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Horizontes Antropológicos

Print version ISSN 0104-7183


CLARKE, Alison J.. Consuming children and making mothers: birthday parties, gifts and the pursuit of sameness. Horiz.antropol. [online]. 2007, vol.3Selected edition, pp. 0-0. ISSN 0104-7183.

Children's birthday parties, and related consumption, form an integral part of the social process of mothering in contemporary consumer culture. From the choosing of the 'right' present to the arrangement of the 'appropriate' party theme, an enormous pressure is exerted upon mothers to maintain social equilibrium through the circulation of their children and gifts amongst and across households. Ethnographic research in Britain suggests that the economic growth of children's party provision and services is coupled with a popular discourse that laments the loss of 'authentic' kinship-based birthday parties and home-made provisioning. In contrast to this spoken discourse, this article reveals how women in fact avidly embrace market goods and services; as a means of generating a culture of sameness that avoids the risks (to the motherhood as a collective, localised phenomenon) of exceptional or overtly accomplished mothering. Commercialised, mass produced goods and birthday services are used as a means of limiting expressive gift relations and hospitality. In this sense, the search for sameness, through the cultural practice of making children's parties, is at once liberating and potentially oppressive in its strive for the normative and its inadvertent exclusion of 'other' care-givers. Furthermore, children and their related material culture are consumed, through the birthday party circuit, as a means of generating specific types of mothering.

Keywords : children's birthday parties; contemporary motherhood; gifts; material culture.

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