gilles Brougère, and Nathalie Boireau. “How Can Food Become Fun? Exploring and Testing Possibilities . . .” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 11.2 (2010): 117–130.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473611011065809Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interviews with child–mother dyads provide the basis for developing a theoretical standpoint from which the authors assess how foods can be designed and understood as “fun” and how these understandings relate to children’s gustatory experiences as “playful” or “fun.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Marshall, David, and Stephanie O’Donohoe. “Children and Food.” In Understanding Children as Consumers. Edited by David Marshall, 167–183. London: SAGE, 2010.

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    An overview of recent research and thinking on children’s food, including marketing, fun foods, and children’s perspectives on snacks versus proper meals, with suggestions for future research directions.

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  • Sparrman, Anna. “Ambiguities and Paradoxes in Children’s Talk about Marketing Breakfast Cereals with Toys.” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 10.4 (2009): 297–313.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473610911007139Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focus-group interviews with young children about “insert toys” in breakfast cereal boxes reveal that children deploy hybrid agents of the child-adult, the adult-child, and the childish child, which contradict research that dichotomizes children and adults and that presumes children’s understandings of consumption based on age stages. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Young, Brian. “Does Food Advertising Make Children Obese?” Young Consumers: Insights and Ideas for Responsible Marketers 4.3 (2003):19–26.

    DOI: 10.1108/17473610310813861Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of research on the relationship between advertising and child obesity, arguing that advertising is a secondary influence that can exacerbate genetic components of biology. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Clothing

Much of the research and writing on children’s clothing arising from the fields of fashion-history and material-culture studies tends to focus on garments as markers of gender, age, or social status and to ignore the consumer commercial aspects. Cook 2004 is a historical study of the rise of the children’s clothing industry in the United States that draws out how the child consumer both preceded and was configured by the material and symbolic practices of merchants, manufacturers, and marketers. Rose 2010 provides a detailed account of how commercial manufacture, garment design, and conceptions of “proper” British boyhood all combined to create the boyswear industry in late-Victorian England. Marketing-business research favors approaching children’s clothing consumption as a measurable decision-making process, as exemplified in Darian 1998, an observational study of parent–child interaction in a clothing store. Boden 2006 makes use of interviews with tweens to understand some of the self-reported influences on their clothing preferences. Waerdahl 2005 demonstrates in fine detail how young Norwegian girls understand and negotiate their transition to a new school, and thus to a new phase of life, with and through consumer goods, especially denim jeans.

  • Boden, Sharon. “Dedicated Followers of Fashion? The Influence of Popular Culture on Children’s Social Identities.” Media, Culture & Society 28.2 (2006): 289–298.

    DOI: 10.1177/0163443706061690Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A commentary on ethnographic interviews with British “tween-agers” regarding the influences on their clothing choices, identified by the author as composed mainly of sports figures and pop music stars. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Cook, Daniel Thomas. The Commodification of Childhood: Personhood, the Children’s Wear Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer, 1917–1962. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    A history of the US children’s clothing industry reveals the ways in which various named phases of the life course of children and youth have their origins in, or intermingle with, marketing and merchandising categories and efforts, demonstrating the inextricable connections between market practices and meanings of childhood.

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  • Darian, Jean C. “Parent–Child Decision Making in Children’s Clothing Stores.” International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management 26.11 (1998): 421–428.

    DOI: 10.1108/09590559810246377Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An observational study of the in-store behavior of children and their parents while shopping for children’s clothing. Results indicate that a purchase is more likely when both parties are involved in the search, children and parents have positive valuations of price, and salespersons address the needs both of the child and the parent. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Rose, Clare. Making, Selling and Wearing Boys’ Clothes in Late-Victorian England. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    A detailed case history of the boyswear industry in late-19th-century England that convincingly demonstrates how the design, production, and consumption of boys’ clothing at once embodied contemporary notions of masculinity and social class and served as a prototype for subsequent consumer business practices and conceptualizations of childhood.

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  • Waerdahl, Randi. “‘Maybe I’ll Need a Pair of Levis before Junior High?’ Child to Youth Trajectories and Anticipatory Socialization.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 12.2 (2005): 201–219.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568205051904Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The views of twelve-year-old Norwegian girls inform this insightful analysis of the ways in which goods can both mark boundaries and indicate transitions from one phase or aspect of childhood to another. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Marketing and Business Perspectives

Since the 1990s, both academic and professional marketers have published their views on marketing to children for a public audience. Many of these publications are framed as how-to books for aspiring marketers and market/business researchers. They are useful both as historical documents about how the thinking on children as consumers has developed from a marketing perspective and as insights into the thinking. Grumbine 1938 uses the categories and understandings of child psychology to suggest what we might today term as “developmentally appropriate” goods and promotions to children. Gilbert 1957 focuses mainly on the teenage market in its “industry portrait of the youth market.” James McNeal, often considered the founding father of academic children’s market research, published a seminal essay (McNeal 1969) that names and defines the child consumer. Since that time, McNeal has published a number of books, including McNeal 1999, which offers a concise outline of a variety of areas of research into children’s commercial lives. Acuff 1997 provides arguments for the psychological underpinnings of the child consumer, positing, as many do, that being a consumer is “natural” or tied to the biological and developmental aspects of children. Selina Guber and Jon Berry were the first of several professional marketers to summarize their own research and present it to the public, tying their findings to significant trends in social life, such as the changing structure of American households and the concern for the environment (Guber and Berry 1993). Sutherland and Thompson 2001 is notable for its focus on the empowered, knowing child consumer, while Coffey, et al. 2006 makes the case for including mothers in the marketing mix when marketing to children.

  • Acuff, Dan. What Kids Buy and Why: The Psychology of Marketing to Kids. New York: Free Press, 1997.

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    This psychologist applies insights from developmental psychology to explain how children of various ages perceive, understand, and act on marketing communications in terms of their neurology and cognition as well as their emerging moral sense and selfhood.

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  • Coffey, Tim, David Siegel, and Greg Livingston. Marketing to the New Superconsumer: Mom & Kid. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Marketing, 2006.

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    Market researchers offer data, professional insight, and advice to the marketers on the necessity of seeing mother and child as singular consumer, advocating for a promotional approach that recognizes this interconnectedness while noting key differences in messaging.

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  • Gilbert, Eugene. Advertising and Marketing to Young People. Pleasantville, NY: Printer’s Ink Books, 1957.

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    In one of the first widely published books of its kind, a youth marketer dissects the teen market, paying some attention to preteens, replete with successful promotions and suggestions for specific approaches and timetables for advertisers and marketers.

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  • Grumbine, E. Evalyn. Reaching Juvenile Markets: How to Advertise, Sell, and Merchandise through Boys and Girls. New York and London: McGraw-Hill, 1938.

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    Written by the assistant publisher and advertising director of Child Life magazine, this is perhaps the first book devoted to children as consumers. The interests and developmental abilities of boys and girls divided by age ranges provide the basis for offering “appropriate” goods and promotions to the appropriate audience.

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  • Guber, Selina S., and Jon Berry. Marketing to and through Kids. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.

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    Two marketers discuss their research on the changing world of parents, children, and marketing efforts, detailing the then-current knowledge about children’s influence, research techniques, family dynamics, shopping, and trends in society and marketing. One of the first publications for a general audience on the topic.

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  • McNeal, James U. “The Child Consumer—a New Market?” Journal of Marketing 45 (Summer 1969): 15–22.

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    One of the first academic articles calling for the recognition of children’s various roles as consumers, including the importance of a child’s first independent purchase. McNeal later reported that he received hate mail for this view.

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  • McNeal, James U. The Kids Market: Myths and Realities. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Marketing, 1999.

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    The pioneer of academic research on children as consumers offers statistics and research insights, while debunking a string of myths about children and consumption, such as children’s market significance, spending patterns, influence on parents, brand loyalty, packaging, and commercial communications.

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  • Sutherland, Anne, and Beth Thompson. Kidfluence: Why Kids Today Mean Business. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

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    A market researcher and journalist team up to describe the child consumer who is media and market savvy and how to reach this consumer, while outlining their views that the culture of consumption benefits children by offering them a historically unprecedented range of choices and opportunities.

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Consumer Citizenship

The notion of children’s consumer citizenship arose as a topic of study mainly after 2000. At its heart, the notion of consumer citizenship addresses the ways in which civic participation becomes mediated by and filtered through consumer activities and market exigencies. Banet-Weiser 2007 is a thorough examination of the strategies employed by the children’s cable network Nickelodeon, which stands out as the exemplary case of consumer citizenship. Willett 2008 provides a grounded study of how girls’ free-time play on a paper-doll website offers a forum for them to discuss broad social issues.

  • Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Kids Rule! Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    The rise and changing marketing and media strategies of the Nickelodeon cable television network for children are discussed, with reference to how the company cultivated a unique version of consumer citizenship among viewers though programming and promotion.

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  • Willett, Rebekah. “Consumer Citizens Online: Structure, Agency, and Gender in Online Participation.” In Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham, 49–70. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

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    A study of twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls who use an online paper-doll-making website, in which the author argues for increased attention to how the structuring aspects of commerce, popular media images, and digital technology inform the ways in which children forge their consumer, and other, identities.

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Electronic Media

Research on children and media generally has been undertaken since the 1930s, when radio and film came to be significantly present in family life. One area of contemporary research seeks to examine the interrelationship between various forms of media and children’s roles as consumers. Buckingham 2000 is a work that offers a thorough critique and overview of the presumptions underlying the tension between the two, particularly as this tension is manifest in concerns about the disappearance of childhood as ushered in by electronic media. Kinder 1999 is an edited collection that draws connections between consumption and children’s worlds. Itō, et al. 2010 demonstrates aspects of children’s empowerment as producers using digital media, whereas Willett 2008 seeks to refocus attention to the structuring aspects of media. Banet-Weiser 2007 suggests how empowerment through citizenship can serve the interests of corporate creators, while Montgomery 2007 provides necessary cautions about the corporate control of and interest in children’s media.

  • Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Kids Rule: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    An in-depth analysis of the ways in which the Nickelodeon network has developed toward a child-centered strategy of production and promotion of its shows and network, with the construction of the child “citizen” at its center.

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  • Buckingham, David. After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000.

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    An important review, analysis, and critique of theories and beliefs about the deleterious effects of media on children and their childhoods. This book problematizes these presumptions, making the case that children’s own understandings of and practices with media must be taken into serious account.

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  • Itō, Mizuko, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, et al. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

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    Reports from a collaborative, multiyear ethnographic study provide new insights into how children use new-media technologies in a variety of contexts and for a variety of ends, including family life, virtual play, creative production, and consumption.

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  • Kinder, Marsha, ed. Kids’ Media Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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    Chapters in this book explore from historical, social, and cultural perspectives various kinds of media directed at or used by children, including television, film, and computer and video games.

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  • Montgomery, Kathryn C. Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce and Childhood in the Age of the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

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    A historically informed study of how digital technology and the Internet have been brought to the service of commercial interests and how children and teens, in particular, have proven to be especially valuable target markets, with the commercialization of the Internet.

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  • Willett, Rebekah. “Consumer Citizens Online: Structure, Agency, and Gender in Online Participation.” In Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham, 49–70. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

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    Twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are the focus of this study of an online paper-doll-making website through which negotiations of identity take place in the context of the girls’ understandings of the importance of body image, celebrity and self-esteem. Emphasized here is the importance of attending to the structuring aspects of media and the social world.

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Majority World and Nonglobal North Contexts

Work that directly examines children’s consumer lives in majority-world (or “Global South”) countries and contexts tends to find processes of hybridization, whereby local or traditional practices and understandings combine in often-complicated ways that produce novel meanings and practices. Yan 1997 finds hybrid practices in the ways that children, parents, and grandparents appropriate the space of a McDonald’s store in Beijing. In a different way, Peterson 2005 finds hybrid identities arising in part by Egyptian children’s use of magazines, as their parents try to balance between being simultaneously Egyptian and modern. Huberman 2005 focuses on how children acting as guides for tourists evoke concerns about commercialism and childhood among residents of Banaras, India.

  • Huberman, Jenny. “‘Consuming Children’: Reading the Impacts of Tourism in the City of Banaras.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 12.2 (May 2005): 161–176.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568205051902Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An ethnographically informed analysis of how people in the city of Banaras, India, critique young children’s consumer practices, in particular their newfound purchasing power in the street market, and how those these critiques reflect larger fears about the way that foreign tourism is “consuming” these children. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Peterson, Mark Allen. “The Jinn and the Computer: Consumption and Identity in Arabic Children’s Magazines.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 12.2 (May 2005): 177–200.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568205051903Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article focuses on the ways that children’s magazines in Egypt construct children as consumers as well as offer them tools with which to create hybrid identities that provide options for the children to negotiate being both modern and Egyptian at the same time but in different ways. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Yan, Yunxiang. “McDonald’s in Beijing: The Localization of Americana.” In Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia. Edited by James L. Watson, 39–66. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

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    An interesting study of how parents and children in Beijing have come to use McDonald’s for social events, such as birthday parties, in ways that preserve key aspects of social relations, while also consuming “America” in a localized, contained fashion.

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