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Cover for Inside Toyland

Inside Toyland

Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

Christine L. Williams


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"I got my first job working in a toy store when I was 41 years old." So begins sociologist Christine Williams's description of her stint as a low-wage worker at two national toy store chains: one upscale shop and one big box outlet. In this provocative, perceptive, and lively book, studded with rich observations from the shop floor, Williams chronicles her experiences as a cashier, salesperson, and stocker and provides broad-ranging, often startling, insights into the social impact of shopping for toys. Taking a new look at what selling and buying for kids are all about, she illuminates the politics of how we shop, exposes the realities of low-wage retail work, and discovers how class, race, and gender manifest and reproduce themselves in our shopping-mall culture.

Despite their differences, Williams finds that both toy stores perpetuate social inequality in a variety of ways. She observes that workers are often assigned to different tasks and functions on the basis of gender and race; that racial dynamics between black staff and white customers can play out in complex and intense ways; that unions can't protect workers from harassment from supervisors or demeaning customers even in the upscale toy store. And she discovers how lessons that adults teach to children about shopping can legitimize economic and social hierarchies. In the end, however, Inside Toyland is not an anticonsumer diatribe. Williams discusses specific changes in labor law and in the organization of the retail industry that can better promote social justice.

Praise For Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

“A welcome addition to the growing body of literature on children’s culture.”
— Journal of American Culture

“Want to know why black men get demoted as workers? Or why middle-class white women are the most annoying customers of all? Then this is your book. In brisk and straightforward style, Williams argues that most of our contemporary working cultures harm consumers and employees and that we need to improve them, fast. While some anecdotes will not seem unfamiliar to those who have seen the view from both sides of a till, Williams's ability to connect them to a range of social theories results in a thoughtful and impressive read.”
— The Guardian

"Inside Toyland is a model study of relations between identities, products, and work. For students, Williams provides many examples that bring abstract concepts—like the fetishization of commodities—to life. She calls for us not to shop less, but to shop with more awareness of, and effort to improve, the lives of retail workers and the entire experience of consumption."
— American Journal of Sociology

Inside Toyland is a gem—a well-written examination of politics, inequality, racism and working conditions in the context of the toy store. . . . This book powerfully exposes the politics and inequality embedded within consumer culture through an examination of low-wage retail work. It is a highly engaging expose of the reproduction of class, race and gender inequality.”
— Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Williams's experiences in two retail toy stores-one mega and the other upscale-make evident the gender and racial/ethnic nature of retail work. She clearly demonstrates how every day exchanges between employees and man agers as well as employees and customers help reinforce existing social expectations based on class, gender, and race/ethnicity."
— Contemporary Sociology

"This book is a major contribution to consumer studies, labor studies, race and ethnic studies, and gender studies."
— Gender and Society

“A compelling read for those critical of the commercialization of childhood.”
— Tikkun

University of California Press, 9780520247178, 264pp.

Publication Date: January 9, 2006

About the Author

Christine L. Williams is Professor of Sociology and the Elsie and Stanley E. (Skinny) Adams, Sr. Centennial Professor in Liberal Arts at the University of Texas, Austin, and is coeditor, with Jeffrey Alexander and Gary Marx, of Self, Structure, and Beliefs (California, 2004), and the author of Still a Man's World (California, 1995) and Gender Differences at Work (California, 1989).