Skip to main content

Longing and Belonging

Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture

Allison Pugh


List Price: 29.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


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.

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

"Whether your specialty is social psychology, family, social inequality, or the sociology of children, this is a book you will want on your bookshelf. You will find yourself assigning it to your students, both graduate and undergraduate, and recommending it to your friends and family. Longing and Belonging is both that compelling and that accessible; first-rate research and engaging prose make this a book that will be read and remembered."

— Contemporary Sociology

“An elegant and carefully written book, following in the footsteps of notable predecessors . . . Based on insights generated from equally rich ethnographic research, and illustrating the worthiness of that method, Pugh’s book nevertheless presents its own original analysis and provides an excellent and thought-provoking contribution to scholarship. . . . It offers the reader much food for thought, is presented using engaging prose, and offers some interesting suggestions at the end for how things could be different.”

— American Journal of Sociology

"Longing and Belonging thoughtfully reveals how consumerism animates, amplifies, and reproduces inequalities of race and class. . . . The book is a natural fit for courses on the family, social inequality, childhood, and consumerism. The prose is superb, which would make the text an excellent model of social science writing for graduate and advanced undergraduate students."

— Gender and Society

“An important contribution to the sociology of consumption and consumer behavior.”


“A fascinating look . . . A highly commendable feature of this book is Pugh’s skillful writing and expressive approach to the research material.”

— Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Highly accessible . . . A truly involving, original and analytically rigorous ethnography that Pugh has produced.

— Dialectical Anthropology

University of California Press, 9780520258440, 320pp.

Publication Date: March 4, 2009

About the Author

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