Desire and longing: The Consumerist Construction of Childhood

I want to ask your thinking about the claim that childhood in North America (at least) has been making children into consumers for decades and that essential to that project has been the “constant stimulation of desire and longing.”

Do you see practices underlying adoption and donor conception that reflect that kind of stimulation of desire and longing that in turn support the global economic system?

6 thoughts on “Desire and longing: The Consumerist Construction of Childhood

  1. How deep do you want to go?

    As one of the exotic “others”, I probably provided some degree of “value” (as a sociocultural artifact) to those-who-raised-me, with my very “being” existing as a symbol of their (Euro-American-Christian) socioeconomic status. Still, having been born in the US I probably did not carry the same value as an “import”.

    I was a commodity of one type, taught to seek the possession of commodities of many other types…

  2. I think there are a couple of ways of approaching the economic question you pose.

    First, historically we know that “childhood” changed as the nature of work changed after the industrial revolution, and as a middle class was formed. So former child labor turned into leisure time, and children were no longer just “little adults” but youth to be formed by something other than hard work.

    Second was the extension of this to adolescence as a time period, which changed post–WWII to a marketable grouping of disaffected youth (Rebel Without A Cause, On the Waterfront, etc.) which then segued into the counter-culture era of the ’60s.

    The generations following have ingrained these conceptions of “childhood” and “adolescence”, almost recursively.

    Beyond this is the rather Anglo-Saxon notion of children as property, from a legal/social standpoint. And so the longing of children which previously was about providing labor and continuation of the family becomes a “longing” or “desire” for this constructed idea of a child.

    Finally, this ties into the prerogative economically and culturally speaking afforded those who provide the nation-state with a growing population. This is much more clearly stated “up front” in fascistic societies, but I don’t see much of a difference from liberal democracies.

  3. Thank you! I didn’t give you much help with what I was thinking about.

    I am reading an interesting analysis of the construction of childhood by advertisers and corporate interests into consumers of products – both directly (as wanting products) and indirectly (by their symbolic value as providers of identity and status markers for others to see).

    I was thinking of the adoptees’ (and donor conceived) alienation from roots as a stimulant of desire and longing. I see transracial adoptees active in transnational trips, engagements with original families in other countries. I don’t think the originators of the plan wants adoptees having these longings to act on them. Adoptees become agents of change through deeply held desires and longings.

    Adoptees were supposed to simply want their families and the meanings and values within that social system. Instead the presence of deeper values resists the corporate and consumer imagination.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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