Harnessing the Complexity of Children's Consumer Culture

Steven K. Khan

Abstract


In this paper I argue that consumption is a common matrix of childhood experience that children bring to curriculum, schooling and learning. Next I describe how children’s consumer culture (CCC) can be seen to share some important characteristics of complex systems. Finally, I address the question of how the emergent potential of children’s consumer culture could be utilized by educators to assist in the project of forming lifelong ethical relationships with and between peoples, places, things, and thoughts. Unprecedented changes on a global scale have revealed our traditional notions of citizenship as being deficient, partial, and incomplete. These changes prompt us, then, to examine what it might mean to be a citizen in a truly globalized and technologically connected world. Schools and curriculum have an important role to play in an unfolding political project to craft new social, natural, cultural and ethical contracts. The context through which such a project could emerge, I suggest, is from within the complex system that is children’s commercial culture. Neither school and its curriculum nor CCC and its curriculum by themselves have served as effective sites for a successful pedagogy of citizenship. However, both reveal only partial aspects of different cultures of power necessary for citizenship. Both powers exist in a schizophrenic tension. The space created between such tensions might be appropriated to foster a pedagogy for citizenship that emerges from a common curriculum of consumption. A complex systems perspective opens windows of possibilities that might offer a view of how such tensions could be harnessed for this project.

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