Children’s Consumer Culture Essay

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Children’s consumer culture refers to the institutional, material and symbolic arrangements which organize a young person s involvement in, and movement through, the early life course in terms of commercial interests and values. Children are both subject to and arise as subjects in consumer contexts. The meanings which adhere to commercial goods are at once imposed upon children, childhood, and their social worlds and are taken up by children as resources with which they create selves, identities, and relationships.

Beginning in the early 1900s in the USA, an emergent set of institutions, practices, and forms of knowledge began gradually coalescing around the social figure of the ”child consumer. Initially, in the 1910 to 1930 period, most efforts to sell children s goods focused on appealing to adults, particularly mothers’, perspectives. In the ensuing decades, merchandisers, advertisers, designers, and market researchers came to recognize ”the child as a consumer — i.e., as an economic agent with wants of her or his own as well as with a growing social right to be desirous of what the commercial world offered. The rise of the child as an agentive, knowing consumer has served as a counterweight to moral concerns expressed about commercial exploitation by framing children s consumption as essentially a matter of choice rather than of persuasion or trickery.

The reach of children s consumer culture extends beyond the child consumer proper and beyond the purchase of products and into changing definitions of the early life course. Increasingly specialized commercial goods, media, and spaces made for children s use have contributed to creating nuanced distinctions between different age grades of children and between genders, resulting in compartmentalized micro-markets and micro-cultures — e.g., the contemporary “tween”. Children themselves make use of the meanings and goods available to them to forge relationships among and make distinctions between peers and between “children” and “adults.”


  1. Cook, D. T. (2004) The Commodification of Childhood. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.
  2. Pugh, A. (2009) Longing and Belonging. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  3. Schor, J. (2004) Born to Buy. Scribner s, New York.

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