Dissertation Abstracts

"Some of My Best Dolls are Black: Colorblind Rhetoric in Online Collecting Communities"

Author: West, Rebecca J, rwest1@luc.edu
Department: Sociology
University: Loyola University Chicago, USA
Supervisor: J. Talmadge Wright
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Black Studies , Womens Studies , Ethnic Studies , Web Studies
Areas of Research: Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Leisure , Women in Society


While dolls are beloved play objects, they have also been the subject of social critique for many years. From the generic "baby" to the sexualized Barbie, they have been alternately praised and vilified for their role in forming the behaviors and identities of the children who play with them. However, such criticism overlooks a key component of doll play: the element of the adults who purchase the dolls, for children as well as for themselves, and the ways in which such toys are used to express engagement with larger social structures.

My research focuses on the American Girl Dolls Collection, a line of toys that claim to teach American history to girls between the ages of 8 and 12. Rather than investigate the way children engage with these objects, I have focused on adults who both purchase the toys for their children and also "collect" for themselves. My research methods include personal interviews, ethnographic observations, and content analysis of online collecting forums. In my analysis I intend to explore how the experience of purchasing, playing and collecting is used to negotiate complex questions of gender, race and class in contemporary American society.