“Obviously in the cool group they wear designer things”: A social practice theory perspective on children’s consumption

Agnes Nairn*, Fiona Spotswood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
167 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose – This paper aims to propose the lens of social practice theory (SPT) as a means of deepening insights into childhood consumer culture. Design/methodology/approach – The data comprise four qualitative interviews and ten focus groups with 58 8-13 year olds in six diverse schools across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Transcripts were coded with NVIVO10. Analysis was guided by the three elements of SPT: materials, meaning and competence. Findings – Branded technology products and clothes consistently combined with both the socially sanctioned objective of achieving and maintaining a place in the peer hierarchy and also the three skills the authors have labelled “social consumption recognition”, “social consumption performance” and “social consumption communication” in regular, predictable ways to produce an ordered and, thus, reproducible nexus of actions. Analysis of the inter-relationship between these elements showed that children’s consumption is a specific practice, embedded in their everyday routines. Consumption is also linked inextricably to social position; children’s variable performance of it links with their degree of social acceptance and popularity. Research limitations/implications – Although the study included a broad cross-section of school catchment areas, they cannot be said to represent all British children. Nonetheless, SPT provides an alternative theoretical perspective on children’s consumption by shifting the focus away from the child, the social context or even the products, thus ceasing to privilege the notion that consumption is something external to children that they learn to be socialised into; or to consciously use for their own symbolic or other purposes; or that they have to be protected from. Social implications – Consumption practice is deeply embedded in children’s relationships and is inextricably linked to their well-being. Policies seeking to tackle any single element of the practice, such as media literacy training, are only likely to have limited effectiveness. This research implies that responsible marketing measures need to concentrate on the links between all the elements. Originality/value – This SPT analysis of children’s consumption makes three contributions. First, it provides a much-needed new theoretical perspective beyond the dominant but limited “consumer socialisation” research paradigm that confines analysis of children’s consumption to the functioning of their individual cognitive capacity. Second, it suggests new research methodologies for understanding the interaction between children and the commercial world. Third, it offers a different approach to policymakers tasked with the controversial issue of regulating marketing to children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1460-1483
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number9-10
Early online date14 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

Structured keywords

  • MGMT Marketing and Consumption


  • Brands
  • Children
  • Consumer culture
  • Consumption
  • Social practice theory
  • Social responsibility

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