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Longing and Belonging

Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture

Allison J. Pugh
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Longing and Belonging
    Book Description:

    Even as they see their wages go down and their buying power decrease, many parents are still putting their kids' material desires first. These parents struggle with how to handle children's consumer wants, which continue unabated despite the economic downturn. And, indeed, parents and other adults continue to spend billions of dollars on children every year. Why do children seem to desire so much, so often, so soon, and why do parents capitulate so readily? To determine what forces lie behind the onslaught of Nintendo Wiis and Bratz dolls, Allison J. Pugh spent three years observing and interviewing children and their families. InLonging and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture, Pugh teases out the complex factors that contribute to how we buy, from lunchroom conversations about Game Boys to the stark inequalities facing American children. Pugh finds that children's desires stem less from striving for status or falling victim to advertising than from their yearning to join the conversation at school or in the neighborhood. Most parents respond to children's need to belong by buying the particular goods and experiences that act as passports in children's social worlds, because they sympathize with their children's fear of being different from their peers. Even under financial constraints, families prioritize children "feeling normal". Pugh masterfully illuminates the surprising similarities in the fears and hopes of parents and children from vastly different social contexts, showing that while corporate marketing and materialism play a part in the commodification of childhood, at the heart of the matter is the desire to belong.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94339-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Care and Belonging in the Market
    (pp. 1-26)

    It is a few days before Halloween at the Sojourner Truth after-school center in Oakland, California, and I am sitting with some children at a table where they are supposed to be doing their homework. Instead, the children, all of them from low-income families and who attend this center for free or almost no cost, are talking about the upcoming holiday. Aleta, an African-American third grader, is holding forth about her costume.¹

    “I’m going to be a vampire,” she announces, gleefully, almost cackling. Already she has the outfit: the teeth, the cape, the shoes. Her mom bought it at Target,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Differences in Common Studying Inequality
    (pp. 27-47)

    I set out to study how families of different income levels experienced the constant ratcheting up of standards for a “good-enough” childhood. I wanted to see how children of all kinds of households construed the meanings behind the events and equipment that seemed to matter most to them. I sought to investigate how low-income families managed the consumer treadmill with constrained resources, how affluent families handled the steady drumbeat of children’s consumer culture, and how the relationships of parents and children up and down the income ladder reflected and shaped the market for children’s goods. I conducted this research in...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Making Do Children and the Economy of Dignity
    (pp. 48-82)

    It is a chilly afternoon in northern California, and the Arrowhead children are roaming the school’s expansive play yard at dismissal time, selling puffballs. Made from loops of yarn secured with a knot at the center and then cut into fringe, puffballs are soft colored spheres, but as far as I can tell, the children do not use them in any games or stories, preferring only to make and sell them to each other and any willing adults. The going rate is a penny a puffball. Claire, a first grader, pudgy and earnest, walks by slowly, calling like a street...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Ambivalence and Allowances Affluent Parents Respond
    (pp. 83-119)

    Like many affluent parents, Katerina Simon both welcomes and deplores her family’s experience with consumer culture, her ambivalence pulling her mothering this way and that like a toddler in a toy store. An immigrant from Greece, she married an American she met in college. They managed to catch the coattails of the high-tech economy as it went fluttering by, and for fifteen years lived and worked together in the Bay Area, buying a house in the Oceanview neighborhood and having two children along the way. On the one hand, Katerina thinks “wanting things is good,” such as when her seven-year-old...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Alchemy of Desire into Need Dilemmas of Low-Income Parenting
    (pp. 120-148)

    A few miles across town from Katerina Simon’s leafy street in Ocean-view, Sandra Perkins sat at her kitchen table, bone-tired after a night shift working as a nurse’s aide. Her house was one in a row of small bungalows, with weeds choking the yards, high chain-link fences keeping angry dogs in, and concrete broken into chunks in some of the driveways. Bleached by the sun and quiet on a weekday morning, the West Oakland neighborhood had a lazy menace, like a big cat before it stirs. Recently, a youth just nineteen years old had been shot and killed down the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Saying No Resisting Children’s Consumer Desires
    (pp. 149-174)

    Kevin Yardley laughed in sheepish horror when he described the rules about television he established for his children. A genial, lanky father, who had sent his daughter to Arrowhead in part because of her unusual gender identity (see chapter 3), Kevin instituted for Sarah and her sister Maggie “the exact system that I grew up with”—a half hour of watching per week, each. “I can’t believe I’m doing this! I hated it growing up!” he cried, with good-humored dismay. Why did he hate it? “It wasn’t enough television,” he said, simply. “All my friends were talking aboutThe Munsters...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Consuming Contexts, Buying Hope Shaping the Pathways of Children
    (pp. 175-214)

    When Danielle Montgomery, a white stay-at-home mother of three, realized that a tighter family budget meant her twin boys would have to go to kindergarten at the local public school instead of at Country Day, the elite private school their sister Caitlin attended, she had an idea. Why not pay a tutor to supplement their schooling? If even ten families from their public school class of twenty put in just $5,000 each, she calculated, they could hire someone, maybe a retired teacher or perhaps a graduate student in education, to provide private tutoring in the afternoon, after dismissal at Oakland’s...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion Beyond the Tyranny of Sameness
    (pp. 215-228)

    The buying we do for children is grounded in a central contradiction: the simultaneity of a striving for independence and a longing to belong. Part of the human condition, this contradiction is written into American cultural history. On the one hand, individualism is what one scholar called “the language of American ‘common sense,’ the folklore of the American middle class.” On the other hand, as a long history of social analysis has maintained, Americans hunt for sameness, with a fever that hints at a widespread loneliness and a deep anxiety about what other people are thinking and doing.¹

    More than...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 229-272)
    (pp. 273-292)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 293-301)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 302-302)