American Girl: A Critical Inquiry into Dolls, Childhood, and Consumer Culture
Kirshner, Mirah Jennifer
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Through a theorization and analysis of the American Girl doll brand, in this dissertation I illustrate the mutually constructing connection between childhood and consumer culture. There are several elements that contextualize my work including historical research on and a contemporary theorizing of childhood, dolls, motherhood, and consumer culture. As part of my study, I look to historical accounts of dolls, childhood, and consumer culture starting from the late nineteenth century. Locating children and consumer culture only within the contemporary moment functions to deny the integral relationship between the two and thus reinforces the modern myth that childhood, in some idealized past, was innocent of market forces. As such, I contextualize the very category of the modern child in consumer culture rather than document how a pre-existing, un-marred state of childhood was infiltrated by the market. I argue that childhood and motherhood are connected and central to grappling with the nature and influence of consumer culture. Thus, I also address the role of mothers as consumers, and explore motherhood and childhood as shaped in part through consumer culture. Furthermore, I seek to explore representations of girlhood through an examination of both print and digital resources. In a broad sense, therefore, this study offers insight not only into cultural understandings of childhood, but also into the social production and reproduction of consumer culture through identity. That is, I examine how understandings of childhood function to (re)produce consumer culture and how consumer culture in turn, functions to (re)produce childhood.