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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Young Consumers, Volume 15, Issue 3
New parents and young children in consumer culture
This Special Issue of Young Consumers addresses matters of consumption from the perspective of new parents and their children. Papers in this volume explore the significance of consumer culture for new parents, the diversity of consumption practices available to them and the parenting styles they may imagine or inhabit through engagement with the market. From the routine purchase of baby products and other forms of provisioning, the papers in this collection examine the “work” of commodities in preparation for parenthood. Papers discuss the expansion of the commercial sphere and the increasing commodification of every aspect of pregnancy and parenthood. Additionally, parents-to-be approach their new role with a set of personally generated ideas on what they may “need” to start a family. It may be productive to ask where the extent and limits of the market lie in relation to new parenthood. Are they bounded by the needs of the newborn or do they extend to housing, childcare and education for example? And what do we know about those without the financial resources to buy their way into new parenthood? In the seemingly private decision to parent, consumption can be seen as a key site for the production of new social divisions. If this is the case, then parenting can be examined as a politically important project in which relations with the market and the state may be reconfigured.
Becoming a parent beckons individuals into an ever-expanding consumer world of baby “things”; routine items and specialist goods provide products for every stage of the experience. This volume explores the domain of consumer culture, materiality and consumption as a dynamic stretch of the commodity frontier. The intensification of commercial practices surrounding pregnancy and birth can be seen as a key change in the way parenthood is lived and experienced in contemporary times. It concomitantly signals a change in the relationship between the private and the public, with the latter seeing a merging of commercial and medico-scientific forces with consequences for the ways in which parenthood and early childhood are construed and perceived. The commercial world appears omnipresent in the lives of new parents, particularly mothers, inviting them to buy their way into a maternal identity while simultaneously positioning them in relation to the universally available offerings of consumer culture. Collectively, the papers in this volume comment on these themes from different empirical vantage points. Drawing on recent research and textual analysis, they examine a range of rich and diverse experiences that provide insights into the relationship between parenting and consumption in contemporary times.
In the first of five papers, Burningham, Venn, Gatersleben, Christie and Jackson explore the changes in shopping patterns and priorities for a group of first-time mothers. The focus is on everyday purchases and particularly on consumer products that may be linked with environmental issues and forms of sustainability. The paper suggests that motherhood can be viewed as a future-orientated project in which women consider their consumption practices as part of a broader concern for their children as part of the next generation. In their study, women generally saw pregnancy and new motherhood as a transition point in their lives; calling for a re-evaluation of everyday consumer practices, they welcomed the opportunity to do things differently. New mothers considered the value of shopping online or offline, and paying more attention to what to buy and how to organise the weekly shop. Burningham et al., however, caution against the long-term impact of these changes as babies grow, maternity leave ends and other consumer patterns may emerge. Also focusing on the experience of new motherhood, Kehily considers the consumer practices of women specifically in relation to preparation for birth. Drawing on interviews with first-time mothers-to-be and textual analysis of pregnancy magazines, the paper is framed by the idea that maternal consumption can be seen as part of a common culture of motherhood, created by the market and producing an immersive total consumer experience for pregnant women to negotiate their way through in preparation for birth. The paper considers the significance of age and socio-economic status as crucial to the maternal project, producing particular and distinctive approaches to consumption that shape maternal identities.
Martens’ contribution turns our attention to the ways in which certain products for parents of young children emphasise the safety and protection of the child. Products such s playpens, fire-guards, window and cupboard catches construct a version of childhood in the design and marketing of the products. Martens indicates that these products encode ideas of childhood as precious, vulnerable and unpredictable. Martens argues that safety exists as a dimension of different categories of product within an environment where safety consciousness is assumed to be of paramount importance. A focus on safety products positions children as at-risk and parents as protective guardians of their children. Ponsford’s study of young mothers in Bristol takes an alternative starting point that highlights the significance of age and socio-economic status as defining features in the transition to motherhood. In the context of societal change in which the majority of women delay becoming mothers to complete higher education and establish careers, early pregnancy and young motherhood is seen as “risky” and irresponsible. Young women in Ponsford’s study were aware of being judged as too young and too poor to mother. In the face of financial hardship, their response was to demonstrate their ability to mother through consumption. Giving up the teen spending of pre-pregnancy in favour of a selfless focus on the needs of the infant, young women developed creative, thrifty and thoughtful ways to provide for their baby on a limited budget.
The final paper in this volume takes a wry and humorous approach to parent–baby relations and parental consumption. Vanska considers the phenomenon of babyfied dogs as observed in a fashionable area of Tokyo. The practice of treating dogs as babies is supported by trendy local facilities offering a panoply of products associated with infant care – nappies, buggies, underwear and miniature clothes are available in specialist boutiques catering for all your baby-dog needs. Vanska vividly describes the horror and fascination she feels on her first encounter with the commodities and the practice. Considering what it may mean to have a dog-baby, Vanska explores the idea of consumption and care coming together for a younger generation of women in Japan who express a desire to nurture and mother but do not want the marriage and domesticity that goes with it. Seen in these terms, babyfied dogs exist as a riposte to the traditional gender relations of the previous generation – a symbol of independence signalling a break with the maternal world of their own mothers.
Mary Jane Kehily and Lydia Martens