Safety for Small Fry: children and safety in Consumer Culture


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This paper examines the relationship between contemporary parenthood, childhood, child safety and consumer culture. It draws primarily on ethnographic research conducted in two consumer events in the UK: The Baby Show and Mothercare World. We point out that parenthood is embedded in consumer culture and argue that the commercial events investigated generate commercial communities of parenthood that operate as information conduits on parenting moralities and practices.

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Safety for Small Fry: children and safety in Consumer Culture

  1. 1. Dr Lydia Martens, Keele University Changing Parenting Cultures Seminar – Child-Rearing in a Risk Society
  2. 2. <ul><li>Part of a larger writing project, examining consumer contexts around early parenting and very young children (foetuses, babies, toddlers) </li></ul><ul><li>See also details of ESRC seminar series on Motherhoods, Markets and Consumption seminar series @ </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Critique of concentrating on older, agentive child consumer & primacy of child-market(ing) relationship (Martens 2005) </li></ul><ul><li>Understanding ‘what happens before’ children become agentive consumers & the significance of family and familial relationships (Martens et al. 2004) </li></ul><ul><li>How are categories of ‘adult/new parent’ and ‘child/baby’ in this life course phase constituted? (Martens 2008/2010) </li></ul><ul><li>Here examined in relation to children and their safety </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>Some theoretical reflections </li></ul><ul><li>The Baby Show as a commercial “community of parenthood” </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis of safety as a dimension in young children’s consumer culture </li></ul><ul><li>Safety and the constitution of the new parent in relation to the young child </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>Childhood and Parenthood </li></ul><ul><li>Childhood, risks and safety </li></ul><ul><li>Contemporary Consumer Culture </li></ul><ul><li>Public - private </li></ul><ul><li>Surveillance </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Consumer exhibition targeted at prospective and new parents, their family and friends </li></ul><ul><li>Brings together small and large commercial players & is organised by Clarion Events since 2002 </li></ul><ul><li>In 2008 it took place in 5 different locations & times in the year </li></ul><ul><li>Offers visitors a range of experiences & services on their ‘day out’. </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>Visiting since 2005 </li></ul><ul><li>Mixture of observation, discussions with exhibitors & visitors (people with bumps), being a ‘visitor’ and ‘exhibitor’, photography, autobiographical dimension </li></ul><ul><li>Themed visits – safety, food and orality, information & education </li></ul><ul><li>Why is The Show such an interesting ethnographic research site? </li></ul>
  8. 16. <ul><li>Prospective and new parents come together </li></ul><ul><li>Creating a commercial ‘club’ spirit </li></ul><ul><li>The Baby Show as an information conduit </li></ul>
  9. 18. <ul><li>Age demarcations are strong – something for every stage of pregnancy to childhood: </li></ul><ul><li>Pre-birth e.g. Pregnacare, scanning, bump belt </li></ul><ul><li>Birth e.g. Stem cell storage ‘product’ </li></ul><ul><li>Pre-mobility e.g. Sterilising, infant breathing monitors </li></ul><ul><li>Mobility and space – moving from private to public gadgets </li></ul><ul><li> Shift from ‘health maintenance’ to ‘mobility’ devices </li></ul>
  10. 20. <ul><li>Child safety product </li></ul><ul><li>Child safety conscious product </li></ul><ul><li>Child safety advice product </li></ul>
  11. 22. <ul><li>Child safety products are not necessarily child safety conscious! </li></ul><ul><li>Danger multiplication through ‘awareness’ and product innovation drives </li></ul><ul><li>Trust me, but do not trust me completely! </li></ul>
  12. 23. “ What is a child? A child is something that gets under your feet and into cupboards, something that explores the secret corners behind the washing-machine and knows that switches make machines work. A child is never quite high enough for its own objectives – it climbs, and pulls, and stretches until it can see over the edge of the kitchen table, grab the biscuits on the dresser, and finally reach the high-hanging key to the garden shed. Every age in childhood is an age of experiment and exploration. A child is unaware of danger … and you have no eyes in the back of your head.” (Good Housekeeping magazine, September 1961 (special on Kitchen’s Today) page 40)
  13. 24. “ Once your child becomes mobile, home safety becomes a critical issue. It's amazing what a crawling baby, an active toddler or a curious child can do in a split second. It is best to start thinking about making your home really safe even before your baby starts to crawl. There are some danger points which will be obvious to you such as stairs, low windows, open fires and hot cookers. But it's easy for grown-ups to overlook other risks like table corners, slamming doors and electric sockets, which can be the cause of minor, and sometimes serious, accidents. While there is a lot you can do to make your home a safer place, you still need to be on your guard at all times.” (Mothercare website 2005)
  14. 25. ‘ At Mothercare we have a range of products designed to help keep your baby and toddler safe.’ But…’trust me but do not trust me completely’ ..
  15. 27. <ul><li>Young child as precious and unpredictable </li></ul><ul><li>New parent as vigilant and risk-averse </li></ul>