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i saw you running through my playground

maura @ 9:38 pm

Last week on my walk to work I listened to a podcast interview with Alison Pugh, a sociologist who just wrote the book Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture. She spent three years observing kids and interviewing parents of varying socioeconomic statuses in Oakland, CA. The results of her study suggest that kids want what their peers have much more than what consumer marketing tells them to want (though advertising does still influence their consumer desires).

She found that often the most desired toys are electronic and that most kids tended to have these toys, regardless of their family’s income level. One interesting finding is that affluent parents were much more likely to buy items viewed as basic or necessary toys (bikes, blocks, etc.) in addition to the coveted electronic toys. Poor parents tended to buy only the items that carried the most social weight so, for example, they wouldn’t have a bike but they would have a Wii. And, many affluent parents eschewed electronic toys altogether, though they bought plenty of other toys for their kids.

Two things that my brain’s been chewing on ever since:

1. This pattern totally fits with what I’ve observed in my (and Gus’s) lives and interactions with his peers and their parents. And I find it so interesting when compared to James Paul Gee’s thesis from What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. He concluded that video games can teach kids lots of good stuff (reading, problem-solving, critical thinking, etc.) in ways that make them eager and excited to learn. But he cautioned that poor kids aren’t getting the same opportunities to experience the benefits of video games as are more affluent kids. According to Pugh’s work, most kids do have video game systems, regardless of their family’s income level. So that’s good.

2. About halfway through listening to the podcast I thought to myself, “well, that’s totally obvious.” Which was the same reaction that Jonathan had when I told him about the interview later on. And then I realized OMG, we are the studied! I’m the target population, so of COURSE it seems obvious to me – I live it. I’ve been getting reading and thinking about anthropology lots lately (and, w/my new research project, even doing some), and it was a weird feeling to realize that I was on the other side of the table, ethnographically speaking.

Sounds like a cool book — I definitely plan to read it.

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