My research analyses the relationship between childhood, consumerism, and citizenship in twentieth century Britain. By examining how children were taught to conceive of connections between money and character, both personal and national, my thesis reconstructs the processes in which children have been imagined as responsible consumer-citizens.
Focusing on the various meanings attached to saving and spending illuminates the divergent political, financial, and emotional motivations of different historical agents. Using various archival records, I examine this interplay between the state; child experts; schools; parents and families; and market actors, such as advertisers, businesses, retailers, and banks, to try to understand how children have learned to consume.
By interrogating this process of acquisition, I suggest that children, conceived as future citizens, are essential to the survival of capitalism. Firstly, children are prepared for an adulthood in which they are able to participate in society as responsible consumer-citizens. Secondly, the extent to which children understand themselves as consumers determines the legitimacy of capitalist structures as the continued engagement of successive generations ensures their reproduction.
My research is informed by approaches from both consumer history and the history and sociology of childhood. In combining these approaches it seeks to rewrite the overlooked child into the history of consumer society. It also contributes to a growing body of scholarship dedicated to uncovering the historical experiences of children and maintains that this history is essential to our understanding of broader processes in twentieth century Britain.