Children and Consumer Culture

Daniel Thomas Cook

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
Children and Consumer Culture

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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.

Article.  10821 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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