Material Cultures of Western Childhoods

Brookshaw, Sharon (2016) Material Cultures of Western Childhoods. Oxford Bibliographies. doi:10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0169

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The word “material” in material culture refers to a broad range of objects classified as “artifacts”—that is, those objects made or used by humans. The inclusion of the word “culture” is rather misleading, however, as material culture is not strictly culture itself but rather its product; as cultural constructs inform the production of artifacts, the study of material culture is a way of revealing beliefs, assumptions, and social fears within the society that produced and consumed any given artifact. Material culture therefore properly means the physical manifestations of culture, and covers those aspects of human behavior, learning, and knowledge that provide a person with the reasoning for producing and using artifacts. Until relatively recently, there was little serious interest in the study of the material cultures of children and childhood (children being biologically immature individuals, with the associated childhood referring to the social and cultural construction of the lives, development, and meaning of these children). Children’s experiences vary enormously over time, space, and culture, and the material environment of the child is an important part of their experience of the world. Conversely, the study of such material culture makes children visible, particularly in the archaeological record where such materials evidence children’s presence and activities. While the origins of material culture study can be traced back to the late 19th century, texts on childhood objects did not start appearing until much later on, and even then it was largely confined to collectors’ guides and histories (mostly concerning toys, dolls, and children’s costume; items that may be thought of as icons of childhood) rather than studies considering the relationship between children and their material world. Such material cultures may therefore be thought of (after Brookshaw 2009, cited under Material Culture of Children) as being either the material culture of children (items made, adapted, or repurposed by children themselves such as homemade—sometimes termed “makeshift” toys) or the material culture of childhood (items made by or bought for children by adults).

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Depositing User: Anne Pengelly
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2016 13:29
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2021 21:37

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