Longing and Belonging (Paperback)

Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture

By Allison Pugh

University of California Press, 9780520258440, 320pp.

Publication Date: March 4, 2009

List Price: 29.95*
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Even as they see their wages go down and their buying power decrease, many parents are still putting their kids' material desires first. These parents struggle with how to handle children's consumer wants, which continue unabated despite the economic downturn. And, indeed, parents and other adults continue to spend billions of dollars on children every year. Why do children seem to desire so much, so often, so soon, and why do parents capitulate so readily? To determine what forces lie behind the onslaught of Nintendo Wiis and Bratz dolls, Allison J. Pugh spent three years observing and interviewing children and their families. In Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture, Pugh teases out the complex factors that contribute to how we buy, from lunchroom conversations about Game Boys to the stark inequalities facing American children. Pugh finds that children's desires stem less from striving for status or falling victim to advertising than from their yearning to join the conversation at school or in the neighborhood. Most parents respond to children's need to belong by buying the particular goods and experiences that act as passports in children's social worlds, because they sympathize with their children's fear of being different from their peers. Even under financial constraints, families prioritize children "feeling normal". Pugh masterfully illuminates the surprising similarities in the fears and hopes of parents and children from vastly different social contexts, showing that while corporate marketing and materialism play a part in the commodification of childhood, at the heart of the matter is the desire to belong.

About the Author

Allison J. Pugh is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Virginia.

Praise For Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture


— Science (AAAS)

"Allison J. Pugh . . . [names] a number of things that I was struggling to identify myself including the “dignity gantlet” that children must traverse when they don’t have the things and experiences that everyone else has, and the “symbolic deprivation” that affluent parents often engage in to signal their ambivalence about the spending that goes on all around them.

— Ron Lieber