Call for Chapter Proposals Children’s Toys and Consumer Culture: Critical Perspectives on the Marketing of Children’s Play

Call for Paper Type

March 1, 2019

Conference Date


Edited by Rebecca C. Hains and Nancy A. Jennings

Toy marketing warrants a sustained scholarly critique because of toys’ cultural significance and their roles in children’s lives, as well as the industry’s economic importance and ideological influence. According to the International Council of Toy Industries, in the first half of 2018 alone, the toy industry reached $18.4 billion in sales, with Mexico, Brazil, and the USA boasting the fastest growth rates. LEGO and Disney — two companies that specialize in producing transmedia texts and children’s toys — regularly top Brand Finance’s lists of the world’s strongest brands, alongside brands like Apple, Twitter, and Ferrari. (Both LEGO and Disney made the top 10 list in 2018.) Meanwhile, discourses surrounding toys — including who certain toys are meant for and what various toys and brands can signify about their owners’ identities — have implications for our understandings of adults’ expectations of children and of broader societal norms into which children are being socialized. In the proposed volume, we will apply cultural studies perspectives informed by critical theory to the marketing of a variety of toys and toy companies. Drawing upon diverse disciplinary backgrounds to critique the commodification of children’s play, we will examine the history of the marketing of children’s toys and play; analyze contemporary issues, examples, and trends in the industry; and consider audience reception of and cultural discourse surrounding children’s toys and play. History: • The rise of gender marketing in children’s toys • The history of children’s television deregulation and the shift from education to sales in children’s programming • Children’s toys and moral panics • The history of children as consumers • Toy advertising in the golden age of radio / Toy catalogs / “Big Book of Toys” • Evolution of some/all of the five major players in the toy industry (Mattel, Namco Bandai, Lego, Hasbro, and/or Jakks Pacific) • Toy industry advertising regulations (e.g., the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU); differences in advertising policies internationally). • Toy industry regulations / legal concerns Analysis of contemporary issues, examples, trends: • How ability/disability is conveyed in children's toys • Toys in relation to television programming / films (Toy Story) / web content / various media franchises • The social construction of race and gender in children’s toys • Smart toys and the Internet of Toys / Digital play • The role of toys in perpetuating cultural hegemony • Hierarchies of children’s toy categories • Implications of the rise and demise of Toys R Us / FAO Schwartz • Corporate social responsibility in the toy industry • “Pinkwashing,” “Greenwashing,” and/or “Goodwashing” as toy marketing techniques • Interviews with members of toy/media industry • Analysis of Toy Industry of America and/or its Toy of the Year awards • Political economy of the children’s toy industry / the toy retail ecosystem • Gatekeeping in the toy industry (who makes decisions, who has power) • Toy guns and weapon play • Rise of retro toys / Collectible toys / specific toy trends (Cabbage Patch Dolls, My Little Pony, Furbies, Tickle-me-Elmo) Audience reception and cultural discourse: • Children’s negotiations of issues of representation/inclusivity (gender, race, ability, etc.) in their toys and/or the toy marketing they encounter • Children’s parasocial relationships with media characters and the desire for toys based on those characters • Children’s perspectives on the toy industry and what makes “good” toys • Discussion/analysis of grassroots efforts to change the marketing and/or content of children’s toys (e.g., Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Let Toys Be Toys, No Gender December) • Independent brand toys launched as a response to the types of toys on the market (e.g., Emmy, Lottie, Wonder Crew, GoldieBlox) - role of indiegogo and other crowdfunding platforms • The minimalist toy movement • Toy fandom / community user groups / toy collectors • Culture of parenthood and toys / parenting roles and play

Scholars are invited to submit proposals consisting of a 350-word abstract and a 150-word bio by March 1, 2019 to the editors at rhains@salemstate.edu and jenninna@ucmail.uc.edu with the subject line “Children’s Toys and Consumer Culture." The editors will notify prospective authors of their decisions by April 1, 2019. Full chapters will be due by December 1, 2019, with revisions and final drafts to be scheduled for Spring 2020. Ideas for possible chapter topics are listed below.

Rebecca C. Hains (rhains@salemstate.edu) and Nancy A. Jennings (jenninna@ucmail.uc.edu)