Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger


Inside Toyland

Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality

Christine L. Williams (Author)


Other Formats Available:
"I got my first job working in a toy store when I was 41 years old." So begins sociologist Christine Williams's description of her stint as a low-wage worker at two national toy store chains: one upscale shop and one big box outlet. In this provocative, perceptive, and lively book, studded with rich observations from the shop floor, Williams chronicles her experiences as a cashier, salesperson, and stocker and provides broad-ranging, often startling, insights into the social impact of shopping for toys. Taking a new look at what selling and buying for kids are all about, she illuminates the politics of how we shop, exposes the realities of low-wage retail work, and discovers how class, race, and gender manifest and reproduce themselves in our shopping-mall culture.

Despite their differences, Williams finds that both toy stores perpetuate social inequality in a variety of ways. She observes that workers are often assigned to different tasks and functions on the basis of gender and race; that racial dynamics between black staff and white customers can play out in complex and intense ways; that unions can't protect workers from harassment from supervisors or demeaning customers even in the upscale toy store. And she discovers how lessons that adults teach to children about shopping can legitimize economic and social hierarchies. In the end, however, Inside Toyland is not an anticonsumer diatribe. Williams discusses specific changes in labor law and in the organization of the retail industry that can better promote social justice.

1 A Sociologist inside Toy Stores
2 History of Toy Shopping in America
3 The Social Organization of Toy Stores
4 Inequality on the Shopping Floor
5 Kids in Toyland
6 Toys and Citizenship

Christine L. Williams, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, is coeditor, with Jeffrey Alexander and Gary Marx, of Self, Structure, and Beliefs (California, 2004), author of Still a Man's World (California, 1995), and author of Gender Differences at Work (California, 1989). She is currently the editor of the journal Gender & Society.
“A gem. . . . Powerfully exposes the politics and inequality embedded within consumer culture through an examination of low-wage retail work. . . . A highly engaging expose.”—Canadian Journal Of Sociology
“A welcome addition to the growing body of literature on children’s culture.”—Kathy Merlock Jackson Journal Of American Culture
“A thoughtful and impressive read.”—The Guardian
“Inside Toyland is a compelling read for those critical of the commercialization of childhood.”—Tikkun
"Why do white women shoppers more often refuse to check their bags at the counter than African American or Latina women shoppers do? Why do male shoppers act more annoyed at having to be in the store than their female counterparts? Based on her experiences working in two toy stores, Christine Williams offers a cornucopia of illuminating observations. By focusing on the various ways gender, race and class influence how we shop and sell, she exposes the concept and ideal of consumer citizenship. In this, Williams give us an important idea and an original angle of vision."—Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Commercialization of Intimate Life, and editor (with Barbara Ehrenreich) of Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy

"In this brilliant book Williams lays bare the social complexities of shopping for toys in America. She describes how shopping and working in toy stores are shaped by race, class and gender, and how children are taught how to consume. This is sociology at its best-laying bare the intricate nature of everyday life, showing us how the world can be different and better, all the while documenting the human drama that swirls around us. This book will change the way you shop, and the way you think about consumerism, inequality and the nature of 21st century American life."—Mary C. Waters, author of Ethnic Options: Choosing Ethnic Identities in America

"Williams doesn't just talk about consumption. She goes out and gets herself tough jobs selling toys, and comes back to tell the rest of us what selling and buying for kids are all about. Readers who care little about social scientific treatments of consumption will nevertheless learn from her lively account. Specialists will rapidly adopt her stories, observations, and arguments."—Viviana Zelizer, author of The Purchase of Intimacy

"Christine Williams has really gotten inside the big box selling machines of our day to reveal for all of us the strange, perverse logic of work, authority and sales in a retail industry driven by ethnic, gender, and class hierarchies. Read this book and you'll never buy another toy without thinking about the men and women who put it on the shelf!"—Nelson Lichtenstein, editor of Wal-Mart: the Face of 21st Century Capitalism

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more