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Children in the Home, Toys in the Tub: Middle Class Contexts of Work and Play

Karen Gainer Sirota

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 23


This paper traces the cultural and historical shaping of a distinctly post-industrial, middle class conception of childhood that emphasizes and instantiates an age-graded separation of children, largely apart and away from the world of adult work-related tasks and responsibilities. In accord, time for leisure and imaginative play has become increasingly emblematic of a child’s middle class status. Herein, the virtues of imaginative play have come to be lauded for their vital roles in facilitating, and actualizing, children’s individually unique creative talents and potentials, which furthermore are viewed as essential aspects of children’s overall well-being and moral personhood. In this view, children’s lives and identities prototypically are construed as ‘works in progress’ in preparation for future adult possibilities and endeavors, with children’s lives-as-lived generally regarded as preamble to productive adult accomplishments. Most importantly, however, it is ever-essential to query what may be at stake amidst this world of childhood imagination as it impacts life as lived, with an always close consideration of the lives of actual children: their perspectives, voices, and lived experiences generating a sharpened focus on particular varieties of human actorship that celebrate, and commemorate, transcendent though ineffable components of human creativity; the children’s quintessential, vital presences operating, and developing, amidst an incessant, reflexive post-modern quest in search of the potentialities, limitations, and boundaries of human agency, and the human condition, itself.

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