Family theme parks, happiness onsumption and children’s c From roller-coasters to Pippi Longstocking

Family theme parks, happiness onsumption and children’s c From roller-coasters to Pippi Longstocking
Family theme parks, happiness
and children’s consumption
From roller-coasters to Pippi Longstocking
David Cardell
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science No. 654
Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies
Linköping 2015
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science☻No. 654
At the Faculty of Arts and Science at Linköping University, research
and doctoral studies are carried out within broad problem areas.
Research is organized in interdisciplinary research environments
and doctoral studies mainly in graduate schools. Jointly, they
publish the series Linköping Studies in Arts and Science. This thesis
comes from the Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies.
Distributed by:
Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies
Linköping University
SE-581 83 Linköping
David Cardell
Family theme parks, happiness and children’s consumption
From roller-coasters to Pippi Longstocking
Edition 1:1
ISBN 978-91-7685-979-7
ISSN 0282-9800
David Cardell, 2015
Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies
Printed in Sweden by LiU-Tryck, Linköping, Sweden, 2015
List of figures
1. Children and happiness: introduction
A background to the theme parks
Aims of study
Structure of the thesis
2. Models of happiness: previous research
Happiness in English and Swedish
Luck and chance
The happy masses
Happy times
Ways forward
3. A meshwork of happiness: a theoretical approach
Interdisciplinary practices
Practices of happiness
4. Ethnographizing happiness
Finding theme parks and children
Getting in contact with children
Getting to know the children and their families
Mobile ethnography
Returning to (and leaving) children
Making sense of happiness
5. Thingography: material intimacy
Material things at home
The rabbit at Liseberg
The rabbit in the bedroom
The rabbit in the living room
Between nowhere and everywhere
Concluding discussion
6. Valuography: money
Happy money
Approaching values
Is it worth it?
Cash(in’) the bank
Being fortunate
Concluding discussion
7. Co-ordiography: park visits
A family of glue
Modes of ordering and coordination
In the service of children
In the service of parents
Part-time company
Concluding discussion
8. Chronography: time and childhood
Chronography and happiness
Timely opportunities
Concluding discussion
9. Happy-faring: concluding discussion
Listening to friends and colleagues, I have learnt that there are some things
which are supposed to make you happy: handing in the dissertation, having
defended it successfully, and enjoying the celebrations that follow. At this
moment these events are (hopefully) still to come. What is certain at this
time is that the wise and generous assistance of numerous people has been
invaluable for finishing this dissertation, so that expected and unexpected
things can take place.
First, my supervisor Professor Anna Sparrman has been central to the entire
work. Being more than a supervisor, Anna has always made space around
the dinner table. Your knowledge, generous support and friendship will
always be valued and recalled. Professor Tom O’Dell, my second
supervisor, has been inspiring in encouraging me to develop my thinking in
new directions. Your friendly and critical approach has been fulfilling and
I hope to continue our dialog. Thank you, both Anna and Tom!
In the project Culture for and by children (2009-2384), funded by the
Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), Kajsa Ellegård, Anne-Li
Lindgren and Tobias Samuelsson engaged in research along with Anna and
myself. Your ideas and critical reflections about childhood and knowledge
associated with different methodologies have been eye-opening for me.
Thanks for your companionship and informal pointers, stretching from
sociological to philosophical and geographical matters of inquiry.
The Department of Thematic Studies – Tema – at Linköping University is
a place where my interdisciplinary approach to culture, consumption,
happiness and childhood has developed thanks to seminars and the
continuous presence of groups of PhD students and faculty. At the unit of
Child Studies, my group of PhD students (D09) has worked as intellectual
sparring partners and friends: Zulmir Becevic, Mathilda Hallberg, Sofia
Kvist Lindholm and Mehek Muftee. Thank you! Earlier generations of
students have made the corridors into a welcoming place, offering insights
into the opportunities and problems encountered during the production of a
dissertation. Special thanks go to Johanna Sjöberg, Paul Horton and Åsa
Pettersson. I hope that we will now have time for some drinks during more
than a “happy hour”. Among the later additions to Child Studies, I would
like to thank Jonathan Josefsson especially. Your committed comments on
my early work led me to provide further clarification about what happiness
I would like to acknowledge the importance of Asta Cekaite, Bengt Sandin
and Karin Zetterqvist Nelson. As professors in Child Studies you represent
curiosity and rigor in research, acting as helpful supporters and providing
valuable advice regarding the more formal aspects of life at University. The
group of teachers, including Anette Wickström, Karin Osvaldsson Cromdal,
Cecilia Lindgren, Disa Bergnéhr, Gunilla Tegern, Judith Lind, Johanna
Sköld, Haris Agic, and Kjerstin Andersson, make interdisciplinary
endeavors an exciting matter. Mikael Brandt, Eva Danielsson, Ian Dickson,
and Christina Lärkner ensured that writing this thesis was possible –
replacing broken computers, and managing practicalities in all their width
and depth. Thanks!
Lars Kaijser was appointed as reader of an early draft. Malene Gram entered
the process as a reader at a later stage. You contributed with valuable advice
through insightful discussions and suggestions. Kajsa Ellegård, Lucas
Gottzén and Sarah Holst Kjaer read a late draft – far from “final”, but on
the way towards this book. Your proposals were thoughtful in a clear and
forward-looking way.
Additional funding, enabling me to travel from Linköping to conferences in
Japan and the USA, was granted by Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien för
svensk folkkultur. Thanks!
At Liseberg, Pelle Johannisson and Annika Palm provided assistance that is
much appreciated. At Astrid Lindgren’s World, Mikael Ahlerup and
Martina Bergqvist engaged to make an ethnographic study possible. Thank
you! To all the children and their parents who contributed to this study: Tack
för Er hjälp! From your participation comes knowledge about the exciting
ways in which happiness turns into a part of life in different ways.
My family – Jörgen, Gunilla, Jakob, Johanna – cannot receive enough credit
for their different contributions and support. You were there during hard
times and good times. I hope it will be possible to return your
encouragement and support. Kati – my dear – without you, writing about
happiness would have been a burden exceeding my capacity. Your support
and care has been energizing and made life into a meaningful time:
involving purpose and pleasure – and that is what happiness, according to
some current research, is all about.
Norrköping, September 2015, David Cardell
1:1: Liseberg main gate
1:2: Entrance to ALW
1:3: Pippi Longstocking’s house
1:4: Ad for Liseberg
2:1: Faces Scale
4:1: Honorary guest, Liseberg
4:2: Devices
4:3: Flumeride
4:4: Flumeride queue
5:1: Sign outside the rabbit shop
5:2: Shop window
5:3: Rabbit topiary
5:4: Mascots
5:5: Kim’s drawing
6:1: Balder
6:2: “Good Luck”
6:3: Money
6:4: Lucky dip
7:1: Runaway children
7:2: Bracelet
7:3: Queue, Liseberg
7:4: Attractions, Liseberg
8:1: Ruler
8:2: Bracelets
8:3: Small houses
8:4: Barrel
8:5: Machine
8:6: Small Frogs
Happiness. One word with different meanings, stretching from happy
events to an eternal life of happiness. Happiness seems to be everywhere:
from religious practice, Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy”, Swedish cheese
advertisements, “happy”-branded coffee and cigarettes, and on to a
management philosophy of the happy employee. Happiness is an important
ingredient in best-selling books on popular psychology. It is a topic
frequently discussed on television and social media. It is a theme that runs
through the corporate world and that one can buy “into” via an assortment
of products, but it is also more than this.
The United Nations (UN) suggests that: “The pursuit of happiness is a
fundamental human goal.” This goal is part of policy in a wide sense, and
for the UN: “The twin concepts of happiness and well-being increasingly
feature in international discussions of sustainable development and the
future we want.”1 The UN also takes part in a celebration of happy
achievements, with the annual “International Day of Happiness” on the 20th
of March. The UN is not alone in emphasizing happiness as a fundamental
goal of humanity. The Global Happiness Organization works to increase
happiness, and their Swedish branch works on policy development based
on scientific happiness studies. They also provide an annual prize for one
Swedish citizen or company that has contributed to increased well-being,
encouraged good acts or made happiness a lasting impression.2
An array of ideas, accounts and products involve the notion of happiness
and give it universal reach. At the same time, it is a disputed matter. Are we
really happy? Are others happier than us? And who is this happy “we”, is it
“us”? At the national level, Sweden and several other European countries
are identified at the top of the international list – scoring high numbers in
survey studies regarding well-being and happiness.
‘International Day of Happiness, Secretary-General’s Message for 2014’,; ‘International Day of
Happiness 20 March’, (accessed 21/01/15).
‘Årets Lyckofrämjare’,
(accessed 30/03/15).
There is a storyline – accessible through statistics, research and articles in
the press – that Sweden is a country where people enjoy their lives in one
of the happiest societies in the world. Such claims of happiness have always
intrigued me. On the one hand, happiness is measured in great numbers, and
on the other there are simultaneously current challenges to the well-being
of children and youth, including depression and medical conditions. Are
children happy, and in that case what is happiness?
Happiness has fascinated philosophers, researchers, and religious
practitioners, as well as policy-makers and political writers. For centuries it
has been a matter of concern that has to do with ideas of the good life, what
is enjoyable, meaningful and pleasurable. It is a concept that captures
individual orientations as well as collective ambitions of creating a better,
or even utopian, society.
This book does not provide a comprehensive history of happiness – for such
an approach there are alternatives (e.g. Bok 2012; McMahon 2006). I do,
however, begin with detailed accounts of historical meanings and
measurements associated with happiness. If there is a quantity of happiness,
what are its qualities? Or, to phrase it in different and more detailed terms:
how does happiness become a part of the everyday lives of children and
their families? Concrete questions like this one have guided my thinking –
and my curiosity when it comes to all-things-happy. However, a thesis does
require some further focus than investigating happiness as a universal
totality. This consideration leads me to a place that, according to marketing
claims and observations available in research, promises the greatest
happiness: the theme park.
One of the few places in Sweden that actually guarantees happiness is a
theme park called Liseberg. It is perhaps illustrative of our times, in which
practices of consumption interweave economics and emotions (Illouz
2007). What is interesting about theme parks is that a visit makes up an
almost mandatory experience of childhood. In Sweden alone, there are
millions of annual visitors to theme parks. Going to a theme park is
associated with positive values and expectations of happiness and a happy
childhood – which will be discussed in detail in this and the next chapter.
Visiting a theme park is an activity that in principle is voluntary, but it poses
questions about the requirements and challenges of a happy and good life
for children and families today.
Some people find theme park visits to be a trivial activity. It can be
considered something spectacular that takes place during a summer day and
then is easily forgotten. Is it really happiness that comes out of a visit to an
artificial place like a theme park? Throughout this book, I will highlight the
different ways in which theme park visits become an important part of life:
money is saved for these trips, they come with social and emotional
expectations, and the time of everyday life is organized around them. Is
happiness being created or not in and through these practices?
In previous research, several qualities of happiness have been identified that
become relevant in relation to family visits to a theme park: experiences,
emotions, social life, family relations, movement and aspirations, along
with challenges and disputable activities of consumption and services
provided by commercial companies. These matters make family theme park
visits into a particularly fruitful opportunity for exploring happiness along
with children. Are children actually happy, in a place where one can expect
them to be?
At first glance, theme park visits simultaneously open a window of
opportunity for understanding happiness, while at the same time closing
others: not all kinds of happiness seem to go with it. What kind of happiness
becomes possible in a popular place like the theme park today, in one of the
happiest countries on the planet? Is it the particular pleasures offered by
corporations within current capitalism, or a “natural” genuine and
meaningful happiness of childhood that transcends historical epochs?
Whether happiness is relevant in relation to consumption is a contested
matter. Here, I briefly outline how consumption is approached – in order to
avoid the risk of confusion about the arguments that will follow in the book,
which is important when it comes to such a contested notion.
One of the most influential sociologists of our time, Zygmunt Bauman
(2006: 6), suggests that happiness in consumer society involves a desire to
consume commodities that promise satisfaction, but that dissatisfaction is
in fact key for marketing practitioners in stimulating children’s “desire for
the new and redefining what preceded it as useless junk” (ibid.: 8f). In
Bauman’s view, children do not act as capable individuals, but are the
victims of corporate culture (ibid.: 9). Bauman’s argument is not unique
(Cieslik 2015: 428). It is similar to those suggesting that individuals believe
they are happy but are in fact being deceived as part of a wider order of
profit-making corporations, defined as consumer culture or capitalism (see
chapter 2 in this book).
Erling Bjurström (2004: 8) argues that consumption is often approached in
terms of passivity and that there is an idea that consumer society ruins the
ability to spontaneously play, and reduces creativity and happiness in
exploring the world. These ideas reflect what Bjurström calls strong societal
interests of protection that surround children and consumption. Bjurström
writes about the idea that children learn to consume as they grow, that they
are socialized to be consumers. How children become consumers involves
parenting and influential values, of what are and are not appropriate objects
of consumption, and what is tasteful, natural or artificial (Lupton 2013).3
In a wider sense, the notion of consumption has always had negative
connotations in its reference to destruction, in opposition to the
constructiveness of production (Löfgren 1996: 116; see also Williams 1983:
78f). The meaning of the term consumption does not highlight productivity.
At the same time, however, there is a relation between consumption and
production – the two are interrelated, as shown by Karl Marx, and outlined
by Yiannis Gabriel and Tim Lang (2008: 326) in that: “Every form of
production involves the consumption of resources and every type of
consumption results in some production, even if only waste.” During the
course of the 20th century, consumption turned into an arena of moral
lessons in the social sciences: “For sociology, consumption is the product
of social decay; for psychologists, the pathology of a malformed persona;
and for anthropologists, the loss of authentic culture” (Wilk 2001: 246f; see
also Miller 2001b).
While these observations concern material and interrelated aspects of
consumption and production, there are also productive symbolic or cultural
meanings associated with consumption. Even if material things are
destroyed, broken down, through practices of consumption, there might be
outcomes that nonetheless are generative: emotions, meanings, identities,
and discourses, to provide a few examples.
Lydia Martens et al. (2004) suggest that there has been little research regarding
consumption conducted with children and parents. The authors highlight the potential in
sociology for conducting such research.
Much of the concern regarding children and consumption has to do with
what corporations distribute in terms of products for consumption. This
highlights the interrelatedness of production and consumption within
capitalism as a system where profit-oriented companies are highly
influential in constituting the lives of children. The childhood of today is
described as a consumer capitalist childhood (Langer 2005). According to
Beryl Langer (2004: 256), childhood is now “constituted through the
market. The two are inseparable” (italics in original). It has been argued that
the expansion of capitalism occurs to a great extent “in childhood and, more
generally, by the means of play” (Ojajärvi 2001: 483). Childhood is
commodified (McKendrick et al. 2000: 296f; see also Katz 2008), and there
is an increasingly extensive cultural industry directed at children, including
theme parks and toys (Tyler 2009: 58). Toys are part of the “commodity
orientation” that children encounter in consumer societies (McAllister
2007: 256), and are significant for the “increasing expansion of capitalism”
(Kapur 2005b: 239). Gaile Sloan Cannella and Radhika Viruru (2004: 117f)
note that childhood has been colonized by capital and a belief in money and
power, excluding the potential for children to have a democratic voice.
Consumption, in the above observations, becomes an influential part of the
constitution of the lives of children, which is directed or strongly influenced
by corporations within a powerful order of capitalism.
This thesis is an exploration which recognizes that children are already
involved in consumption (Williams 2006: 138). Turning to happiness, I
investigate the ways in which consumption involves material things, and
how it makes sense as part of social relations, rather than ascribing to
explanations of “social decay” (Wilk 2001: 246f) or “moral decline”
(Hookway 2013) in general. In this thesis I approach consumption as a
productive part of children’s everyday lives and childhood (Arnould &
Thompson 2005; Heidegren 1995: 38f; Sparrman & Sandin 2012).4
Consumption is consequently part of a dialectical relationship. Researchers drawing on
Science and Technology Studies (STS) have highlighted the importance of relationships
between children and material things (e.g. Brembeck 2007; Ruckenstein 2010a; Sparrman
& Sandin 2012; Woolgar 2012). Allison James and Alan Prout (1997: xii) talk about an
“unproductive counterposition of the ‘material’ and the ‘social’.” Nick Lee (2008: 7)
suggests that “‘drawing the line’ between humans and non-humans is sometimes the least
informative analytic strategy.”
This part provides an introduction to the Swedish theme parks Astrid
Lindgren’s World (ALW) and Liseberg – the two venues which are
explored throughout this thesis. Starting with a brief overview of the history
of the parks, how they are operated, where they are located and who owns
them, I then move on inside of the entrances. I address similarities and
differences between ALW and Liseberg, by discussing attractions, stores,
and ticketing at the two parks. Based on these observations, I then elaborate
upon the notion of the family theme park. In the section that follows, the
children and their families are introduced, along with conceptualizations of
“their” parks – emphasizing the social importance of family as well as the
emotional role of the parks. Finally, I will focus on how children and parents
associate the parks with positive emotions and happiness.
The history of Liseberg begins with a jubilee exhibition in 1923, when the
city of Gothenburg celebrated 300 years since its founding (Öhnander 1998:
16). From the start, Liseberg included a funfair, an exhibition of flower
arrangements and performances by international artists (ibid.: 16).5
Liseberg was popular and profitable, and became a permanent institution.
Liseberg is located in the city of Gothenburg, which is the second largest
city in Sweden, with about one million inhabitants in the greater urban area.
It is one of the most popular theme parks in Europe, with about three million
visitors annually (Clavé 2007: 54; Liseberg 2011 2012). Liseberg is now
marketed as an amusement park. It tops the list of tourist destinations in
Sweden (Fakta om svensk turism 2010 2011: 40).
Gothenburg and its surroundings attract many tourists during the summer
months. It is a city on the west coast of Sweden, with rural coastal areas
close to the urban center. Most people come to visit Liseberg during the
summer. Visitors also come to Gothenburg for other reasons. In July, the
world-famous football tournament, the Gothia Cup, attracts thousands of
young people as participants. Besides taking part in this event, the
footballers are also offered a visit to the park as part of their time in
Gothenburg. There are other similar major events and conferences, where
people who go to Gothenburg include a visit to Liseberg as part of their time
in the city.
See also: ‘1923 – Lisipedia’, (accessed 18/06/15).
The Gothenburg municipality operates companies and supports events
which attract people to the city. In fact, the municipality is the sole owner
of Liseberg, and has been since the start (Öhnander 1998: 16, 22). Liseberg
is managed as a commercial enterprise with a board constituted of local
political representatives. The argument for involving politicians in the park
is that Liseberg belongs to the people of Gothenburg, from which political
representation follows.6
The aim and vision of Liseberg is to be the most loved meeting place in
Gothenburg and the most desirable destination in Sweden.7 On the Liseberg
park website, following this statement, there are five keywords, or words
expressing Liseberg’s key values: safety, care, quality, joy, and creativity.
These values are intended to run through the organization as well as being
expressed in how employees approach “the guests” who come to Liseberg.8
Astrid Lindgren’s World welcomes large numbers of consumers as “guests”
to the park, even though it is a smaller operation than Liseberg.9 ALW
attracts about half a million visitors annually and is the most popular theme
park focused on stage performances in Sweden. This theme park is located
in the rural town of Vimmerby in south-east Sweden, 250 kilometers due
east of Gothenburg. Vimmerby is the birthplace of the famous author Astrid
Lindgren (1907–2002), upon whose work the park is founded.10 A former
CEO of ALW, Joakim Karlén (2004: 96), writes that Astrid Lindgren’s
stories have given the park a gift to satisfy and please hundreds of thousands
of children each year.
‘Liseberg – Ägare och ägardirektiv’, (accessed 18/06/15).
‘Liseberg – Strategiskt ramverk’, (accessed 03/06/15).
Similar observations were made inside the park. In 2011, I found myself looking at a
notice board in one of the employee areas at Liseberg. Next to images of smiling
children, framed by an iconic-looking skyline of Liseberg, different qualities of the
organization are presented: joy, harmony, cooperation, open climate and community.
When employees begin their appointment at ALW they are informed about the
importance of seeing the visitors and seeing them as “guests”. Field notes (07/05/11).
She is the famous author of stories about Pippi Longstocking, Karlsson-on-the-Roof,
and the Six Bullerby Children (US: Children of Noisy Village). In Sweden there have
been repeated calls to award Lindgren the Nobel Prize in Literature. This reflects her
great popularity as an author, and her importance to Swedish literature.
ALW was founded by three families in 1981 as a small village of stories.11
Initially it was a non-profit operation. Following its growth, the park was
sold to a company in 1989 to develop into a professional and commercial
business-oriented theme park during the 1990s. During the last few decades,
ALW has turned into an increasingly popular and important tourist
destination. Some days 10 000 people come to visit ALW (Jonsson 2010:
19). Many of these travel to the park, and their numbers add noticeably to
the 8 000 people who reside in Vimmerby. ALW is now an important part
of the regional economy (Jonsson 2010: 12; Sjöholm 2009: 59).
From the beginning, various actors had a stake in the park, such as the three
families that set up and developed the play area, the municipality of
Vimmerby and several companies (Althén 2010). ALW is now a
commercial company with two stakeholders. The Vimmerby municipality
is a minority owner, with 12 percent of the shares. The remaining 88 percent
of the shares are controlled by the current majority owner Saltkråkan AB,
the company that possesses and manages the estate of the late Astrid
Lindgren. Saltkråkan AB aims to encourage a love of Lindgren’s stories.12
Accordingly, Astrid Lindgren’s World and Liseberg approach their
“guests” through positive cultural values and emotions. These notions can
be compared with how the Disney theme parks similarly use notions of
guests and even emphasize happiness (Sorkin 1992a: xv; Wing Yee Choi
2007).13 So, this raises the question: what do the guests meet as they arrive
at ALW and Liseberg?
Entering the parks
Cars, buses, trams and trains stop close to Liseberg. The park is located in
an area of Gothenburg where many people are on the move. Some visit the
large conference center across the street, others go to the hotels, museums,
or parking spaces outside. People live in apartment houses nearby, and
others are in the area to visit the shops and restaurants. Liseberg is not an
open space within the surrounding area, through which one can pass freely.
Entering the park requires people to pass through one of the two park
entrances. And to do that one needs a ticket. Fences, walls, and buildings
In Swedish: “sagoby”.
‘Lär känna Saltkråkan’, (accessed
Another similarity is that ALW and Liseberg were inspired by the layout of the Disney
theme parks (Karlén 2004; Strömberg 2007).
surround and protect the entirety of the park. From outside of the park,
looking into it, one sees bright colors and large ride attractions constructed
out of steel and wood mixed in with buildings and green spaces.
Figure 1:1: Liseberg main
gate. With the rabbit on
the visual display.
Figure 1:2: Entrance
to ALW.
Tickets for different purposes can be purchased on site when visiting
Liseberg. Some are just the entrance fee while others also include rides, like
the “golden” season ticket, which offers unlimited time in the attractions
throughout the year. By purchasing only an entrance ticket it is possible to
stroll around. At Liseberg, adults are allowed to ride some of the smaller
attractions without further payment when accompanying children for whom
the full cost of ride tickets has been paid. Liseberg has no particular family
tickets, but the pricing system encourages visitors to come in groups of
children and adults (Sparrman 2011).
Astrid Lindgren’s World promotes individual and family tickets. As at
Liseberg, there are daily tickets and those that include extensive periods of
time, from several days to an entire season. Some visitors bring printed
tickets, which they have bought online in advance, while others buy them
on location. This is the case at both ALW and Liseberg, where advance
purchase reduces the cost of tickets. At ALW, tens of euros, or several
hundred Swedish Krona (SEK) can be saved by buying a family ticket or
season tickets instead of single individual tickets for each child and adult.
ALW is surrounded by roads, parking spaces, a campsite, light industry and
green areas. There is a seasonal train station for theme park visitors within
walking distance of the entrance. A large sign featuring Pippi Longstocking,
the logo of ALW, marks the entrance. People who cross the gate into the
park pay for the entire content of the park. It is not possible to only visit
parts of ALW at a lower cost. This is similar to the Disney parks and theme
parks where the totality of the experience is emphasized (Gottdiener 1997:
Before getting inside ALW and Liseberg, people are required to pass
through entrance areas, where tickets can be purchased and must be
validated. Having scanned their tickets, children and parents enter the parks.
Some then make the attractions and theatrical performances their first stop,
while others visit stores, buy additional tickets for games and attractions, or
go to the restaurants. Entering the parks means arriving at places where
different activities are available that can be simultaneously fun and
Avoiding losing track of accompanying visitors can be a challenge at both
ALW and Liseberg. Just inside the entrances to the parks, it is possible to
get bracelets from employees. On these, parents can write the names of their
children along with their own cell phone numbers so that lost children can
be identified and returned. These bracelets suggest that the parks are used
to adults and children losing one another. Running children, exhausted
parents, and different ways of moving through the parks require attention
and communication about where to meet or how to find one another in such
Neither ALW nor Liseberg are cut off from ordinary practicalities: people
need to visit bathrooms, eat, change diapers, purchase drinks, and monitor
their energy levels, if a visit is to last. ALW and Liseberg have set up such
facilities (lavatories, restaurants and shops) all over the parks. Being large
operations that attract vast numbers of people during the high season in the
summer months means that people are spread out through the park. On some
occasions – during the midsummer celebration at ALW, and concerts at
Liseberg – people gather in larger numbers where the action is, sometimes
in the smallest parts of the park. In both of the parks visitors move between
different areas, and this involves leaving one attraction or theatrical
environment where stories are performed for the next. “Guests” walking
around also find in-between areas dominated by trees or concrete where it
is sometimes somewhat unclear what is taking place.
Both parks consist of large areas that are primarily open air. At Liseberg
there are buildings such as arcade halls and at ALW there are small-scale
houses. Both ALW and Liseberg stage theatrical performances. Liseberg
has a theatre stage where the famous brand character – the rabbit – performs
for a seated audience.
1:3: Pippi Longstocking’s house at ALW, with a sitting audience.
Astrid Lindgren’s World incorporates the stories of Astrid Lindgren. These
stories have been described as focusing on a trouble-free and nostalgic
childhood, going beyond the current concerns of everyday life (Janson
2007: 60–92). These stories are connected through the author Astrid
Lindgren and physically separated, spatially, in the park. Their separation
is visible in the way in which different areas are used for each story within
the park as a totality. Within each area there are theatrical environments
where performers take part in scripted plays by Astrid Lindgren as well as
more spontaneous actions together with children and adults. These activities
are central to what happens at ALW.
In contrast to Liseberg, there are no ride attractions like the Ferris wheel or
roller-coasters at ALW. There is also a reduction in the visibility of brands
at ALW, where soft drink producers, for example, not are allowed to display
as extensively as within Liseberg (see Strömberg 2007: 219). According to
the former park CEO, Mikael Ahlerup, it is possible to focus on and display
the stories in the park, without reducing sales.14 At Liseberg there are many
stores that display brands and attractions where the logos of (financially)
supporting companies are highly visible. Despite the difference in visibility,
both parks generate revenue from selling commodities of various kinds,
such as well-known soft drinks, candy, ice-cream, toys, clothes, printed
photos, etc. The food is different, however; Liseberg offers fast food like
hamburgers, while ALW focuses on traditional Swedish cuisine.
During the mid-1980s, Liseberg initiated a process focused on theming
(Strömberg 2007: 199). Following the investment in theming, inspired by
the design of the Disney parks, Liseberg now includes an area reminiscent
of small-city environments in Sweden during the 19th century (ibid.).
Recently (2013), a new themed area for children was established, in which
Liseberg’s own brand character, called “the rabbit” has its “home”.
Everything within this part of the park relates to stories about rabbits, and
there are visual elements such as carrots accompanying images, mascots
and other involvement of rabbits. Regardless of Liseberg’s incorporation of
themes and stories, the central attraction is still the rides, which are similar
to the ones that existed during the opening of the funfair in 1923, including
roller-coasters and merry-go-rounds.
The contents of ALW and Liseberg are diverse and have been constantly
changing over the years, at the same time as there is also a sense of tradition.
This is expressed in the way in which similar attractions and stories retain
their place in the parks over the years. While children and parents go to both
parks, there is generally an emphasis on younger visitors at ALW, where
the focus is mainly on children under the age of ten, according to the former
CEO Mikael Ahlerup (Sparrman 2011).
At Liseberg there are areas in the park where ride attractions are primarily
for younger/smaller children. There is now also a “happy child guarantee”
at Liseberg, introduced in 2013. This makes park visits a matter of
happiness, and especially so for children who are not yet taller than 140 cm.
Children who leave the park unhappy are not only a failure for visiting
families, but also for the park. An unsuccessful visit means the park offers
a new chance of happiness in the form of a second visit free of charge. Is
In the chapter Thingography, I return to this topic in discussing Pippi Longstocking’s
relation to brands and consumption. Drawing on this account, it can be argued that ALW
in its entirety is the location of a brand: Astrid Lindgren and Pippi Longstocking.
every child who does not make a complaint about their visit then by
definition happy?15 Are children the only ones who might be unhappy with
Before getting into how children and their parents discuss and conceptualize
the parks in their own emotional terms, and how they relate ALW and
Liseberg to happiness, I will turn to how ALW and Liseberg can be
understood as family theme parks, drawing on the notions of amusement
park and theme park.
Family theme parks
Modern amusement parks, where one pays admission to ride roller-coasters
and attractions, and postmodern theme parks that offer a full experience,
have been approached as different kinds of places in previous research. It is
suggested that they are different in terms of content and experiences.
Amusement parks focus on attractions such as roller-coasters that affect the
body, while theme parks emphasize environments and more mindful
experiences, including various entertaining activities (Clavé 2007: 25;
Davis 1997: 22; Lukas 2008: 37, 133; Mitrašinović 2006: 27f; Nasaw 1999:
254; Yoshimoto 1994: 185f).16
Liseberg diverges from these previous notions in that it incorporates themed
environments in what is marketed as an amusement park (Cardell 2013b;
Strömberg 2007). What is relevant here is that both Astrid Lindgren’s
World and Liseberg relate to the notion of theme park in terms of content.
Both ALW and Liseberg include theatrical characters, and environments
that build on stories where visitors experience interaction with characters.
What does theming mean here, in the context of the theme park? My
conceptualization of theme and theming draws on Mark Paterson’s (2006:
72) discussion of and distinction between amusement parks and theme
parks. The former is a collection of loosely related components of
entertainment, while theme parks are about a thematic environment in
Early in the summer season of 2013, in late May, only eight children had been involved
in applications to receive the guarantee – getting the chance of a new visit. This is
according to Annika Palm, the Liseberg quality director (30/05/13).
It is rare to find concepts that bring these parks together, and to do so in an extended
way. Malene Gram (2005a) speaks of Fun Parks, but does not develop the concept
further, leaving the question of fun for further consideration.
which parts of the park are integrated with each other. At Astrid Lindgren’s
World and Liseberg there are different themes running through areas of the
parks: the authorship of Astrid Lindgren throughout ALW, and the rabbit as
part of various attractions and areas at Liseberg. Liseberg integrates its
brand character – the rabbit – into various parts of the park: it is displayed
on signs, on ride attractions, on trash bins and flags. Consequently, Liseberg
is not only a modern amusement park.17 Its roller-coasters, alongside the
incorporation of stories and characters, makes it possible to use different
terms such as amusement park, theme park and a themed amusement park
to describe the place (cf. Cardell 2013b; Wong & Cheung 1999: 320). There
are no roller-coasters in the stories of Astrid Lindgren, and this becomes
important at ALW, where the content follows the authorship and stories.
The mix of people at Liseberg includes a wide spectrum: families, groups
of young people, concert audiences, groups of senior citizens taking part in
dancing lessons, and adults who are there to drink a beer after work, as well
as lone adults strolling around. Astrid Lindgren’s World is more visibly
centered on families in the sense that people move around in small groups
consisting of children and adults/parents.
The wide meaning of the notion of theme park makes it relevant as an
umbrella term for both ALW and Liseberg. However, the parks have
something more in common. Both parks attract families. They include
attractions and stories that are directed towards both children and adults. In
this study, children and their parents visit ALW and Liseberg as “families”.
Liseberg presented itself as “the family park” in the early 1980s. 18 Within
this study, this notion makes sense. By adding family as a prefix to theme
park it is possible to capture the ambitions among children and their parents
in this study to visit ALW and Liseberg as a family group.19
At times, ALW has also used the notion of theater park. This has to do both with the
content of the park, which is centered on theatrical environments, and the possibility of
reducing costs by navigating the different rates of the Swedish taxation system (Cardell
2013b). How a park is defined can thus be of financial importance, with consequences for
income and profits.
See park map, 1982, available in the collections of photos on the Liseberg Facebook
page. Jonas Persson (1996: 111) describes Liseberg in terms of popular family
The family has been identified as the target group of theme parks, in discussions of
Disney (Forgacs 1992). Here it is not target groups that are the main concern, but actual
This book is not a study that points to the idea that adults chase the greatest
thrills on their own, or where children are supposed to be alone. The
importance assigned to “family” during visits to both parks is an observation
that I will return to throughout the book. How do children and parents
conceptualize the parks that they visit? How do they do family?
Children, families, and their parks
The notions of amusement park and theme park are not necessarily used by
the children or parents who are part of this study. They speak about the parks
using their names: Astrid Lindgren’s World and Liseberg. In addition to
these familiar names, children provide their own concepts and meanings
that identify who the park is for, making the places relevant to themselves
and their families.
Talking about ALW, Eric (age 6) and Jacob (age 4) and their parents Tony
and Gill refer to “Pippiland”, the land of Pippi Longstocking. While several
stories by Astrid Lindgren are available in the park, one is more important
to them than the others, namely Pippi Longstocking. Their renaming of
ALW as Pippiland does not mean that they are not interested in the other
parts, but that Pippi Longstocking is the main focus for the family as they
discuss the park and prepare and plan their summer activities.
Felicia (age 11) describes Liseberg as “a real park”, after having listed its
ingredients, including ride attractions, stages and the theater. Her father,
Björn, uses the notion of Liseberg as Felicia and Emma’s (age 15)
“backyard”, speaking about how it has been an important place for his two
daughters over the years. Felicia tells me that she and her sister find their
way around in the park better than they do at home, in their own rooms.
Björn and his wife Lisa speak of the commercial side of Liseberg as
something that is “too much”. They are not talking about the costs as such,
for their family, but about the inclusion of more and more spectacular
attractions in the park that are there to attract customers. The problems
involved with Liseberg have not stopped their family from visiting the park
over several years, however. They invest money in entrance tickets and
unlimited rides through a “golden ticket” to get the full experience of rollercoasters, stage shows and concerts, as well as the environment of the park.
Tove (age 9), just like Felicia and Emma’s father, also speaks of Liseberg
as her “backyard”. She knows it as well as her hip pocket. She visits the
park about once a month during the summer, and according to Tove and her
parents it is an extension of their family living room. Liseberg functions as
their garden and a fun backyard for Tove. Tove tells me that Liseberg is for
everyone, regardless of age. This does not necessarily mean that the family
enjoys everything together in the park. Karin, Tove’s mother, tells me that
she enjoys walking around and watching people while Tove’s father Johan
is not very interested in the park or its attractions. “It was so boring before
the iPhone,” Johan tells me, describing how he spends time surfing the web
when he accompanies Tove to Liseberg.
Anne, mother of Rebecca (age 11), speaks of Astrid Lindgren’s World as
“really being a family park”, which is not only about children but also offers
things that are “fun” for the parents. That ALW is for everyone is also the
opinion of Frank, the father of Emil (age 6). He does not use the notion of
family park, but says that ALW is relevant regardless of age, and for their
family. The same goes for Liseberg. Frida, the mother of Robin (age 4) and
Jimmy (age 9 months), tells me that there is something for everyone at
Liseberg. Mårten, the family’s father, says that they will visit the park more
often as their children get older.
From a visitor’s perspective, the parks are established under the names
“Pippiland”, “real park”, “backyard”, as places that can be “boring” and
“too much”. These notions suggest that parks are reviewed in their totality
and in parts, in relation to the different visitors within families. While a park
can be appreciated by children, it can be less interesting to parents. This,
however, does not stop repeated visits to the parks that include children and
their parents. Regardless of how the parks are given names, described in
positive and/or negative terms, the role of the family is emphasized in
relation to the visits. Children visit ALW and/or Liseberg with their
families. And parents put money and effort into the visits, by paying for
tickets and by preparing for the visits in a practical way.
Tickets, money, and cell phones are brought to the parks, along with
additional clothing that can be handy during sudden rainfalls. Parents keep
cameras ready for the park visits, charging batteries at home, ensuring that
the time with their children can be documented. Parents pack bags with food
for lunch and cookies and drinks for “fika”, which is a relaxing time of
indulging in coffee or soft drinks with a snack. For some, like Björn and his
family, it has become a tradition to make their picnic food for Liseberg.
The preparation of food and “fika” at home has a possible benefit: reducing
time spent queuing at the food outlets, if people prefer a meal during lunch
or dinner hours. It also reduces costs in the parks. Families who travel to the
parks by car or train, staying at a hotel, and purchasing food and souvenirs
(toys and clothes) in the parks count their expenses in hundreds of euros.
Several parents – like Sven and Mathilda, and Lena – make budget
calculations before going to the parks. Parents highlight that it is expensive
to go to Astrid Lindgren’s World and Liseberg, mentioning sums between
150 and 400 €. For Sven, the estimated sum of 150 € includes tickets and
the park visit but not the hotel stay. The 400 € that Lena estimates as the
total cost of the visit to Gothenburg includes shopping besides Liseberg. In
retrospect, however, none of the parents is able to specify costs in exact
numbers, only to provide estimates.
Families living closer to the parks spend smaller amounts during visits, but
go there more frequently. Families holding annual tickets do not necessarily
spend more than 10 € on a visit. This might include, for example, some
lottery tickets and a drink, on top of the “fika” they have brought along from
home. This is the case for Ulrika, the mother of Christopher (age 9) and
John (age 7). The boys hold season tickets and frequently visit ALW. Ulrika
tells me that the visits are expensive and “would not be possible” if she had
to pay for each visit separately.
These examples show that ALW and Liseberg are important for children
and have a personal relevance to them. Parents either find the parks equally
interesting or suggest that they are important places for their children. Visits
imply a commitment by parents, including preparations, planning their
finances and providing money for visits. A lot of effort is put into
accomplishing these visits why it is in place to ask what a visit does imply
to children and parents, in terms of happiness and desirable emotions.
Happy accounts
Happiness was not my initial focus; I began by looking at children and
popular places of consumption. Positive accounts among children and
parents during my fieldwork, however, made it evident that happiness runs
through the consumption of theme parks. And this generates thoughtprovoking questions about happiness – from practice to theory. A turn to
practice opens up space for explorations of these differences and the
multiplicity of happiness, during park visits and the everyday lives of
Happiness is widely emphasized in studies of theme parks, suggesting that
Disney parks are associated with “positive values” of family and innocence
(Best & Lowney 2009: 443), “the good old days” (Philips 2002: 35), fun,
happiness, fantasy, childhood and nostalgia, and that they relate their
offerings to “the needs of middle-class America” (Cross & Walton 2005:
201). These observations primarily concern happiness as a matter for
corporations and their employees, rather than children, families and
Emotional management has been a topic in studies of organizations,
including Disney. This type of management concerns how corporations
develop strategies for their employees, and how to approach consumers in
positive ways. Smiling has become important (Hochschild 2003:128) and
theme park research shows that emotional management among employees
to ensure that they appear happy is central (Raz 2002a: 184; Van Maanen
1992; see also Gram 2005b). So what is the deal with happiness here? Is it
possible to find similarities with how children and parents are involved with
People of different ages, living in different parts of the country, emphasize
the positive emotional significance of Astrid Lindgren’s World and
Liseberg. The father Björn is one of the more verbal parents in this study,
and he has put a great deal of thought into the visits to Liseberg. In
describing the park, he speaks about its atmosphere, and that it is a place of
gladness, happiness and dreams; a place where “everyone is happy”.
Björn’s daughter Felicia (11) tells me that the atmosphere of Liseberg
makes her glad and bouncy, “from the moment you enter the gate”. Fouryear-old Jacob, when he is asked about ALW and what his previous
impressions are, explains to me and his mother Gill that “it felt very nice”
to be in the park.
1:4: Ad for Liseberg, outside ALW – suggesting that those
interested in fun activities will enjoy Liseberg. The Liseberg rabbit
is at the bottom of the ad.
Happiness and positive emotions turn into a natural matter that is beyond
the need or possibility of explanation or elaboration: one simply is, or
becomes, happy by going to ALW and Liseberg. And this is good enough
for the families. There is no fuss over meanings or definitions.
How to make sense of happiness or the meaning of positive or great feelings
is not something that bothers the children and parents who spend time at
ALW and Liseberg. There are no references to dictionary definitions or
other explanations available in theoretical texts. Children speak about being
there, feeling good and being instantly happy. This highlights happiness as
natural and contagious, something one catches by being in the right place.
It is as though the entire park – ALW or Liseberg – naturally offers positive
A tricky challenge posed by the notion of happiness and related terms of
positive emotions is definition. The debate about the concept of happiness
has a history stretching back over many centuries (McMahon 2006). Are
there any challenges to the idea of happiness as natural and contagious here?
There are episodes from my fieldwork which suggest that happiness
involves work and that it does not necessarily come easily – as a guarantee
when entering the parks.
During one of my visits to Astrid Lindgren’s World, I overhear a man
saying to a girl who is perhaps five years old: “Come on Moa, some happy
expressions”20. It is as though she is being asked by the adult man
accompanying her to manage happiness, individually, so as to satisfy him.
Whether the young girl becomes happy, expresses happiness, or ignores the
call for emotional change is undocumented, and unclear to me.
The example above is of theoretical interest because it concerns the issue of
what happiness might look like. Is it observable? Is it visible on the bodily
surfaces of people, through the face perhaps? Or is happiness hidden under
the skin, found inside individuals? Regardless, the man who calls for happy
expressions seems convinced that emotions are subjects to be managed and
that they can be observed. Thus they become a plastic matter that
individuals are able to work on. It is about moving towards something
desirable, away from the undesirable. It involves emotions as a matter of
appearance: to look (happy) is to be (happy).
According to such an approach, where happiness is a readable surface, it
can both be observed and accomplished visually. This emphasizes the social
character of happiness, making it a matter of control and emotional
management. This is what the unknown man is pointing to in suggesting
that (un)happiness can be observed socially and visually, and managed
In reviewing park visits, children do not only speak about positive
experiences and things that concern happiness. They also point out
attractions that are boring. Also, there is fear involved in the visits. Henrik
(age 9) finds an attraction at Liseberg boring and tells me about friends who
have left the park scared of the rabbit mascots after being chased by them.
Thea (age 5), the sister of Leo (age 9), tells me that she became scared of
the rabbits’ big teeth when she met them in the park. Still, she went on
hugging them. Casper (age 6) tells me that he felt a bit sad when another
boat in the water attraction at Liseberg crashed into his. Tina (age 6) and
her brother Pierre (age 4) speak about what is fun and cool, and what is
Park visit: 22/06/11.
scary at ALW. Losing sight of his parents is a problem for Pierre, and Tina
tells me that Pierre was crying and required comfort from his mother.
Children are positive about the totality of their visits to ALW and Liseberg.
They focus on what was good in the park – fun, exciting, and scary in a
challenging and positive way. While there are challenges and problems,
none of the children or parents tell me that they would not go again. Many
are already looking forward to future visits, recalling their past experiences.
In the accounts of positive emotions and happiness presented and discussed
here, there are different ideas about happiness at play. There are those that
focus on ALW and Liseberg as places of happiness, giving it a natural and
contagious character. Others call for happiness by making verbal demands.
This suggests a social and manageable take on happiness. Together, it
suggests that there is no all-encompassing paradigm of happiness. Instead,
there are connections with several and different ideas about happiness in
theoretical accounts and in how the parks are operated by emotional
management among employees.
It is not time to outline the aims and questions of this study.
The principal aim of this study is to critically examine and challenge
prevalent ideas about happiness and childhood through an exploration of
practices. The study provides an understanding of happiness that is attuned
to its nitty-gritty existence in a social and material world. By carrying out
an ethnographic study that focuses on children’s practices and family visits
to theme parks, I consider happiness and childhood.
My principal aim benefits from the exploratory approach, which focuses on
practices, and it creates the foundations for advancing the understanding of
happiness. This will be evident when I engage in thinking about enactments
of happiness along with notions of complexity and multiplicity. One
characteristic of happiness in previous accounts is that there are noncompatible and co-existing notions. These, I argue, can work as a resource
rather than an obstacle in approaching enactments of happiness.
The aim of this thesis is also to develop an understanding of what theme
park visits are about, in a wide sense. Why do children go there? How do
they use theme parks? Why do they visit theme parks with their families?
Childhood, consumption and the leisure time of children and families is
currently a matter that concerns researchers, policy-makers and political
activists world-wide. Happiness and well-being are on the agenda, to say
the least. It is a matter that engages many people and about which many
have an opinion.
To connect children’s practices and park visits with the topic of happiness,
I pose questions that help in exploring issues that are both intimately
associated with, and contested in terms of, happiness: material things,
consumption, time, childhood, and family life. These guiding questions
provide a challenge to existing studies on theme parks that either appraise
or deny happiness as part of consumption and consumer society. They also
add to the limited literature on children, childhood and family life, with
regards to happiness in practice.
☻ How and why do material things from theme parks interest children?
How do they become interwoven with children’s everyday lives at
home? Do commercial products and brands enact intimacy and
☻ How can notions of happiness be enacted through money? What do
notions of happiness tell us about the value of money in the
consumption of theme parks?
☻ In what ways is family life involved with happiness in theme parks?
By whom, when and where is it enacted?
☻ In what ways are time and age important? Does childhood have a
role in the enactment of happiness?
The questions above have in common that they are attentive to what
children and their families do, and thereby offer insight into issues of
happiness and beyond. In the end, I hope that this book will provide thoughtprovoking insights on happiness, in ways that lead to a greater focus on the
challenges of happiness, are attentive to the complexities of practice, and
that do not depart from the everyday lives of children and their families. It
might – I suggest – open up the possibility of a turn away from moralism
and some of the currently influential political arguments regarding
happiness, to the possibility of an empirically and theoretically informed
politics that takes children seriously.
The above questions are addressed in the analytical chapters and lead to
more general questions that will be addressed at the end of this book: Do
children really become happy when they visit a park for a couple of hours
or days? Does happiness exist in theme parks? Does happiness exist at all?
In the next section I outline structure of the thesis.
In total, this book includes nine chapters, of which this introduction is the
first. The following gives a brief overview of what awaits the reader in each
of the chapters to come:
Chapter 2 – Models of happiness – explores previous research on happiness,
which includes theoretical writing, survey studies, and observations in
relation to childhood, family and theme parks. I offer insights into models
of happiness that involve children and adults in different ways: as
individuals, as part of relationships, and as groups; suggesting also that
happiness is conceptualized in ways that create a division between desirable
qualities and undesirable illusions.
Chapter 3 – A meshwork of happiness – lays out the theoretical approach. I
outline the problems associated with previous models in terms of linear
movement and leap-frogging to happiness in which nitty-gritty matters of
happiness have been set aside. The notions of enactment, wayfaring and
meshwork emphasize entanglement and, I argue, provides an approach for
exploring happiness as multiplicity, in a social and material world that is
marked by complexity.
Chapter 4 – Ethnographizing happiness – outlines the methodology. There
is a discussion of how I recruited children and families, the selection of two
parks for fieldwork and the challenges of conducting ethnographic work and
analytical procedures. There is a presentation of themes in the chapters to
come. In the last part I point to how multiplicity can be presented and
explored through snapshot-stories, which provide insights into theme park
visits and everyday life.
Chapter 5 – Thingography: material intimacy – is about the consumption of
material things, and how brands become involved at home in the everyday
lives of children. I address how children and their families make theme
parks into more than just tourist destinations, as vivid and intimate
components of their lives in a wide sense. This chapter draws attention to
political issues of consumption and its consequences in terms of emotions.
Chapter 6 – Valuography: money – focuses on children’s access to money
and how money is associated with different values. I explore how money is
interrelated with values, in a wide sense, to develop a contribution that is
relevant to the study of children and consumption as well as happiness
studies. There have been calls for further research on children and money
and this chapter contributes to developing such knowledge.
Chapter 7 – Co-ordiography: park visits – focuses on Astrid Lindgren’s
World and Liseberg in exploring the importance of family during park
visits. I investigate what visiting theme parks with a family implies and
develop new concepts that capture the shifting and dynamic role of
togetherness, which adds to tourism and theme park studies, and family
Chapter 8 – Chronography: time and childhood – explores time and
happiness and focuses on what takes place in the parks, but also includes
childhood-related accounts of upcoming park visits. The chapter contributes
to childhood studies with a critical treatise on heterogeneous time.
Chapter 9 – Happy-faring – is the final chapter, which focuses on happiness
and consumption. In hindsight, and looking back on previous analyses, I
argue that the concepts of “mess” and practice help in thinking further about
capitalism, politics, childhood, and family life, and their entanglements with
It is now time to move on to previous accounts of happiness, mapping out
its shifting meanings through a review of the available research.
In this chapter, I explore ideas and approaches to happiness in various fields
of research, including psychology, economics, sociology, anthropology,
critical theory, and philosophy as well as in childhood studies, research on
family life and theme parks. Contributions to these fields of inquiry provide
a basis for what I call models of happiness. Based on the notion of a
“model”, I outline: a descriptive summary that points to patterns of
happiness in research on the subject, “that is put forward as a basis for
calculations, predictions, or further investigation,” and that recognizes that
last year’s model might be replaced by a new one – i.e. history counts.21
This chapter introduces accounts of happiness, including those that outline
opportunities for achieving it as a state of life, as an emotion, and
approaches that highlight the social and contested roles of happiness – that
involve oppression and power and issues that run counter to notions of a
good life. The point here is to offer a palette of different notions that will be
useful for further explorations in the upcoming chapters rather than to
suggest that one model, and one model only, is superior. I will therefore
highlight similarities and differences between models and introduce key
references along the way, from scholarly arguments to a few clear-cut selfhelp books that are informative in their definitions of happiness.
I am interested in happiness that is relevant to people in the present, who
contribute ethnographically to this study as participants. This means that I
focus on models of happiness that are relevant for children who consume
theme parks and do so with their families.
Initially, I briefly discuss notions of happiness in English and Swedish. I
then consider notions of happiness as luck and chance. I then move on to
how happiness has been approached as a rational project that involves
individuals in a mass of happiness – a wide body of people, of societies and
also ideologies. The second part concerns the ways in which happiness is
located in times of childhood and family life as well as in theme park visits.
Finally, there is a discussion of how to move forward, taking previous
OED, second edition, (accessed 16/08/15).
contributions and the problems with previous approaches to happiness into
This first part aims to provide insight into various notions which are useful
for grasping happiness at large and the wide scope of this concept. I am not
presenting a model of happiness here; this is rather an introductory
discussion that provides a basis for the models to come.
Reading books and articles on happiness it is clear that there are many
notions that circulate in conversations and theoretical reasoning – with more
than 15 available in English alone (Stearns 2012a: 15f). In English, the
notion of happiness is also associated with other notions, including: “joy,
elation, enthusiasm, effervescence—in contrast to disappointment,
dreariness, and depression” (Collins 2004: 107). The concept of happiness
further relates to cheerfulness, warmth, and vitality; it involves light, and
stands in opposition to darkness and sadness (Kövecses 1991). In the
Swedish language, happiness translates to “lycka” and also goes with
similar notions such as “glädje, välbefinnande, framgång, medgång, sällhet”
and “eufori” (Jacquemot 2009: 45). In Sweden, the English words “happy”
and “happiness” are observable in the marketing of products and services
and are also used in social media. In research, happiness is accompanied by
notions of life satisfaction (Francis 2011), subjective well-being (Diener
2000), well-being and quality of life (Ben-Arieh et al. 2014; Nordenfelt
1993: 7).
These notions, in two different languages, suggest that happiness is relevant
as an emotion and as a matter of greater meaning throughout extensive
periods of life, or life in its totality. As such, happiness is associated with
arousal, having a good life, being successful, and feeling well. Some of
these positive meanings of happiness contradict the previously outlined
notion of consumption. As will be shown, consumption has a recurring
presence in discussions of happiness and in theme park research, and is also
central to the practices of children and their families in this study.
The first happiness model I want to present is the luck and chance model.
This model builds on the etymology of happiness, and its Old Norse root
happ. Happ emphasizes fortune, luck, and also an uncertainty that is visible
in the term perhaps (McMahon 2006: 10f; Norberg 2009: 34). In several
languages there is a relation between happiness and luck and to be lucky
(Bok 2011: 22f). Etymologically, happ is not necessarily good (Duncan
2013: 4). Happiness here is beyond the control of the individual or people
in a wider sense. To formulate it differently: there are no recipes or
guarantees for happiness. It is something that can turn up, unexpectedly, and
which comes to humans from outside.
Sigmund Freud emphasizes the brief and haphazard character of happiness
(Bok 2011: 53), which contrasts with current models of happiness that
emphasize rational individual strategies as a path towards happiness. This
model of happiness is therefore likely to disappoint people in search of
recipes, with the intention of mapping out a way towards happiness.
Happiness is beyond human control and is a matter of uncertain
Sara Ahmed (2011: 162) suggests that happiness today is commonly
approached as “a reward for hard work, rather than being ‘simply’ what
happens to you” (see also Thin 2012: 37). This observation suggests that the
etymological significance of happ has been downplayed.
In current research, there are few accounts that go with this model of
happiness as chance. This might have to do with aspirations of finding
explanations and understanding systems, excluding chance as something
irrational, or calling for more rational explanations than the idea that
humans live under circumstances of luck, being lucky or unlucky. One
example of where luck appears is Allison J. Pugh’s (2004) study of lowincome families in the USA, for whom money is associated with luck rather
than being something that one earns. The ability to access money is
consequently not a reward for work but rather a matter of being lucky.
In the three models that are outlined below it is suggested that happiness
involves individual efforts and responsibilities, rather than what happens by
chance (Ahmed 2010a: 10; Burnett 2012). In this part I approach research
and writing on happiness through models of happiness that can be
summarized as the mass. The concept of the mass was developed during the
20th century, and has been used as a prefix for culture, the media and in
politics and discussions of aesthetics (e.g. Bolin 2014; Cook 1996). It
highlights that people in great numbers – in society as a totality, or in groups
– belong to an order that is either desirable and positive or flawed by
ideology and in need of change (Reeh 2005: 94f). The point here is that even
models of happiness that focus on the individual make sense in terms of the
mass – offering recipes of happiness to people, universally, in great
numbers: “The few are individuals; the many are the mass” (Bauman 2001:
102, italics in original). The concept of the mass might seem abstract at first.
My argument, however, is that it summarizes many approaches to
happiness: stretching from a focus on subjective well-being to political
approaches to collective change.
Throughout this part of the chapter, I outline how happiness has been
approached as a mass-matter: something to be controlled among individuals
and groups in societies, and also as offering a different quality of life that is
associated with knowledge and freedom.
Artificial vs. authentic
In this section I turn to the division of the artificial versus the authentic that
for a long time has been symptomatic of approaches to happiness. Much
writing on happiness today provides dual conceptions: one of superficial
happiness, and one of true happiness (Cederström & Spicer 2015: 67f). The
former provides the background to the latter in self-help books, as well as
in influential scholarly works, when it is time to introduce new and proper
ideas about what happiness is and what it should be. In this way of thinking
about happiness, humans buy into artificial happiness, and miss the goal of
true or authentic happiness, which is available if one makes the right choices
and chooses the right path.
The artificial vs. authentic model of happiness is possible to observe in titles
which suggest that there are types of happiness that contrast with each other,
being either natural and authentic or artificial and superficial. The
influential book Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman (2002) captures
this focus on various alternatives, where the authentic is seen as
preferable.22 It is central in assumptions of a distance between science and
what people believe, as exemplified in the question: “if money doesn’t buy
happiness, why do people act as though it does?” (Ahuvia 2008: 492).
Since its publication, positive psychology has gained increased funding in research
(Binkley 2014: 24f).
Grant Duncan (2013: 7f) notes that there is an anti-materialist discourse of
happiness, suggesting that there is an unsustainable pursuit of happiness
within capitalism; involving arguments traceable back to “the roots of
Romanticism”. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (1997[1944]: 153,
158), in their highly influential mid-20th century critique of the development
of the culture industry, argue that consumers are provided with an
increasing amount of entertainment, which offers them an escape from
everyday life, but at the cost of spontaneity, fantasy and happiness. The
consumption of entertainment is thus related to effects, spectacular matters
and control, rather than providing freedom, reasoning and free thinking –
central reference points and aspirational goals in the critical theory of
Adorno and Horkheimer. According to these authors, the culture industry
and entertainments work to dominate or control the people as a mass,
leaving them with mechanical happiness (ibid.: 154, 179). The robot-like
character of happiness has been further criticized during the 20th century by
other scholars, including C. Wright Mills (Binkley 2014). Horkheimer and
Adorno (1997[1944]) emphasize contemplation and thought as paths
toward true happiness (for more on happiness and effort, see Adorno &
Horkheimer 2011).
Today, there is no shortage of arguments about the problems of materialism
and consumption, in work where scholars and commentators suggest
desirable alternative routes to happiness – focused on activities and the mind
rather than material possessions. In a book critical of extensive
consumption, Ed Mayo and Agnes Nairn (2009: 122) argue that it “is not
hard to work out that children are happier and healthier when they have
opportunities for free and unstructured play anywhere outdoors.” In
contrast, the authors claim that the selling of happiness as part of
commercial culture is “programmed to ultimately disappoint” (ibid.: 209).
According to Sue Palmer (2006: 231), consumption only provides a brief
and irrelevant moment of happiness. This is also exemplified in Frank
Furedi’s (2006) argument that “happiness cannot be manufactured and
standardized like Happy Meals.” The same goes for Susan Linn (2008: 4,
15), who adds that there is no correlation between purchases and happiness.
Similar arguments can be found in the public campaigns of the group Action
for Happiness, proposing that it is time to “reclaim happiness”, and that
commercial happiness is not authentic – but that there are alternatives to this
in how people live their lives.23
Accordingly, certain matters create the illusion of happiness, like
consumption and religious belief (Bok 2011: 171; McMahon 2006: 391). In
a socialist view of happiness: “The capitalist mode of production and its
social relations distort and alienate human life, setting up false expectations
of happiness, and causing unhappiness – while a genuine happiness-tocome awaits us in a more democratic socialist order” (Duncan 2007: 89).
The socialist approach has parallels with current liberal approaches in its
formulations of happiness – but their targets differ. A socialist solution is to
change society for the sake of happiness.
To summarize, happiness in the model outlined above is a matter and a goal
that is achievable through knowledge, effort and undertaking the right
activities within many available alternatives. The idea is that knowledge and
action make happiness possible; suggesting that happiness can deceive but
is desirable. Real or authentic happiness here contrasts with artificial
happiness (Duncan 2007: 89). In the next part I go into details about
approaches that focus on individual solutions – available in much current
research and many self-help books. As noted above, these also provide (at
least) two alternatives: authentic happiness versus distractions.
Individual orientations
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2002: 24), an influential professor of positive
psychology, argues that: “A person can make himself happy, or miserable,
regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the
contents of consciousness.” Paul Dolan (2015: 101), another leading scholar
of happiness in behavioral science, suggests that individuals can increase
their happiness by: “deciding to pay attention to what makes you happy.”
Much writing on happiness includes the path outlined above toward
happiness as an endpoint (Ahmed 2010a), illustrated in book titles that
outline routes toward happiness (Bok 2011: 14). This is exemplified in the
subtitle of Csikszentmihalyi’s (2002) book Flow: The classic work on how
to achieve happiness. Dolan (2015: 46f) outlines this movement toward
happiness as a production process with inputs that convert into happiness.
‘International Day of Happiness’, (accessed
The possibility of happiness is often emphasized in popular psychology –
in books by researchers, journalists, and professionals as well as in popular
culture (Binkley 2014; Hyman 2014b). These widely available accounts
suggest that there are individual opportunities for happiness. There are texts
that are reminiscent of recipes – do “this” and “that” and increase your
happiness; proposing that happiness is an achievable matter. It is also quite
a democratic approach in the sense that it is widely available – for everyone
who follows the right way (ibid.).24 As an individualistic model, it focuses
on the ways in which individuals can become happy. Society is less of a
Many current arguments follow a line of thought in which happiness is
desirable and can be possessed by individuals (Binkley 2014). Here,
happiness turns into what has been called a matter of possessive
individualism, where feelings and capacities “have nothing to do with
society or context” but are under the ownership of individuals (Morgan
2014: 228). In this scenario, happiness is crafted by an autonomous
individual, captured in the Swedish expression “sin egen lyckas smed” –
you are the creator of your own happiness.
This is the most scaled-down model, in terms of involving only linear
movement toward happiness as a desirable goal for individuals. The
individual in this case becomes an entity, a universal figure that is
unaffected by material, social or cultural aspects. This is compatible with
the suggestion that happiness today: “has acquired a private subjective
meaning, [that] largely [has] to do with good feelings” (Duncan 2007: 87).
According to Laura Hyman (2014a: 1), happiness is traditionally viewed as
a matter for the individual, being private, rather than part of sociological
domains. Recently, however, the individual approach to happiness has faced
Neil Thin (2012: 69) suggests that the focus on happiness has been too much
about individuals. Scholars with an interest in reigning approaches to
happiness have critically examined the background and motives of current
happiness and its location within commercial culture and governance (e.g.
Binkley 2014; Cederström & Spicer 2015; Davies 2015). Providing an
analysis of politics in Europe and the USA, Simon Burnett (2012) argues
that an individual utilitarianism of happiness has become influential,
Critical commentators, however, suggest that “trying to be happy is a recipe for
unhappiness” (Blackshaw 2013: 358; see also Ehrenreich 2011).
meaning that people are made individually responsible for their pursuit of
happiness, and for maximizing it. The importance of society and its
institutions is consequently limited, and unhappy people have only
themselves to blame (ibid.: 73f). The realization of the happy subject, Homo
happicus, is “becoming inculcated in nigh on every facet of our cultural
reality” (ibid.: 44). Homo happicus, according to Burnett, is part of the
aspirations of politicians, organizations and individuals, while
responsibility is associated with the individual – within a neoliberal order
of governmentality (see also Binkley 2014). This suggests that the
individual becomes responsible for happiness as a consequence of politics
and of how society is organized.
To summarize, happiness, in this somewhat contested model, is desirable
and a modifiable property of individuals. If one subscribes to this approach
– exemplified by Csikszentmihalyi (2002) – where the individual possesses
happiness, with little or no influence from culture or society, there is no
point in investigating happiness further beyond asking the people who
possess smaller or larger amounts of it where they are on a scale, measuring
its quantity among a mass of individuals (Binkley 2014: 40).
Aggregated values
This model involves quantitative studies, which have been influential in a
field that has grown during the last decade within the social sciences, and is
now called the “science of happiness” (Fors 2012b: 29f), or “happiness
studies” (Brülde 2007: 17). It is concerned with the value of happiness and
economics – sometimes described as “happinomics”, the economics of
happiness. The benefit of an approach that views happiness as measurable
is emphasized by some researchers. In The World Happiness Report (Sachs
2012: 6) it is argued that:
A generation of studies by psychologists, economists, pollsters,
sociologists, and others has shown that happiness, though indeed
a subjective experience, can be objectively measured, assessed,
correlated with observable brain functions, and related to the
characteristics of an individual and the society. Asking people
whether they are happy, or satisfied with their lives, offers important
information about the society. It can signal underlying crises or
hidden strengths. It can suggest the need for change.
This quotation neatly summarizes the approach to happiness as aggregated
values, in its focus on measurements, using different methods but with a
common orientation to the relation of happiness as a numerical matter to
different bodies – individuals, groups, and societies. As exemplified in this
quote, aggregated values provide a model that assists in making arguments
for what a happy society is.
Happiness is explored statistically and involves individual responses as well
as information about demographic factors, including income and age.
Measuring happiness and pleasure is not a new idea. The aspiration to
measure has a long history, stretching back over centuries, to Bentham and
his idea of calculating happiness (Bok 2011: 96; see also Davies 2015).
Today there are various techniques for measuring individual happiness.
There are brain scans and survey methods, which according to leading
happiness economist Richard Layard (2011: 13–20) provide similar results.
In recent studies of happiness and well-being, there has been a focus on
individuals who provide answers in survey studies (Duncan 2013;
Kingfisher 2013: 69; Thin 2012: 69f). These approaches to happiness
involve individuals who are subject to measurements along the scale of
Researchers estimate happiness using different scales. One of these is the
“Faces Scale” that children fill in, to take part in measurements of happiness
(Holder 2012: 20). An example of this is found in the work of Richard
Layard and Judy Dunn (2009), focusing on possibilities of increasing the
happiness of children.
Figure 2:1: Faces Scale, in Layard and Dunn (2009: 8)
Survey studies provide the foundation for the values of happiness-innumbers (Binkley 2014: 40). By repeatedly measuring happiness among
different groups, categorized by nationality, age, and social characteristics,
researchers generate observations of historical changes, of changes in
happiness over the life course and differences between social categories.
Combining statistics, researchers make observations about how happiness
relates (or not) to measurable factors such as income and living standards,
freedom, religious belief etc. The numerical value of happiness is related to
other values and issues. Happiness is, for example, associated with
egalitarian and democratic liberal societies, which have higher levels of
happiness than authoritarian societies, and people who benefit from an
income are happier than those challenged by material hardship.
Aggregated happiness is a model that follows that of individual orientations
and does so in order to determine levels of happiness, expressed in numbers,
which are captured among quantities of individuals – a mass of more or less
happy humans. This model is used for making comparisons between nations
and now provides a foundation for discussing happiness globally.25 It is
argued that happiness can and indeed ought to be measured.
The World Database of Happiness presents a large number of studies on the
topic, and provides international comparisons. This database offers a
ranking of happiness, based on national values of happiness that have been
obtained through survey studies. It offers the possibility of making
comparisons between countries and documenting changes over time. Using
this database, it is possible to compare a country such as Sweden with
others, making visible, among other things, average values of happiness and
the average number of happy life years in different countries.26
One current debate about happiness concerns its relation to the economy;
and whether economic development is increasing happiness. Some argue
that it is more relevant to strive for happiness than economic growth. This
is exemplified in how happiness is a value that provides an alternative to
GDP for politicians in several countries (Binkley 2014; Fors 2012b). Under
such circumstances, measurement becomes important.
There are those who claim that happiness follows financial prosperity, while
others observe non-correlations, making the increases in numbers into a
matter of little relevance to happiness; money does not measure happiness,
it is an illusion that money can buy happiness (e.g. Roberts 2011). Others
In older philosophical accounts there are also notions of degrees of happiness, covering
the partial and the full or total (for examples, see Bok 2011: 81, 172f), covering short
moments to extensive periods of time (Blom & Hammarkrantz 2014: 45).
Available online: Ruut Veenhoven, Happiness in Sweden (SE), World Database of
Happiness, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Viewed on 28/01/15 at
observe correlations between increased consumption and increased
happiness, and that low levels of consumption relate to low levels of wellbeing (Roos 2012: 9, 2013). There are consequently different ways of
associating happiness with consumption, economics and money.
It has been noted that people living in European countries value their life
satisfaction very differently, despite similar levels of social and economic
development (Fors 2012a: 149). Expectations about what constitutes a good
life are important in this case and differ between countries, involving for
example different ideas about the role of waged work – not only the matter
of income (ibid.: 36).
One problem with the use of survey studies and the focus on happiness as
measurement is the risk of a narrow focus on individuals, without providing
any significant understanding of the social and cultural influences under
which children and others respond to surveys (Ben-Arieh & Frønes 2011:
462, 470; Kingfisher 2013; Morrow & Mayall 2009: 227). This is especially
problematic as measurements do not concern cultural tendencies: “People
living in societies where personal modesty is valued over individualism may
understate their levels of happiness, whereas happiness may be overstated
by those living in societies that encourage individuals to ‘stand out from the
crowd’” (Ballas & Dorling 2013: 465). Another problem is addressed by
William Davies (2015: 21), who argues that the single scale of unhappy–
happy, which involves pleasure to pain, is a monism that aligns different
conditions of humans along the line of a universal measurement. Davies
(ibid.: 241f) suggests that happiness is not really one universal measure, but
is presented as such through the scale of monism which reduces the matter
into simplicity rather than casting light on what the notion means.
To summarize, happiness in this model is about the production of numbers.
Even if the focus is on wider masses of happy people, it is the measurement
of individuals that is central to this widespread and universal model of
happiness. It is, to follow Slavoj Žižek (2008a: 44f), the dominant approach
to happiness today, being a quantitative approach that focuses on large
numbers of individuals.
In this part of the chapter, I consider approaches to happiness that make it
into a matter of time. As such, happiness is associated with childhood,
family, and theme parks. These models of happiness are not total in the
sense of suggesting that happiness is equally available or present among
individuals. Instead, the approaches below involve differences and
particular moments – e.g. of tourism – where cultural ideals of happiness
are realized.
Notions of happiness and childhood stretch back to Rousseau’s claim that
all children want to be happy (Nussbaum 2008: 97), and his influence in
making happiness into a target for education to produce productive citizens
(Söderfeldt & Verstraete 2013: 254f). In the following, I turn to some recent
studies concerning the history and current state of happiness and childhood.
Following the initial observation, I suggest that it is not only children who
are involved in ideals and practices of a happy childhood, but also writers,
political writers, parents and policy-makers.
Within the field of childhood studies, there has been comparatively little
attention given to ideals of happiness, in relation to concerns about what
Neil Thin (2012: 10) calls pathologies and problems.27 Peter N. Stearns
(2012b: 109) writes of the “unhappy childhood” as a “modern scourge.”
Perhaps the previous focus on problems in research also makes sense in
relation to happiness – as a way of solving problems and providing ways
toward a better life?
Neil Thin (2012: 149) argues that: “The happy childhood is one of the
bolder promises of modernity – the aspirational belief that we may at last
have found the ability to offer most of the world’s children an extended
period of safety and enjoyment.” Scholars of childhood have historicized
the happy state of childhood (Stephens 1995: 14). The notion of a happy
childhood is a recent historical construct, as shown by Peter N. Stearns
(2010, 2012a) and is associated with the development of industrial
capitalism (Kapur 2005a: 50). Jyotsna Kapur (2005a: 50) argues that, as
industrial capitalism developed, childhood turned into an illusion of a
“blissful, happy state.” “Happy childhood” was also made a slogan in the
Soviet Union from the 1920s onwards (Kelly 2009: 6). Hugh Cunningham
(2007: 19) observes that childhood associations with happiness were of little
During the 20th century, the social sciences were more concerned with oppression,
power and death than with issues of the good life and happiness (Hylland Eriksen 2008:
10). This is less the case today, which has seen a “positive” turn in psychology, and the
developing interdisciplinary field of happiness studies.
relevance before the 18th century. Gill Valentine (1997: 66) describes the
development of childhood along with happiness, during the 20th century, as
being about segregating childhood from adulthood, related to ideals of a
free time of innocence.
Berry Mayall (1998: 139) observes that innocence is associated with
childhood and comes with expectations that children should be happy,
committed to play, in the company of toys, rather than being with adults.
Happiness is a requirement and, according to Mayall, this consequently
makes adults protective and encourages them to withhold knowledge from
children that might sadden them. Ideally, then, the happy childhood is a
temporality in which children are offered a quality of life, where, according
to Stearns (2010), parents keep troubles away. Stearns shows that the
increased value of children, greater expertise, a greater emphasis on
schooling and cheerfulness within a changing economy are all related to the
development of the happy childhood at the beginning of the 20th century.
Sara Ahmed (2008, 2010a) highlights the cultural and social pressures of
becoming happy in particular ways and that happiness for some might
generate unhappiness for others. The expectation of childhood happiness
becomes, in the view of feminist theorists, a burden on women, as the
realization of happy children involves the work of women (Baader 2012:
495f). There might consequently be costs for happy children that are paid
by others. It has also been observed that a happy childhood is not only a
concern that is for the benefit of children, but also works as a way for adults
and societies at large to manifest prosperity and harmony, as well as a way
of making adults happy (Shanahan 2007: 415). Clearly, childhood and
happiness extend beyond children.
It has been argued that the imperative of happiness is widespread: it is not
about choice, but forceful demands that are imposed upon people as an
imperative of our times (Ahmed 2010a; Berardi 2009: 90f; Burnett 2012;
Žižek 2008a). These imperatives are distributed to children and throughout
the family (Ahmed 2010a; Bruckner 2010: 2), as well as in working life
(Cederström & Spicer 2015: 4, 21, 73f; Dahlgren & Starrin 2004: 46).28 The
Observations about the imperative of happiness are not anything new. It is distributed
in the work of Adorno (1986[1954]: 74) throughout various settings – from family to the
management of the entertainment industry – making it into a matter of control, situating
the inner life of individuals within mechanisms of power, in which the powerful culture
argument in these studies is that people live under conditions where the
imperative to be happy! is strong. This has effects not only on individuals,
but also on family life, in which parents are expected to serve and provide
for the happiness of their children.
Happiness is commonly associated with positive matters, but writings on
happiness also concern domination and suffering (Cieslik 2015: 426). While
the development of ideals and practices of the happy childhood have been
noticed by some scholars, there are also those who note that childhood for
most children is about other things. For example, childhood goes on too
long, and involves pain rather than happiness (Holt 1975: 23). Researchers
and childhood activists are currently focusing on finding solutions, or
answers, for how to avoid problems and achieve happiness. Activists
like Susan Linn (2008) and Sue Palmer (2006), as well as researchers
including Richard Layard and Judy Dunn (2009), are worried about the
current state of childhood and argue that extensive commerce threatens
the lives of children today. Their arguments fit well with a view of
childhood in which children should learn to wait and postpone
pleasures, for the sake of increasing the happiness of life in a wider
sense (Binkley 2014: 59ff; see also Brusdal & Frønes 2014: 1440).
A key concern for Linn (2008: 3f) is fantasy and happiness, an aspect which
in her view is under threat as play becomes commercialized and
consequently restricted. Limited market engagement is seen as a way
towards creating a happy childhood: children should consequently not be
involved in extensive consumption, at least if childhood is to be genuinely
happy. A goal – for activists and politically engaged scholars – is to make
children happier beings through the development of a happy childhood that
provides space for certain qualities: offering freedom, play, creativity,
children-being-children, but not intense or stressful numbers of experiences
offered within commercial culture (Linn 2008; Palmer 2006).29 Building on
survey studies, Juliet B. Sc hor (2005: 160) saks how “c hildren’s
involvement in consumer culture affects their well-being,” suggesting that
industry has a key role – the inner life of individuals thus becomes part of a capitalist
domination, for which culture accordingly plays a key role. The imperative on individuals
to be happy was observed by C. Wright Mills (2002: 235) in the 1950s, in discussing how
human relations management works to make employees happy, co-operative and
For a critique of these arguments, from childhood scholars, see Buckingham (2011:
28–30) and Clarke (2008: 253f).
“less involvement in consumer culture leads to healthier kids, and more
involvement leads kids’ psychological well-being to deteriorate” (ibid.:
167). Materialism in general, according to Schor, is related to many
problems, including poor quality of life, vandalism, not performing well at
school, etc. (ibid.: 174). A similar argument is made by Agnes Nairn (2010:
111), who suggests that there are “strong correlations between materialism
and negative wellbeing,” but also calls for ethnographic research to gain a
developed understanding of how brands are involved in children’s everyday
Disney and McDonald’s are frequently portrayed as businesses that lure
children, making them associate commercial products with desirable
emotions and what feels good. These observations take a broad approach to
childhood, and claim that children “learn” or are made to “believe” that
consumption equals happiness (e.g. Pecora 1998: 153; Zornado 2001: 157).
There are arguments that children ought to be trained in activities which
benefit happiness (Fors 2012a: 174ff), separating the learning children from
adults who have already learnt previously. Some critical scholars argue that
consumer culture is making childhood a “saleable commodity” (Giroux
2009) and that it can “undermine the ideals of a secure and happy
childhood” (Giroux & Pollock 2011: 73f).
A focus on childhood as problematic in terms of happiness with a focus on
the ill-doings of consumer capitalism suggests that there is today too much
concern about commercial matters, and too little focus on play and
creativity. These latter qualities seem to be natural properties of childhood,
in an ideal sense. Curiously, this contrasts with observations of how a happy
childhood is re-enacted in nostalgic ways by adults who engage in the
pleasurable consumption of material things (Hamilton 2007: 69; Wickstrom
2006: 70).
In the claims that a happy childhood is distanced from capitalism and
consumption, there are calls for making childhood into an isolated island
(Gillis 2008), cut off from what is part of a commercial adulthood, so as to
ensure happiness. Notions associated with happiness – fantasy, play,
creativity – resonate with what are sometimes described as images of a good
childhood, involving nature, learning, creativity and friendship (e.g. Eckert
2001: 107–112; Halldén 2011: 23). These seemingly authentic qualities
contrast with notions of artificial happiness in the previous model, which
become part of discussions about childhood.
The point of this model, to summarize, is that childhood is a construct which
ideally involves happiness, overcoming various external threats.
Bertrand Russell (1996: 152), in discussing happiness almost a century ago,
writes that one makes happiness possible for oneself through becoming a
parent. The idea that happiness stems from having children is also
observable in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers who viewed
children as external goods of happiness (McMahon 2006: 47). According to
a leading Swedish thinker of the 20th century, Alva Myrdal, it is necessary
to give life to several children, as “miniature” families cannot expect much
happiness (Bok 2011: 7).
Does happiness come with children? This is a question that continues to
concern scholars as well as authors of self-help books. Scholars – exploring
social and cultural ideals – argue that marriage and having children are
associated with happiness (Hochschild 2012), and so is the family in a wider
sense (Ahmed 2008; see also Casey 2008).
In writings about measurements of happiness and life satisfaction, it has
been argued that becoming a parent involves a reduction in happiness – as
shown in quantitative studies (Blanchflower & Oswald 2008; Blom &
Hammarkrantz 2014: 190f; Frijters & Beatton 2012; Jacquemot 2009:
102f). Statistically, people follow a U-shape of happiness during their life
course, where young and old people are the happiest, with a dip during
middle age (Hyman 2014a: 7). Is it being a parent or being middle-aged that
makes people less happy? This thesis is not the place to answer this farreaching question. And in this part I am more interested in ideals of
happiness and family.
Love is an ideal that has become intimately associated with happiness
(Illouz 1997), with notions that relationships are healthy and constitute a
happy life (Illouz 2007: 46, 68; see also Binkley 2014: 143–146). In
Sweden, and certainly in other countries, there are particular times which
serve the purposes of fulfilling ideals of family. Orvar Löfgren (1993: 219)
argues that Christmas involves “the dream of the good person and the happy
family,” being “a utopia of togetherness, generosity, warmth and caring.”
Christmas is a time of celebrating the virtues of family – and trying to make
positive values a reality.
Tourism is a tool for fulfilling ideals of the “happy family”, and securing
the happiness of the family is a responsibility of parents (Carr 2011: 16, 21).
Ivar Frønes (2011: 282) argues that amusement park visits and holidays
make up “rituals of a good family” and are constituents of it. In a wider
sense, happiness, during a limited time, is a central goal of companies in the
tourism business (Schough & Tesfahuney 2010: 23).
Maureen Harrington (2013: 236, 239) argues that parents “hope that their
actions will give their children happy memories of family leisure,” but
warns against normalizing the happy family, rather than deconstructing it.
It is consequently important to ask questions about what makes the happy
family into an achievable ideal, and how it is enacted – rather than assuming
that it exists, as such. Bonnie C. Hallman and S. Mary P. Benbow (2010:
15) suggest that “good parenting, by mothers and fathers, increasingly is
defined by time spent in recreational family activities that parents undertake
in order to willingly fulfill what is understood as a duty to promote positive
family functioning (communication, togetherness, closeness, cohesion) and
Regardless of the statements about ideals and practices, above, family
holidays are “a relatively under-researched issue” (Gram 2005b: 8). This is
also the case for what Marjorie L. DeVault (2000, 2011) calls “family
outings”, such as the zoo visits investigated in her work, which have been
given little attention in previous research.30 Tourism and leisure do not
necessarily involve parents and children in activities equally, and the notion
of family in tourism calls for further scrutiny (Obrador 2012). Only rarely
are the different interests of children and adults investigated during
vacations, highlighting different interests in family tourism (Hartl & Gram
2008: 232). It is important to discuss these issues, taking into consideration
the fact that research on children and money has shown that there are
tensions and negotiations (Davidson 2012; Lawlor & Prothero 2011;
Sparrman 2009) as well as “happy” aspects of negotiations between parents
and children about making purchases (Lawlor & Prothero 2011).
Calls for developments in tourism studies also include investigations of how everyday
life and tourism are interrelated (Edensor 2001; O’Dell 2007), focusing, for example, on
post-travel narratives (Morgan & Pritchard 2005: 47) and materialities (Haldrup &
Larsen 2006).
The point of this model is that happiness comes with family life, through
intimate relations and togetherness.
Theme parks
It is now time to move on to a consideration of research into a place where
families are expected to encounter opportunities for happiness: the theme
Theme parks are marketed as sites for a family day out (Clavé 2007: 28f,
246; Philips 2012: 28f). Research has highlighted that theme parks sell
happy experiences and happiness (Gram 2005a; Van Maanen 1992) and are
sites that offer visitors experiences of happiness and pleasure (Lukas 2010:
144). “Fun” is a theme of advertising, from Sea World in the USA to theme
parks in Europe (Davis 2005). The famous Disney theme parks are
frequently marketed as the happiest place(s) on Earth (Wing Yee Choi
2007). It has even been stated that the “perfect world of Disney has replaced
the biblical Garden of Eden as the American vision of paradise” (Adams
1991: 156).
The point of this model is that there are places where a time of happiness
is available.
It is common to focus on Disney in studies of theme parks, and to relate
these parks to wider tendencies in society and capitalism at large.31 Many
scholars stick with a story of control when it comes to descriptions of theme
parks. It is suggested that the Disney parks offer a “happy regulated vision
of pleasure” (Sorkin 1992a: xv), where the focus of research is on ideology
and on the regulated mass of consumers (e.g. Arnal 2001; Gottdiener 1982;
Marin 1984). Umberto Eco (1986), in his writing on Disneyland, argues that
visitors need to act like robots within the park. This observation of control,
where a company manages people, is quite a common description in
structuralist contributions. Disneyland is, accordingly, an ode to capitalism
(Arnal 2001: 17), it is about belief and “offers a nostalgic, unreal reality that
confirms the ‘real’ reality outside of the park” (Zornado 2001: 154). It is a
In the historical account of Judith Adams (1991) and the work of Stephen Fjellman
(1992), Disney plays the leading role. Discussing these theme parks as sites for
enjoyment and control, both authors emphasize how the Disney business influences
American culture. Children are mentioned, but not included in any exhaustive discussion.
Occasionally they are brought in, for example when describing how parks arrange their
attractions (Fjellman 1992: 272).
place that offers an opportunity to escape everyday life (Lukas 2008: 7,
235). The theme park has been described as a typical example of current
times (Gilfoyle 1998: 191) and “a manifestation of post-modern cultural
production” (Symes 1995: 11).
In studies of theme parks these places are presented as being delimited,
where public disorder and social problems are “left outside the gates”
(Archer 1997: 333; see also Harrington 1979; Hunt & Frankenberg 1997:
116f).32 A matter of concern for researchers who discuss theme parks is
emotions, or, to be more precise, how park managers/employers socially
direct co-workers to invest happy and emotional expressions into their jobs
(e.g. Lainsbury 2000; Newcomb 2003; Raz 2002a; Reyers & Matusitz 2012;
Van Maanen 1992; Wing Yee Choi 2007). Employees, it is suggested, are
subject to emotional work and drawn into strategies of smiling and acting
according to corporate scripts.
Miodrag Mitrašinović (2006) and Scott Lukas (1998) discuss the role
played by theme parks in terms of aesthetics and control, at book length. In
their treatments one gets a sense of how corporations direct consumers,
getting them involved in experiences and environments according to plans
made up before the visitors arrive. Visitors, it is suggested by several
observers, are offered particular and specific choices within a fully
controlled structure (see also Johnson 1981: 162; Wright 2006). Some
research focuses on the management of theme parks and highlights that
there are in fact problems and disorder in the Disney parks, beyond
corporate ideals of happiness (Boje 1995; Smith & Eisenberg 1987).
Stjepan G. Mestrovic (1997) argues that rationality, rather than emotions,
has been the concern in previous research about theme parks. Mestrovic’s
observation suggests that emotions are secondary in studies that highlight
the control and rational management of corporations such as Disney. The
rationality of theme parks – to control visitors and employees and to make
money – is well documented, but actual visits are less so.
Historical explorations account for how purity and safety became important in the
early-modern amusement park, with ambitions of controlling the thrills offered rather
than letting these be matters of chance, or risk (Millhauser 1993). How theme parks ought
to control their audiences, e.g. managing queues, is an example of the applied research
available within this field (Heung et al. 2009). Researchers also study how global
corporations such as Disney adapt to local circumstances, in different parts of the world –
adjusting their contents and the prices of consumables (Matusitz 2010).
According to Yi-Fu Tuan (1998: xii), “well-educated people […] are taught
to dismiss the theme park as an unreal, fantasy world” (see also Davis 1997:
6f). Is this perhaps why there has been so little concern with the details of
theme park visits in research? Thin rather than thick descriptions are
common, and they move hastily and without further discussion.
Alan Bryman (1995: 185) argues that the Disney parks are used as
“illustrations of pet ideas, but do not proceed much further,” suggesting that
there is a limited discussion about how parks are used in practice and how
they are received (see also Billig 1994; Buckingham 1997: 288; Raz 2002b:
294). The problem with studies of theme parks is that they are
“depopulated,” i.e. they rarely concern what visitors actually do (Billig
1994; see also Cardell 2013a).
During the 1980s, there were calls for research involving park consumers
(Moore 1980: 216; Thompson 1983: 154). During the 1990s, studies “from
below” were conducted (Raz 1999), and more were called for (Paterson
2006: 170). Pettigrew argues that “empirical studies involving actual park
visitors appear to be virtually non-existent” (2011: 146). Despite different
calls to involve consumers and claims about having done so, there are very
few presentations of findings that involve or focus on people.
In rare studies, scholars have joined children in theme parks to figure out
primarily what the parks are about. Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl (2003a: 38f)
suggests that theme park visits live up to ideals of family life, where there
is no stress. It has been argued that “happy children” are the aim of such
visits (Gram 2005a). This is also why visitors come to theme parks (Hunt
& Frankenberg 1997: 121f). Nick Johns and Szilvia Gyimóthy (2002) show
that children are at the center of theme park visits to Legoland, in Denmark,
and that some adults “felt that the primary goal of holidaying was to provide
a great time for the children” (ibid.: 325f). Some parents were suffering for
the benefit of their children, and others said they were happy as long as their
children were happy (ibid.: 326). Bodil Stilling Blichfeldt (2008: 297f)
makes similar observations in a study where it is shown that the fun enjoyed
by children at Legoland came at the cost of parents sacrificing themselves.
According to parents, going to a theme park like Legoland is about
providing children with experiences and what is considered fun (Blichfeldt
2008: 297f). Susan Willis (1995: 49) suggests that theme park visits can
also work as a way of confirming family, to “concretize the experience of
family”; where they achieve togetherness that is rare elsewhere (ibid.: 51).
Kimburley Wing Yee Choi (2007) interviewed six children. Simone
Pettigrew (2011), Anthony Fung and Micky Lee (2009), and William Van
Wert (1995) include their own children, who provide meaning to and
comments about theme parks. There are differences regarding how children
are involved in these studies, from those where children are part of the
research but are not made into any major concern in the analysis (Wing Yee
Choi 2007) to those that discuss children’s practices and make them visible
(Hjemdahl 2003a), and those in between, where children are quoted and
involved to a small extent (Van Wert 1995).
In her dissertation about Scandinavian theme parks, Hjemdahl (2003a)
invited one six-year-old boy as her assistant. Hjemdahl discusses how parks
are used in ways that are not intended to be understood in terms of
resistance. Being in theme parks, observing what happens there, Hjemdahl
is able to challenge the arguments of theorists who state that consumers act
as predictably as robots (see Eco 1986), doing what they are asked to do.33
In Hjemdahl’s (2003a) study, it is more uncertain what theme parks are
about for visitors, than in other previously discussed studies. In my view,
this is an outcome of her approach that is inspired by cultural studies and its
attention to power and resistance. Hjemdahl calls for further empirical
investigations highlighting practices.
An important note for this study is made by Wing Yee Choi (2007: 316),
who argues that “Disneyland sells happiness, but happiness needs
cooperation from customers to make the sale work. Visitors’ behavior is the
most difficult park-related aspect for HKDL [Hong Kong Disneyland]
management to tame and control.” Drawing on this approach, it makes sense
not to fall into the trap of easily accepting marketing slogans of happiness
in tourism and theme parks as a simple answer to what happens there, inside
the gates.
Visits by children and their families are spoken of in previous research but
scholars rarely include children or families in any detailed accounts. Taking
numbers into consideration, children’s involvement in the studies is truly
Hjemdahl (2003a) is critical of previous studies which focus on structures and power,
whilst ignoring practices occurring in the parks. They are one-sided, focusing on the
control and intentions of management rather than what is taking place during visits to the
parks. By focusing on structures and park organizations, primarily Disneyland and
Disney World in the USA, studies of theme parks have failed to account in detail for how
and when visitors make use and sense of such settings and if they do so in different ways
(Hjemdahl 2003b).
limited – to one or a couple of children. Sweeping observations about
happiness and fun do not build on any extensive material that is subject to
analysis. So, it makes sense here to draw on the ethnographic approach that
is advocated by Hjemdahl (2003a) in her study on theme park visits, which
offers an opportunity to develop insights into happiness and poses
challenges to previous sweeping accounts that provide little detail about
why theme parks are happy places. Conducting a study “from below”, to
focus on lived and social practice, rather than the parks per se (Säävälä
2006: 397f), means that happiness is approached through what people do,
and how they get involved with theme parks in different ways.34
As has been pointed out in this chapter, promises of happiness are grandiose
in their universal reach. Happiness is often associated with a linear route –
through which it becomes present as different criteria are fulfilled. This
notion of movement towards happiness is accompanied by an ideal of
expectations that are set within a given order. Happiness has been described
in terms of a culture of happiness, or as part of consumer society, capitalism
and childhood. Such descriptions give a rather static role to societal
structures, as already existing. In this sense, society, culture or corporate
childhood distribute happiness on pre-defined terms from above. This
suggests that people are aligned in a “mass” in a way that is similar to an
“aggregate of atoms with little mutual attraction”, i.e. many people
constitute a mass by relying on a “false individuality” (Bauman 2001: 105).
What is happiness? This question should perhaps more correctly be phrased:
what are happinesses? Sam Binkley (2014: 105) suggests that there are two
“happinesses”, one collective and one individual. In this chapter I have gone
beyond these two kinds of happiness to suggest that, in addition, there are
qualities and different extents of collectives, in outlining seven models that
besides luck and chance are grouped into two parts:
☻ The happy masses: Artificial vs. authentic; Individual orientations;
Aggregated values
☻ Happy times: Childhood; Family; Theme parks
“From below” is a problematic term in the sense that it suggests that there is an
opposing “top”; thus dividing the world into different levels. It does, however, describe
my ambition of being on the ground with children rather than focusing on abstract
notions of structure and order from a distance.
These models are not necessarily distinct. For the sake of illustration, the
happy place of the theme park in practice requires visitors – be it a family
striving for happiness or people having individual responses to it, or having
another agenda. Another example is that the model of childhood might
involve a division between artificial and authentic happiness.
The benefit of outlining models of happiness is that it becomes possible to
navigate different notions of happiness through a balance between detail
and summary. The models are not exhaustive or necessarily the only ones
that are relevant when exploring happiness, but they provide a starting point
for further explorations. The models, taken together, assist in
acknowledging happiness as a “slippery concept” (Cieslik 2015: 426),
which is a multiple phenomenon in existing research. In the forthcoming
chapters I draw on the accounts presented above, to discuss, in further detail,
how practice is associated with the ideals and ideas that are put forth in the
above models.
In his review of previous childhood research, Thin (2012) emphasizes that
happiness is a field of inquiry that calls for further scrutiny (see also BenArieh et al. 2014: 18f). It is possible to approach happiness through different
notions and theories. What happiness means today, in practice, remains to
be investigated as there is a lack of research regarding children and
vacations, leaving space for further explorations (Carr 2011: 10, 117; see
also Blichfeldt et al. 2010).
It has been argued that happiness “nowadays comes to us as a self-evident,
ahistorical and acultural good” (Söderfeldt & Verstraete 2013: 251).
Happiness is a notion that has developed historically, whereby previous
meanings might seem distant today (Colebrook 2007: 90).35 In observing its
different meanings, researchers have described happiness as heterogeneous
(Morgan 2014: 221), and a far from straightforward concept (Hyman 2014b:
29). Happiness is described as an enigma (Bruckner 2010: 3), as mythical
(Blom & Hammarkrantz 2014: 19). This might explain why happiness has
become a matter of intense dispute (Bok 2011: 13). The same problems with
For some ancient philosophers, happiness is a matter of consideration in retrospect;
suggesting that it is most properly associated with humans who are, or will be, diseased –
judgments about the quality of a life that now lies in the past, whether it was good and
happy (see Bok 2011: 52ff, McMahon 2006: 7). In this approach, happiness turns into a
review matter, and a concern of others, at the very end. Aristotle suggested that “we
could call no man happy until he is dead” (Colebrook 2007: 87). For some, like
Immanuel Kant, happiness was located in a life to come after death (Bok 2011: 59).
meaning arise with well-being (Morrow & Mayall 2009: 221, 227), a notion
that is used synonymously with happiness by scholars (Costley et al. 2011:
210). Well-being has puzzled researchers and practitioners (Wood & Smith
2004: 544). The diversity of studies that make use of the concepts of
happiness and well-being makes it quite challenging to summarize research
in any unified way – but the models tackle this challenge by presenting
happiness in its multiplicity.
Recently, there has been a critique of approaches to happiness which make
it into a universal matter, recognizing that “cultural variations on happiness
are considerable” (Stearns 2012b: 104; see also Levisen 2014; Wierzbicka
2010). Ashley Frawley (2015: 63f) suggests that any universal idea of
happiness is troublesome, as it involves a kind of unchanging essence, rather
than being a relational and changing matter. C. Kingfisher (2013: 74) argues
that we need to pay attention to happiness and well-being as cultural
matters, calling for ethnographic studies that focus on the ways in which
practices and experiences differ between contexts. There has, however,
been little focus on happiness in anthropology or sociology, in comparison
with other disciplines such as psychology or economics (Hyman 2014: 3;
Miles-Watson 2010: 125f).
It is rare to pose questions about what happiness means for children when
it comes to theme park visits. On the contrary, it is common for researchers
to take notions of “happiness” in marketing (of Disney theme parks) as
accounting in a full sense for the activities of visitors without even
analyzing visits. Several available theories of happiness provide
dichotomies – e.g. real/authentic, available/unavailable – or offer neat
answers to how a phenomenon like the theme park visit should be
My argument is that happiness calls for more complex and detailed
explorations than those that are available in much of the research. A critical
starting point for this thesis is the recognition of the multiplicity of
happiness. Here, Annemarie Mol (2002) and John Law (1994, 2004) are
inspirational sources for thinking about happiness through practice,
avoiding the assumption that there is one all-encompassing and universal
happiness. Instead of thinking of happiness as passive and an unproductive
part of an already-established order, I consider practices as central to the
accomplishment of happiness. This approach differs from observations in
which people make up a stable mass of happy or unhappy people, and
requires empirical explorations that are attuned to what people do and to
their world, where things happen. In the next chapter I will outline the
approach to happiness that is taken in this thesis in greater detail.
This chapter outlines the theoretical approach of the study. In the first part
I suggest that an interdisciplinary approach is fruitful for theorizing
happiness through wayfaring. It will be argued that wayfaring provides an
opportunity for exploration that avoids falling into what I consider to be a
trap of happiness: the lure of making happiness into a “bulldozer concept”
(Binkley 2014: 9), which makes it universal and reduces its complexity.
Following this first part, I discuss how the notions of practice and enactment
assist in grasping happiness in its multiplicity. At the end, I point to how
explorations of happiness through nitty-gritty practices allow for a critical
understanding that is of political relevance.
It should be noted from the outset that happiness does not easily fit within
the confines of one, and only one, discipline. Happiness is a topic that calls
for interdisciplinary engagements. Inspired by Annemarie Mol (2002: ix), I
draw on research from different traditions in ways that blur disciplinary
boundaries. Here, this means that there will be an involvement and dialog
with several disciplines and interdisciplinary fields of scholarship. In the
next section, I outline an approach to happiness that is attentive to
description, beginning with the notion of sociology as a site that is in dialog
and debate with other disciplines (Urry 2005).
Mark Cieslik (2015: 423) calls for sociological studies that take happiness
seriously, that do not distract us from investigating the complex accounts of
ordinary people and “of what happiness means to them in everyday life.”
Cieslik is right in my view, since there is plenty of research addressing
happiness without a thick contextual understanding. What is needed, I
believe, is a “slowing down [of] the activity of doing social research,” (Gad
& Jensen 2010: 63, italics in original). This implies a commitment to
description, which could even be termed slowciology as an alternative to
sociology, which has moved fast in its ambition to make vast claims about
the world (Latour 2005: 122, 150, 171). This approach requires us to avoid
shortcuts where matters of concern are explained away too easily. Also, it
offers a critical distance in the sense that practices and stories in a wider
sense are treated as relevant, which avoids turning one and only one into the
point of reference, and others into distractions (Law 1994: 39). Practically
speaking, this means not buying into one of the previously outlined models,
but investigating the relevance of a range of models for children and their
families by turning to explorations conducted via fieldwork.
I argue that description becomes a critical instrument to turn against
simplistic, universal and general claims (Latour 2005: 115, 135–137). In
contrast to some critical work, this book involves a great deal of description
in order to explore happiness as changing and related to different
circumstances. Description here means staying close to children and their
families, observing what they say and do, and not doing violence to their
accounts for the purpose of appraising one general story (Lee 2001;
Sparrman & Sandin 2012: 16f) – of which there are many when it comes to
I believe that calls for slowing research down and providing detailed
accounts are productive in adding to and questioning grand theories of
happiness. In my view, this allows a greater exchange between various
practices and different ideas of happiness. With the possibilities of
slowciology in mind, I move on to address the possibilities of wayfaring for
exploring happiness and its entanglements.
Wayfaring and meshwork
In the previous models of happiness, individual and collective orientations
provide a path toward a goal, where a current moment is expected to lead
on to a happy future if the right actions – visiting a theme park, becoming a
parent, engaging in relationships – are carried out: happiness is the goal.
This gives the impression that happiness is achieved by following straight
lines and that it is a journey offering one tangible goal. In this case,
happiness is thought of as a kind of movement that can be described as
transport. In this section I discuss the notions of wayfaring and the
meshwork and their usefulness.
Following Ingold (2009a: 35, 38), transport is destination-oriented (the goal
is key), and leads from one place to the next: it is about connecting the dots
of departure and arrival via straight-line movements. Exploration and
journeys that surprise are set aside if transport is the guiding metaphor for
the course of action. The notion of transport highlights the ways in which
happiness has been approached – from one dot to the goal, as a kind of leapfrogging.
Ingold (2009a) argues that we can acquire a different kind of knowledge
through being attentive to movement, through meaningful wayfaring.
Wayfaring is about continuous movement through which one does not
follow an already-established route of certainties, with a goal in mind. It is
more attuned to the exploration of occurrences through movement, pointing
to entanglements, rather than being attentive to destinations in isolation
(ibid.: 41–43). There is consequently not one already established reference
point for what and where happiness is.
An attentiveness to wayfaring, in contrast to transport, challenges models
of happiness that suggest a straight line model of how it is, or should, be
achieved. Wayfaring suggests that the world is indeed messier than
providing paths of transport – where there are straight lines towards tangible
Ingold (2007a: 4, 155; 2015: 3) pays attention to what he calls the hegemony
of the straight line, suggesting that thinking and acting through the straight
connection between two dots or blobs has been influential for modernity. In
relation to the previously outlined models of happiness, it is noticeable that
the straight line is maintained as a predictable and overview-able
movement: by doing this or that people are expected to be rewarded, to
become happy (see also Ahmed 2011: 162). Blobs remind me of the atoms
that make up a mass – aligned next to each other, rather than entangled.
Following Ingold, I want to consider entanglements to suggest that nothing
is complete in itself. Rather than having a pure presence that is observable
in isolation, as a “blob” (Ingold 2015: 3, 6) happiness becomes a messy
matter – of relative disorder and vagueness (Law 2004: 2).
To highlight how people and various matters are entangled, Ingold uses the
metaphor of meshwork.36 Meshwork suggests that nothing is complete in
itself. To provide some further clarity, the meshwork suggests a world that
See Ingold (2007a, 2008, 2009a, 2010, 2015). Ingold (2010: 11) recognizes the critical
French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre as inspirational for his thinking on
meshwork – from whom he borrows this notion. Meshwork also has some similarities
with time-geography and the work of Torsten Hägerstrand, to be discussed elsewhere
(see also Ingold 2009b: 150f).
is social, material, and changing, in which entanglements are crucial. The
meshwork is ever-changing, rather than being static (Ingold 2008, 2015: 6,
10).37 Meshwork is a theoretical metaphor (Czarniawska 2013: 15f). Do we
need more metaphors to consider happiness? I argue that it depends on the
metaphors, and those involving meshwork contribute to understanding
happiness in a way that recognizes multiplicity and entanglements.
The attentiveness to entanglements of the material and the social in Ingold’s
work suggests that research should not be bounded by a preconception of
what happiness might involve. This offers an approach in which one
(definition or model of) happiness has not already triumphed over the others
at the outset of the study. It means that happiness is part of changing
conditions, in a social and material world, that it involve various matters
and conditions to exist. The meshwork offers an approach that opposes
simplification and limiting happiness into blobs. And happiness, in my
view, involves some of the concerns to which Ingold is attentive: conditions
of life that make the topic of happiness into an issue in the first place – air,
water, and energizing materials, a world to act in and that offers surprises.38
This is not the place for mapping out the general conditions of life that make
happiness a matter of concern.
Wayfaring offers a possibility of exploration within the meshwork. Ingold
do not provide a guide to how to approach happiness. Some translation is
consequently necessary. Wayfaring the meshwork of happiness suggests a
non-hierarchical approach. In principle, to draw upon wayfaring and the
meshwork is to advocate an open approach, which does not, however,
ignore the possibility that there might also be aspirations of happiness as
blobs and getting there through transport. While the approach is nonhierarchical, it might turn out that there is a deployment of hierarchies
(Czarniawska 2013: 15f; Linstead & Pullen 2007: 1489). But this is not
assumed at the outset. Similar to the ambitions of Science and Technology
Studies (STS) scholars, this means staying with the mess of reality as it
develops, considering hierarchies or order as an achievement of ordering
Nick Lee (1998: 477) suggests that “sociological theory privileges the mature and the
complete over the immature and the unfinished.” He suggests an immature sociology,
which is attuned to the incomplete (ibid.: 465). This is similar to the attentiveness to the
emerging in Ingold.
The notion of meshwork has recently been developed as an alternative to the network.
Ingold (2008, 2012) suggests that networks stick with blobs and leaves the conditions of
life, matters such as air and water, unnoticed. Also, networks assume hierarchy and a
center, and this is the concern (Linstead & Thanem 2007: 1489).
(cf. Law 2004; Mol 2002). By approaching happiness through wayfaring,
we experience encounters with happiness in practice when, for example,
people conduct theme park visits. In the next part I connect wayfaring and
meshwork to the notions of practice and enactment.
In this part, I suggest that the notions of enactment and practice provide a
way toward understanding happinesses (Binkley 2014: 105) – coexistences
of happiness in a plural sense, which assist in recognizing it as “a more
complex phenomenon” than has been suggested by previous research
(Hyman 2014b: 29). Following this, there is no one pure and already
existing substance of happiness, but possible outcomes of several, which
might mix or not work together.
Practice and enactment
Enactment suggests that happiness can be approached as a crafted matter,
rather than being located inside individuals, as medicine or popular
psychology might suggest (cf. Mol & Law 2004: 46). Annemarie Mol
(2002: vii, 32–42) uses the notion of enactment to describe the achievement
of a medical diagnosis, in practice. By connecting ethnographic
observations of practices to philosophical reasoning and medicine, Mol
(2002: 83) outlines a novel way of recognizing disease:
If we no longer presume “disease” to be a universal object hidden
under the body’s skin, but make the praxiographic shift to studying
bodies and diseases while they are being enacted in daily hospital
practices, multiplication follows. In practice a disease,
atherosclerosis, is no longer one. Followed while being enacted
atherosclerosis multiplies—for practices are many.
Enactment provides a relevant approach to happiness, since it captures
multiplicity. Multiplicity makes disease, or happiness for that matter, into
quite a complex thing. Mol argues that the way in which disease is enacted
in one hospital department differs from another. While the same term is used
in different wards of a hospital there are coexistences of atherosclerosis (cf.
Mol & Law 2002: 8). Atherosclerosis and happiness have similarities in that
they involve different notions and sites, various material things, and
humans.39 Drawing on Mol’s arguments, happiness is crafted into different
matters and this allows the analysis to travel in different directions to
investigate the multiple meanings of happiness. Following Mol (2002),
happiness is considered in terms of enactment.40 A consequence is that there
is no longer one happiness to be uncovered. And this means that happiness
turns into happinesses (Binkley 2014: 105).
Both atherosclerosis and happiness involve movement, and possibilities of
change. In order to address multiplicity and how coexistences are managed,
Mol speaks of coordination (2002, chapter 3). This suggests that different
approaches to atherosclerosis – or happiness – might be in conversation,
clash, or remain at a distance from each other. There simply is no one given
way in which enactments at different sites relate, and if or how these are
coordinated. It is a matter that calls for exploration.
Mol’s (2002) attention to practice and enactment allows me to emphasize
multiplicity. Existing models of happiness might be enacted in ways that
coexist with others, or they may be coordinated so that there is distance
between them. The focus on practice and enactment means that the presence
of some of the models presented in the above research review will possibly
be recognized, and related to each other in ways that point to coexistences
and coordination. With enactment, it becomes possible to ask questions
about what happiness does through investigating practices, rather than what
it “is” (Mol 2002; see also Ahmed 2007: 7).
Enactment suggests, for example, that happiness does not just exist “out
there” but that it is being generated through relational, social and material
entanglements in practice. That is, enactment makes it possible to study the
ways in which happiness is made and done in and through practices.
Looking at practice, it is unlikely that we will end up finding a time and
place where there is only the enactment of happiness, since happiness does
not stand alone. Enactment involves an entanglement with other matters as
Both are subject to medical research, body scans, scientific inquiries through questions
and answers, and involve exchanges of meaning between experts and lay people. While
atherosclerosis is subject to clinical treatment, happiness is not. It is rather conceived of
as a desirable opposite to depression, and is a state towards which psychology and
scholars of happiness studies strive.
The object – atherosclerosis – studied by Mol could have been a different one, as she
observes that there is nothing special about it in comparison with other diseases (Mol
1999: 88, note 10, 2012: 196, note 11).
well. This is particularly relevant for this thesis, where it is likely that there
is no “pure” presence of happiness; this differs from the priority of
identification in the hospital wards explored by Mol. It is therefore relevant
to return to the entanglements of the meshwork, with a reminder of that
there are no objects, or things “by themselves”, everything is part of
“relations, relations which (sometimes) make things” (Callon & Law 1995:
It is hard to even imagine a time and place where happiness exists in a pure
and isolated state. This is why the emphasis on entanglement in the above
section on wayfaring and meshwork makes sense here, and why the
isolation of happiness has little relevance. Happiness runs into other
matters, and other matters run into happiness. I assume that everyday life
and theme park visits involve practices that can be generative in, for
example, enactments of family and childhood. What practice would focus
on happiness and only happiness? This is a question to which it is hard to
imagine an answer. And leaving out the various things that entangle with
happiness as it is enacted would reduce the nitty-gritty character of
ethnographic fieldwork that is illustrative of what children do along with
their families.
Impure critique and happiness
Mol’s approach has been associated with a “risk of conservatism”, because
it comes along with a focus on existing practices (Harbers 2005: 582).41
What speaks against this limitation of conservatism in this study is, initially,
that various alternative stories related to happiness are highlighted. In
offering these, and in addressing coexistences and coordination, I create the
possibility of mapping current alternatives. From an argument about the
multiplicity of happiness comes the opportunity to navigate the currently
very important political terrain of this subject. For the purpose of clarity, I
now turn to the notion of the “critical” and its relevance in political terms
for this thesis.
I find critical approaches to happiness to be not only relevant but also
essential for understanding how a notion acquires meaning in ways that give
the impression of being universal or neutral. Some readers will perhaps be
disappointed by the fact that this thesis does not provide numbers and the
The approach of STS has been discussed as involving a “political quietism” (Söderberg
& Netzén 2010: 101; see also McFall 2009).
persuasive precision that is the aim of much research in happiness studies.
Being educated in cultural studies and a critical tradition of sociological
thinking, I have learnt less about the art of counting than about posing
questions that examine what numbers are used for – different interests,
power relations and ideological usefulness.
Today one can find concepts like: critical management studies, critical
child(hood) studies, critical pedagogy, critical race studies, critical
masculinity studies, critical happiness studies and a critical turn in tourism
studies.42 In critical studies with a focus on children and childhood there is
one approach that is explicitly politically oriented and one that is less so. By
discussing these, I hope to outline my approach in relation to empirical
explorations and politics.
Leena Alanen (2011: 147) notes that childhood studies involves a critical
dimension, as its focus on children has contributed to making a “difference
in the world”. Emancipation and reflexivity about research practices are
central in Alanen’s outline of the critical engagements of childhood studies.
Included in her proposal of what Critical Childhood Studies should be is an
explicitness about what a good life is and the things that are considered to
be problematic. Taken altogether, Alanen’s concept of critical is about
making changes, not only describing or understanding the world of children
and childhood. I propose that Alanen’s framework should be read as a
critical-political one.
In contrast to Alanen’s concept, Anna Sparrman and Pål Aarsand (2009)
define Critical Child Studies as an interdisciplinary research field that
avoids making claims about what is good or bad, suggesting that researchers
should focus on analyzing empirical stuff related to how children live their
lives; for example, in relation to social, cultural and material networks. The
approach is critical in the sense that it is “questioning taken-for-granted
notions”, including childhood and power for example (ibid.: 304). The
authors further note that research within this field is, and should be,
analytically distanced from various interests, such as professional and
political ones. Sparrman and Aarsand sign up to a critical distance that is in
agreement with John Law (1994: 39) in focusing on multiplicity, which
Different notions of what is or can be critical generate grounds for confusion. Heinz
Steinert (2003: 160) argues that “The term [critical] has been trivialized, and it is no
longer clear exactly what it describes.” Scholars prefer the critical, if being uncritical is
the alternative – and it is now the goal of most research (Schweppenhäuser 2009: 12).
challenges uniformity through involving different stories (Sparrman &
Aarsand 2009: 304; see also Lindgren 2009: 188). It is in my view a criticalempirical way of approaching the topic of inquiry. It avoids defining
notions of good and bad at the outset.
When we use these labels, it becomes manifest that there are different
branches of critical child(hood) studies. How can we navigate the
possibilities available here? The differences between the two approaches
outlined above have consequences for how research is conducted. The
similar – critical – labels of these dissimilar frameworks can lead to
confusion. To highlight my empirical interests and the multiplicity of
happiness, I turn to a more detailed account of critique.
Eva Illouz (2003, 2007) argues that scholars have been involved in what she
calls pure critique. The purity of critique has privileged certain stories and
therefore been ignorant of alternative ones. Drawing on Bruno Latour’s
insights (2004: 248), we can say that critique has been associated with
subtraction rather than multiplication. Illouz (2003) suggests an alternative
to pure critique, which is impure, being empirically informed and politically
related rather than dogmatic. Illouz (2007: 95) argues for the importance of
empirical explorations of multiplicity and differences, providing a “thick
contextual understanding” rather than making in-advance judgments about
what is emancipatory or repressive. This is important, since exploration and
an ethnographic understanding at the outset might challenge notions that we
– as individuals, people in a general sense, or as collectives of researchers
– have previously taken for granted.
The promising alternative, following Illouz’ (2003) notion of impure
critique, is to engage in a dialog about what is desirable and what is not, at
the end. This opportunity becomes attainable with a thick contextual
understanding. This is a way of developing a critical contribution, which
involves the two critical approaches regarding children and childhood
above: starting with multiplicity, challenging taken-for-granted notions, and
ending up with a critique that involves a critical-political dimension (Alanen
2011; Sparrman & Aarsand 2009).
In this chapter I outline the methodological approach: ethnographizing
happiness. In the sections that follow, I describe and discuss: how the two
theme parks were selected, ways in which children and families were
recruited, their involvement as participants in ethnographic interviews,
mobile ethnography, and finally my collection of notes and the additional
materials supporting my analyses. Then, I turn to the final set of interviews
at the end of the study with children and their families. Finally, I discuss the
ways in which I analyze theme park visits and interviews, through an
understanding of happiness that is attentive to complexity and multiplicity.
Ethnographizing happiness means that fieldwork and interviews provide
answers about what this concept means in practice. The approach draws on
Science and Technology Studies (STS), and is inspired by the work of
Annemarie Mol (2002) and John Law (2004). Building on their work, I
address multiple meanings of happiness, in practice.
I subscribe to the empirical agenda in STS, ethnographizing target concepts
(Woolgar 2012: 36), where concepts become subject to analytical
exploration: the study of scale turns into scalography (Woolgar 2012),
ontology into ontography (Lynch 2013; see also Bogost 2012: 36), and
value into valuography (Dussauge et al. 2015). Adding “–ography” turns
concepts into matters of concern, to be approached as part of practices rather
than facts, or seen as having one meaning.
Ethnographizing happiness is an approach that connects my fieldwork and
the diverse materials I collected to analyses drawing on STS and the notion
of meshwork in anthropology. Ethnographizing means making sense of
happiness by studying park visits and the accounts and actions of children
and their parents at home. This means that happiness is somewhere: in the
notes and supporting images, or in the video-recorded interviews –
stretching from short experiences of everyday life at home to park visits.
What takes place, in a wide sense, at ALW and Liseberg and in the homes
of children, provides an understanding of happiness, as well as what might
come along with and be beyond happiness.
The analyses focus on how happiness becomes involved with practices in
different ways. In the Thingography chapter (chapter 5) in this thesis,
material things in the homes of children are the concern, and how these are
involved with happiness, in practice and in relation to wider theories. The
following Valuography (chapter 6) concerns how the value of money and
happiness becomes involved in practice, and challenges accounts in which
the meaning of money is fixed. I then undertake a Co-ordiography (chapter
7), in which the coordination of families during visits is the focus, which is
telling for orientations towards happiness but also for understanding the
concept of family in new ways. Finally, the Chronography chapter (chapter
8) concerns time, happiness and childhood.43
At the outset of this project I engaged in two parallel tasks. These were: to
find suitable parks that children visit, and to determine whether it was
possible to carry out a study in selected parks. I carried out one pilot study
each in two of the most popular parks in Sweden, Astrid Lindgren’s World
(ALW) and Liseberg. Accompanying two 12-year-old boys to Liseberg, and
a family with a daughter aged 2 to ALW, I learned that there are differences
between how the parks are experienced. The 2-year-old girl stayed close to
her parents. The two boys moved quickly, at times leaving me and my
colleague behind (see Cardell & Sparrman 2012).
The pilot studies worked well in terms of discovering the possibilities of
joining children during visits to the parks. Children provided valuable
insights into differences between park visits, including matters of age,
family, intensity and independence.
Liseberg, in Gothenburg, and ALW, in Vimmerby, attract the largest
numbers of visitors in the country. Selecting these parks as settings for my
fieldwork gave me the opportunity to reach possible participants, widely,
which is important, as Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl (2003a: 78) suggests that
I have elaborated upon possible, alternative, themes for the analytical chapters, such as:
gender and parenthood, disabilities and materiality, contested spaces and objects (e.g.
cigarettes), undesirable emotions, and working children. However, these themes are not
primarily about the participating children in this study, but focus on other issues. Did I
pick the right ones? This uncertainty – that it really is hard to tell – is a concern of
ethnography in a wider sense. John Law (1994: 43), for example, states that ethnography
involves worries about whether one has done things properly, in relation both to other
ethnographers and to ideals.
people who visit theme parks do not want to be accompanied by a researcher
during the few days they spend in the park. This was an initial worry for
me. It did not turn out to be a problem, as becomes evident in the following
sections of this chapter.
Support from the parks
I approached ALW and Liseberg right at the start to receive approval for the
research. Representatives of each park were contacted and meetings set up.
During these occasions the project was introduced, and I emphasized an
interest in joining children during park visits and in learning more about the
places where children spend their leisure time. Both ALW and Liseberg
accepted the research without promises of any particular pay-offs for them.
We agreed that the park representatives would be provided with information
about our conclusions.44 The representatives were interested in the research
and curious to learn more about our ideas and thoughts about children as
park consumers. They were supportive in several ways and provided
guidance and information about park operations when requested, putting me
in contact with employees who showed me around at ALW and Liseberg.
During the initial meetings it was decided that the parks would not charge
the researcher for entrance or tickets to the park attractions. This was
important for us to be able to conduct the study within the available budget.
At Liseberg I became an “honorary guest”. In the letter that was sent to me
with the ticket there is a text signed by the CEO inviting me to bring a friend
without charge, using this card, with the motivation that “shared happiness
is, as you know, twice the happiness.” I did not use this benefit due to ethical
Meetings with senior management took place on four occasions, lasting for between an
hour and a couple of hours. The meetings include two occasions with Mikael Ahlerup,
CEO, ALW, and two meetings with Pelle Johannison and Annika Palm of the Liseberg
senior management. I was guided by Anders, a senior employee, during a day at
Liseberg. At ALW I took part in portions of an educational event for newly recruited
Figure 4:1: Honorary guest, Liseberg.
At ALW I received an ID card for employees. It offered me park entrance
and the opportunity to display my authorized involvement in the park. The
CEO of ALW recognized that my presence – at times being a lone adult –
might create suspicion among the dominant group of family visitors. This
has also been noted elsewhere, where male ethnographers in places close to
children have been discussed in relation to suspicion (Aarsand & Forsberg
2009: 162f; Hendry 2000: 207; Pole 2007; see also Blackford 2004: 232;
Lukas 1998: 289f). There was however no need to show the ID card, and I
experienced no suspicion about my whereabouts.
Inviting children and their families
In the invitation to participate in the research project published on the
Linköping University website, it is stated that children aged 4–12 years old,
in any kind of family constellation, are welcome to take part in the study.45
In the information that was provided via the web page of the research
project, it was stated that research funds had been obtained from the
Swedish Research Council – emphasizing the independent character of this
research, which is not being carried out with any commercial or corporate
interests in mind, but with an interest in children’s everyday practices and
places. ALW and Liseberg supported the recruitment of children and
families as participants in this study by distributing information about the
project through social media and their websites, linking to the official
invitation.46 Families did not enter ALW or Liseberg for free, all paid for
their visits.
The call for children and families to participate in the research attracted
many responses. In total there were 43 answers to the call.47 In the
communication about the research and the upcoming visits it was primarily
women, mothers, who took the role of describing the interest of their
children and family in contributing to the research and it was they who
provided details about their plans for park visits. Several of the applicants
pulled out as their summer plans changed, or because of problems in setting
up dates for when we could meet. Most applicants were overwhelmingly
positive about the project.48
Children of this age are the focus in the approved application for research funds to
Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish National Research Council (by Sparrman). In addition to
the application, Wing Yee Choi (2007: 37f) and Hjemdahl (2003a) have successfully – in
limited numbers – approached children of that age, 4 and above.
The assistance of ALW and Liseberg in inviting children could perhaps give the
impression that the project is part of the business of each park. This was not an issue in
the sense that children and parents did not question the research as “commercial” or
driven by business.
All replies but one turned out to be from parents – received primarily by e-mail, and
also by phone. It is not very surprising that it was parents who contacted me, considering
the age of the children who are part of the project.
One non-participating parent did, however, make the effort to tell me she was not
interested in her children participating in the research, and it is stated in the mail that
parenting would be affected if a researcher came along (parents would not feel able to
become angry), and children in the family would, accordingly, not follow the ordinary
family pattern of a visit.
From applicants to participants
The written applications from the parents make it clear that several of the
families visit one or several parks frequently. Some have done so for several
years. All applicants planned to spend time at ALW or Liseberg during the
summer of 2011.49 In some applications it is mentioned that the family, or
some of its members, have or will buy annual passes. An engagement in and
positive attitude towards the parks is expressed in several of the
applications. In one of the applications I read about a “need” to go to
Liseberg at least once a year. One family describe themselves as committed
fans of ALW. One mother – Anne – presents her family as very
knowledgeable: “what we don’t know about the park [ALW] is hardly worth
Children and their families who let me take part in their park visits, and take
the time for asking questions, do possibly make sacrifices. One father asked
for compensation for his children to take part in the project.50 This was an
exception. Those sending in applications were willing to participate and did
not ask for compensation in terms of money or valuable items. As a sign of
gratitude, children were promised a diploma, and the family a visual
documentation of the visit.51
Focus children
Out of 43 applicants, I had the opportunity to meet 13 children along with
their parents and siblings. Nine focus children contributed to the project in
full and took part in three research occasions or more (two interviews and
one visit).52 The total number of informants, including siblings and parents,
was 44, counting those who were interviewed and visited the parks. The
Early on, many of the applicants provide information about when they were going to
the parks, which was valuable in terms of planning fieldwork. It also revealed that
preparations and planning are part of family leisure and allocated spots in calendars.
When this one request for compensation was turned down the father showed no further
interest in the study.
Drawing on Pink (2007a: 57), I consider images to be a sign of recognition for the
children and parents for their collaborative involvement. The images also include myself,
to some extent, as participants occasionally took photos of me – using my camera.
The observant reader will note a difference in numbers for the included families: 43
applicants in total, 13 who are part of the study, of which one ended their participation
after the first meeting and two did not inform me about forthcoming park visits – they
continually responded positively to my questions but could not provide details about
when they were to visit ALW or Liseberg.
focus children belong to family constellations that differ in numbers: 1–3
child(ren) and 1–2 adult(s).
There are differences in frequency of visits and time spent at the parks.
Some go to ALW or Liseberg for a few hours, while others stay for days or
even weeks. For a few of the children the parks are part of their everyday
lives; they live close to the parks and visit ALW or Liseberg frequently.
Those families living close do not need to make advance arrangements for
transportation for a visit. The remaining families were tourists, making trips
with overnight stays on the occasion when they visited ALW or Liseberg.
Before going into further details here is an overview of the participating
children, using pseudonyms, and information about park visits and where
their families live:
Child in
focus (age)
John (7)
Tove (9)
Parents /
Near park
Small city
Near park
#1 and #2
Kim (5)
Mary (3)
Near park
#1 and #2
Felicia (11)
Hours away
Eric (6)
Jacob (4)
Hours away
#1 and #2
Leo (9)
Thea (5)
Hours away
#1 and #2
#1 and #2
#1 and #2
Hours away
Hours away
Hours away
Hours away
#1 and #2
Henrik (9)
Hours away
#1 and #2
Emil (6)
Hours away
Casper (6)
Lena and
Hours away
#1 and #2
#1: 13
#2: 9
Rick (5)
Robin (4)
Tina (6)
Josef (4),
Pierre (4)
The children in focus live in different communities, from small villages to
larger cities. Living in rental apartments, small houses, and large houses
with several levels, the living conditions of the children differ. Nowhere,
however, is there a shortage of space, as children and parents have their own
rooms. For example, Casper (age 6) lives with his mother in a small
apartment on the outskirts of a smaller town, and Tina (age 6) lives with her
family in an expensively decorated large villa in the central part of a larger
city. Children’s rooms and differences in where they live provide an
opportunity to understand the presence of theme parks in everyday life;
through material culture, and ways in which park visits become a part of
everyday life, or as part of vacations and tourism.
The everyday lives of the children involve going to school or kindergarten.
Some are involved in leisure activities throughout the year, playing
instruments or having an interest in theatre. Others do sports. Their parents
spend their everyday lives working, being students, engineers, or employed
as manual laborers. They spend their leisure time doing sports, watching
movies and listening to music, outdoor activities, and planning vacations
with their children.
Regardless of the differences in the employments of parents, and different
incomes, all are supportive of visits to and consumption of Liseberg and
ALW. Some talk about saving money so that trips to the parks will be
possible and many parents spend time planning when and where a park visit
will take place.
My first meeting with the children and their families included an
opportunity to get to know each other. The children, their parents and I
spoke about the parks they were going to visit and also shared our interests.
These meetings took place in the homes of each family.53 Visiting children
where they live enabled me to learn about the above-mentioned similarities
and differences between families, homes, and about their plans for park
Meeting with the children and their families in advance provided an
occasion to talk about the research project. I wanted to ensure that the
children and their parents received information about the research and what
A lot of travelling was required to meet the children and their families before the park
visits – a distance covering almost 1 000 kilometers when measured between locations in
the north and south.
it involved, in terms of the effort required from the participants and what
the outcome of the research might be. I mentioned that taking part in the
research is voluntary, and that the anonymity of participants is ensured
through the use of pseudonyms and avoidance of publication of images of
children. The possibility of ending their research involvement at any time,
without consequences, was also mentioned. Children and parents were told
that questions about the research could be discussed at any time. Following
this, I asked for written consent, handing out consent forms, which were
signed individually by the children as well as their parents on the same copy.
Signing these forms ended the formal part of our meeting. Rose Wiles et al.
(2011) comment that parents need to give permission to include their
children in research, but that positive answers from such a formal authority
are not necessarily enough. Thus, asking children themselves about their
willingness to take part in the research and in the visual documentation is
ethically reasonable. I followed this advice, listening to children as well as
adults about their willingness to take part in the research. Both children and
parents signed the consent forms for taking part in this study.
The first interview
After I had given them the necessary information and they had signed the
consent form, there was a more extensive discussion about what children
and parents think about theme parks, what they like to do there, and what
their interests are in a more general sense. I brought questions with me
which supported discussions about: interest in the park, making plans for a
visit, which park to visit, and plans while being there. I also wanted to talk
about previous visits to these parks and other leisure locations, about
expectations and plans as well as why families decided to go to a particular
park and not another place. At most we were five people sitting down
together for the interview. Two was the minimum number of participants in
the interview, not counting myself.
The interviews lasted between 40 and 120 minutes. What differentiated the
shorter from the longer is whether children and parents provided extensive
verbal accounts, or shorter ones. In the latter case, similar topics were
covered as in the extensive interviews, but the accounts had the character of
answers rather than of a discussion. Interviews where discussions were brief
– with the character of question and answer – were more challenging,
working against my stated ambition of making conversation in an open way
about themes of interest.
Friendly conversations
The methodological approach during our first meeting was the
ethnographic interview as a type of “friendly conversation”, where the aim
is to make conversation in order to get to know the informants and to learn
more about their lives (Spradley 1979: 25, 55). The notion of friendly
conversation makes sense in two ways here. Firstly, the interviews were
open rather than directed occasions, where children, parents and I were
equally involved. Secondly, they took place in the home environment, in
kitchens or living rooms, where a common gesture from each family was to
offer “fika” – indulging in coffee, soft drinks, cookies, etc. This gave the
interviews an informal character – feeling relaxed, cozy and fun on many
occasions. Often, smiles and laughter were part of sharing accounts and
previous memories of ALW and Liseberg.
Children initiated displays of their rooms, showing me images and
souvenirs from previous park visits. Parents also took part, showing me
images on their computers. I was also introduced to a pet bearing the name
of a famous character from a story by Astrid Lindgren and ALW, “Pippi”
as in Pippi Longstocking (the word pippi means dicky-bird in Swedish).
The bird was placed on my shoulder during the interview and it became a
way of initiating conversation about the stories of Astrid Lindgren and
ALW as an upcoming place to visit.
Especially during this early phase of the research, I avoided provocative
questions that might challenge the participants’ views. I did not want to
upset expectations about forthcoming visits, for which families save money
and make plans. I encouraged children to speak, as I wanted to avoid the
risk of a dominance of accounts from parents. I tried to be a present
researcher, who listens to and gets involved with what children and parents
say about ALW and Liseberg. These efforts could be seen as friendly
gestures. They also involve awareness and some degree of self-interest in
the sense that provocation possibly makes the participants less keen on
being part of the research.
Several interviews seemed almost “natural”, as if the participants were
familiar with making conversation about a topic such as Liseberg, ALW or
theme parks in general. Children and parents asked questions and made
conversation with each other and me, where there was little need to guide
the discussions. Some were keen to say a lot, while others said less. Older
children, especially those aged 9 and above, provided extensive verbal
The interviews involve biographical narratives and are “topical” in the sense
that I orientated the discussions around leisure and theme parks (Madison
2012: 28). This ensures that ethnographic interviews include both individual
and collective accounts and actions (ibid.). At times, the statements of
children and their parents run into each other, as they present collective
experiences through shared involvement in the dialogue; at other times there
are accounts which “belong” to one individual, as part of his/her life and
experiences, or expectations about the future. There are accounts which
unite children and parents, and those that are subject to different opinions.
Some researchers claim that interviews involving groups of people provide
“more accurate accounts” since the “participants must defend their
statements to their peers” (Eder & Fingerson 2001: 183). The ethnographic
interviews in this study do not involve an orientation towards one “accurate”
account, which clashes with other statements, or positions. In this study,
children and parents do occasionally work out, at length, which statement
is the most correct. But there are different opinions.
On a few occasions, children were uninterested in the interview. For
example, Kim (age 5) preferred to play, read cartoons, and to find a place
on my lap.54 The adults present – myself and parents – went to considerable
efforts to involve children in the discussions, and to “focus”. We spoke
about appreciated experiences at theme parks and we tried to emphasize that
the uninterested child is interested in the topic. At times, parents promised
candy later, or watching a film, which made it clear that the interview
situation might have consequences for children after its end. My impression
is that it was about encouragement rather than having more negative
consequences. Sarah Elwood and Deborah Martin (2000: 650) note that the
interview site is part of constituting relations and involves power.
Uninterested children highlight the issue of power, and demonstrate that
their material belongings can be preferable to talk and interviews, while
adults try to convince them and negotiate what is the appropriate focus at a
given time. Altogether, adults get involved in negotiations; there is not one
person in charge, directing the children or the interviews.
This is not a situation unique to this study; it has been previously recognized by
scholars who note that children appropriate researchers, including their bodies and tools
for their own benefit (Gallacher & Gallagher 2008: 508f; Sparrman 2002).
Video recording
I carried out 22 ethnographic interviews, before and after the park visits,
which altogether generated 21 hours of recorded material. It has been noted
that ethnographic interviews provide detailed accounts of consumption and
everyday life (Fuentes 2011: 44). In recording the interviews, using a video
camera, I included talk and also images and things, such as souvenirs and
toys. The camera helps in recalling and accounting for gestures, nonverbal
interaction and visual and material matters during interviews (Danby et al.
2011: 82; Pink 2009: 85; Sparrman 2005).
The fact that several people are involved in this research on each occasion
provides opportunities as well as challenges – in guiding the discussion and
recording it. In general, the camera was fixed in one place to provide an
overview of the interview situation, so that all participants were visible. A
360 degree microphone attached to the camera recorded what was said
around the tables and on the sofas where we were sitting. A small portable
video camera proved to work well for this ethnographic approach (see also
Aspers 2007: 107; Sparrman 2005). It not only allowed the recording of
participants sitting on sofas or around kitchen tables, but also made it
possible to move around and record what was shown to me by children and
Scholars investigating the lives of children have used mobile methods that
pay attention to place, movement, experiences and ways of making meaning
(Cele 2006; Högdahl 2003). Similar mobile methods in which the researcher
joins an individual or a group have been called different things. The
methods include: the go-along and walk-along (Carpiano 2009; Degen &
Rose 2012; Kusenbach 2003), talking whilst walking (Anderson 2004),
walking with (Lee & Ingold 2006: 67; Pink 2007b, 2011), shadowing
(Czarniawska 2007), follow an/the actor(s) (Callon 1999: 68; Latour 2005:
12) and following the object (Lash & Lury 2007: 19). Using these methods,
the researcher joins people and material things that are on the move, and
this suggests that movement matters. Mobile methods within ethnography
involve a more or less active role for the researcher, either shadowing from
a distance, or actively going along or walking with participants.
The interest in methods that focus on, or incorporate, movement in
ethnography is part of a turn to mobility, and is captured in the term mobile
ethnography (Gottschalk & Salvaggio 2015). As outlined by Laura Watts
and John Urry (2008: 867), “a mobile ethnography involves travelling with
people and things, participating in their continual shift through time, place
and relations with others” (italics in original). With is crucial here, for how
I spent time alongside focus children in the parks.
Experiencing the parks in tandem
My ambition is to experience the parks with children. This entails an
involvement in their actions rather than observing, as a shadow, from a
distance. Such an ambition, however, provokes questions regarding
methods and what takes place in practice: where is it possible to move as a
researcher, how are children and adults divided spatially, and are all
movements along with children desirable? These questions are in one sense
specific to ALW and Liseberg, but they are also more general, regarding
access and exclusion, as research ambitions are confronted by the realities
of children and adults.
Mobile ethnography and walking with was a method of choice during the
pilot studies at ALW and Liseberg. Putting it to work in the parks made me
aware that this method calls for flexibility. Did the park visit involve
walking with? Yes, but not only that. It also involved speedy steps as well
as ride attractions (see Cardell & Sparrman 2012). As the boys in the pilot
study at Liseberg moved at speed, I felt that at times I was running after,
rather than walking with (ibid.). Changes in speed, variations in being alone
or together, as well as being involved or not are symptomatic of the entire
study. There is more than “walking” and there are times when the ambitions
of being “with” are challenged.
I was able to join 10 of the 13 children during their time at ALW (5) and
Liseberg (5). There were 11 visits to ALW and Liseberg, carried out during
16 days. Some children who travelled to the parks were spending one or
several nights at campsites, in hotels or were being accommodated at their
friends’ houses. They conducted visits lasting long hours on one day, or
over several days. In line with Sarah Pink et al. (2010: 3), I argue that “the
experiences the ethnographer is trying to understand” do not always call for
long-term engagement, which is telling for my interest in visits (rather than
the parks as such). The timespan for ethnography and fieldwork differs
depending on disciplinary traditions and the aims of the research (Jeffrey &
Troman 2004). The time for my fieldwork, travelling between the parks and
the homes of children, made up a total of over four months in 2011 – from
late April to early September.55
The shortest visits observed at ALW and Liseberg lasted a few hours, and
the longest went on for days – two at Liseberg, and four at ALW. The
shorter visits involved children who live close to one of the parks, have
annual tickets, and go there often.56 Other children spent hours in the park,
using tickets bought for the duration of the day. The longest day during
fieldwork lasted for 12 hours at Liseberg. It was exhausting. It involved
plenty of attractions, and a family contest where games of chance and skill
took place – in which I was one of the contestants. I was challenged to join
by Lovisa, the mother of Henrik (age 9). That I took part is telling for the
fieldwork, and for experiencing the parks together with children and also,
frequently, with their parents. Children and parents invited me – more or
less eagerly – to take part in their visits.
Generally I met children and their family members outside the parks next
to the entrance or in a café. Some had made plans of what to do, and others
navigated spontaneously when entering the park. I adapted to the situation,
depending on the plans of the children and their parents. By having a
specific child in each family as my focus during the duration of each visit,
it was more or less manageable to stay on route along with the children who
walk, run and experience attractions.
Tours, exploration, distance
What did the visits look like? The different knowledge among children
turned out to make hours or days spent at ALW and Liseberg into quite
varied experiences. Some days had the character of guided park visits,
where children showed me around and pointed out what they found
interesting. Such visits share similarities with Sarah Pink’s (2007b, 2008)
“tours” in which she is guided by people with local knowledge through their
In addition to this focused period of fieldwork there were also the park visits that I
conducted as pilot studies during two days, one in 2009 (Liseberg) and the other in 2010
(ALW), a day with a school class in 2013 (Liseberg), and brief visits without children
from 2009 until 2013. Between 2009 and 2015, I collected hundreds of articles,
documented marketing and made casual observations. This has been a way to develop an
understanding of theme parks. Such ongoing involvement makes it hard for me as an
ethnographer to state when the fieldwork began and ended (see also Wilk 2011).
I visited ALW twice with Rebecca (age 11) during 2011, as she visited the park
frequently during that summer.
homes and urban settings. Children who have visited the parks many times
exemplify this in the clearest way: guiding me through their parks, telling
me about their favorite things. Other children with less previous experience
of the parks learn what is available when they arrive at ALW or Liseberg.
What was common to all the visits is that the children asked me what I
wanted to do, or they took for granted that I wanted to join them. At times
I was the only accompanying adult, while parents were doing something
else. Being an adult (researcher) in a theme park can be challenging when
it comes to joining children inside the attractions. Adults of my size, 185
centimeters tall, have problems in entering the small-scale houses at ALW.
My involvement during the visits to ALW and Liseberg went without much
comment, and there was no explicit source of great conflict. Interactions
with children and parents were generally easygoing and friendly in the
parks. Children shifted between guiding me, involving me and ignoring me.
One noticeable switch from close involvement to distance came when
Rebecca (age 11) changed her focus from guiding me around the park to
playing with a few friends, suddenly shooing me away: “schas”. No longer
feeling welcome, I decided to leave Rebecca. This illustrates that my
presence along with the children was not necessarily appreciated at all
I have thought about the ways in which my research and my presence might
affect children and parents in negative as well as positive ways, acting and
reflecting on ethics in practice (Phelan & Kinsella 2013; Sparrman 2014;
see also Lee 1998: 474). This means that issues of ethical concern are
addressed in the following chapters, being part of the practice in a broad
To do things in tandem does not mean that everything is done, or can be
done, in the same way. Spending several hours or even days at ALW and
Liseberg meant that there were times when children, parents, or I needed or
wanted to do things in privacy. I spent time away from the children and their
families on some occasions. Generally I went away for just a few minutes
or in exceptional cases up to an hour. At these times I was committed to
writing field notes, or purchasing drinks or a snack. I was also sometimes
drawn to parents, who actively looked for my attention, challenging my
presence with their children, as they moved on.57
My presence as an adult who was accompanying children and parents
became a practical resource at times. Evelina, the mother of Rick (age 5)
and his two brothers (age 4 and 2), asked me to assist in toilet visits and care
of her children, being on her own with three young children at ALW. My
contribution to these visits might be considered as a form of benefits or
“paying back” and assisting in the parental challenges. After our visit to
ALW, Evelina thanked me and said that it would not have been possible to
be in the park without me. I am willing to agree. Assisting children during
toilet visits was a situation to which I had given no or little thought, perhaps
thinking that it was only a parental concern (cf. Samuelsson et al. accepted).
I have, however, tried to be a person in whom the children and parents as
participants can have confidence and who is available to help.
Mobile ethnography and my ambition to join children during fieldwork
have required flexibility, with no single “blueprint” to follow (Pink 2007a:
5). Different visits created different challenges. Approaching children
provides different and rather messy routes to knowledge (Law 2004).
Unexpected things happened as family members called for attention and
challenged my presence with the focus children. Ambitions of experiencing
the parks in tandem with children; learning from each focus child, by talking
with them as well as observing, makes ethnography a matter of flexible
adaptation: moving between presence and occasional distance. As the focus
child disappears or creates distance, momentarily, the siblings or the parents
become involved instead. This suggests that the children (and their parents)
affect the methods – methods are not put to work by the researcher alone
Each family – primarily the parents – set the frame for the visit. They
decided when it was time to say goodbye. Usually this meant that I left the
park at the same time as they did, to meet other participants. On one
occasion I accepted an invitation to meet outside the park, as Tony, the
father of Eric (age 6) wanted to show me their caravan during what he called
an “after work”. This highlights the changing roles of both parents and
myself: from supporting the children, to working, to a time of relaxation.
They talked about different matters like business and making money, racism, religion
and sport.
My role during fieldwork shifted, and included explicit definitions by the
children, who have called me the researcher, spoken of me as an adult,
“father”, a “shadow”, as “David”, or “Daniel”. These labels and names
describe who I am or expected to be. Someone with a name, someone with
a family, someone with a profession. They also relate to expectations that
might go with a man in his 30s: being a father. These ways of assigning
responsibilities and character to me tell us that the researcher is embedded
in the study. It suggests the relevance not only of an ethnographic inclusion
of the “I” in this thesis, but also discussions about my role in some
situations, as a springboard toward matters of wider concern (Beckman
2009: 48).
Taking notes and collecting images
I took a few things with me during the fieldwork, which enabled me to
document each day and visit but would not limit the possibilities of riding
attractions and moving through narrow spaces.
Like many other adult park visitors, I used cameras – one small digital
camera and the one in my smart phone – quite intensively. Hundreds of
images were snapped during each day at ALW and Liseberg. These are
helpful for focusing on details that are hard to capture efficiently in words
whilst accompanying children in the parks. As I got used to the practice of
snapping still images, there was an increasing number of photos taken each
day. During the park visits I used cameras to collect, in total, 2 108 images.
These added to my note taking, allowing the possibility to be present with
the children instead of withdrawing elsewhere to write.58
The use of a digital camera and a cell phone, in parallel, helped me to save battery
time. The quality of images from the camera that I could use was also better than those
from the cell phone. Another positive side-effect of using separate devices is the risk of
losing material; if one device had been lost or damaged I could still have taken the other
back home with me. All the devices used offer opportunities to record moving images
and stills.
Figure 4:2: Devices. The image illustrates some of the different
things that were required for carrying out a mobile ethnography
and ethnographic interviews. Cords, microphone, backpack,
water and a digital camera were also useful, in addition to the
objects shown above. I usually took a rain jacket and an umbrella,
being prepared for wet attractions at Liseberg and the sudden
rainfalls during the Swedish summer.
I used the camera frequently but tried to be relaxed, not trying to document
“everything”. This serves the purpose of conserving energy and focus
during long and sometimes intense days, avoiding the risk of looking so
intensively that in the end you see nothing (Ehn & Löfgren 2007: 231). I
was not very concerned about the quality of the photos; the important thing
was to document what took place during the visit.59
I have no artistic ambitions with my photography, like scholars with a background in
photography (Sparrman 2005; Yi’En 2014).
Visits to theme parks involve children’s bodies in attractions where visitors
experience the parks visually and emotionally. They involve talk. Looking
at things, and interacting with others. Using a camera for visual
documentation, along with notes, makes it possible to capture both words
and things that go beyond words, which it is possible to observe visually.60
The use of a camera and notes together allows chronological accounts of
each day: what happened and what followed subsequently.
Barbara Czarniawska’s (2007: 57) suggestion to write out field notes after
carrying out a session of mobile ethnography inspired me to spend time after
each day in the park to create a document of each visit. With little time
between visits and writing (Aspers 2007: 121), and support from initial
notes/“jottings” and the photos, I was able to produce a collection of
extensive notes – 254 pages A4-size. I wrote wide-ranging reports about
each day, including details about what took place during parts of the visits,
capturing events chronologically.
Supporting images
As part of this study, a team of researchers, including myself, conducted a
visual documentation of Liseberg and ALW. This included systematic
documentation of both parks in terms of the built environment, when no
visitors were around.61 It comprises an extensive body of material: close to
1 000 images of ALW and some 2 600 images of Liseberg.
Visiting ALW and Liseberg when there are no visitors provides a contrast
to being there among visitors with children and their families. People
populate the theme parks, and bring them alive (Billig 1994). Our visual
documentation of the built environments of Liseberg and ALW makes the
places seem “dead” (Thrift & Dewsbury 2000: 427). Two contrasting
images below, of one attraction at Liseberg, illustrate this difference.
Previous research using mobile methods have included video (Pink 2007b) and audiorecordings (Carpiano 2009; Kusenbach 2003), which are relevant in interview-like
situations where the go-along has been used for walking and talking.
The visual documentation was conducted within a wider research project, led by
Professor Anna Sparrman. We used several digital cameras and took notes, inspired by
museum documentation, that include descriptions of what is present in the parks. ALW
was documented during the summer of 2011 and Liseberg in the spring of 2012. It
includes a one-day visit to ALW, by four researchers, and a two-day visit to Liseberg,
consisting of five researchers. The reason for the documentation was to visually preserve
places for children.
Figure 4:3: Flumeride.
Without visitors during
visual documentation.
Figure 4:4: Flumeride
queue. During a
crowded day.
Figure 4:3 provides insight into how theme parks are structured so that
visitors will queue up, and follow the line to the attraction in a controlled
way. It illustrates how theme parks like Liseberg organize space. But it does
not tell us much about what people do. In Figure 4:4, there are people
anticipating the attraction, talking about what will happen, interacting with
each other, having fun, being bored, laughing about people who get wet in
this water attraction. Many things happen. And it is Figure 4:4 and what it
indicates in terms of practices in the park that I am primarily interested in.
The visual documentation is important for visualizing the parks since I do
not include images of participating families, to guarantee their anonymity.
Before I went to meet the children and their families for the final interview,
I looked through the pictures of the relevant visit, to pick out images for
printing. This reminded me of the specific visit, and also offered a chance
to make visible to the children what they did during their day at ALW or
Liseberg. Images worked as points of departure for our discussions.62 Some
visits took place months before the final interview. For some it was probably
hard to recall the specific visit – especially for visitors like Tove (age 9) and
These were not the focus of any longer conversations. Inspired by previous research, I
took a handful of still images, as prints, to each interview (Heisley & Levy 1991: 269),
which worked as facilitators when initializing discussions (Grady 2007: 65f), to stimulate
and make the interview a creative process (Trell & van Hoven 2010: 94).
Rebecca (age 11) who spend many days during the summer at Liseberg and
ALW. The photos that I chose included images of situations that I was
curious about and images that I expected to evoke memories as well as
provoke discussion.
My experiences of the first interviews, where children such as the sisters
Kim (age 5) and Mary (age 3) did not want to talk or did not have much to
say about theme parks, made me think that there could be benefits from
visual input as well. I brought blank paper and pens of different colors, to
offer children a chance to draw things, including ALW and Liseberg.
Drawing was relevant in a few cases when there was little focus on verbal
accounts. My ambition here, as with the printed images, was to navigate to
topics in ways that children might find inspiring.63 Similar to images and
ambitions within photo-elicitation research, the goal was to open up avenues
for covering knowledge among children regarding these settings (Packard
2008: 65).
The second ethnographic interview also built on the approach of “friendly
conversation” (Spradley 1979: 25, 55). These interviews included the same
number of family members (2–5), and took equal amounts of time (40–120
minutes). Meeting the children and their families again, I wanted to learn
about their experiences, gather reflections about what took place in the park
that we visited together and discuss whether they had any special memories.
Positive challenges
The second interview involved a common reference – our park visit. During
this second interview I tried to unearth possibilities of problems during
visits and with the parks. Most accounts of visits to ALW and Liseberg were
positive. I wanted, however, to discuss any possible problems during visits
and related to the parks more widely to avoid the risk of reproducing images
of theme parks as purely happy places.
I received a few drawings from the children participating in this study, with no
intention of collecting a mass of drawings. For example, Kim and Mary made drawings
of Liseberg during the second interview, which they handed to me as a gift when I was
leaving. Similar to other drawings, as observed by scholars in geography, these portray
parts and details, making drawings into visual products that involve selection among
different elements, which might be challenging to understand or interpret (Cele 2003;
Travlou et al. 2008).
The following themes were addressed during the discussions: the previous
visit and the possibility of future visits, memories, images, and the
limitations of what one could do in the park. The interviews included
discussions about what was appreciated and what was not, about what could
have been different as well as whether theme park visits involved any
disturbing elements.
The second interview marked the end of research participation for the
children and their families. Parents appreciated that I brought them
collections of photos on a DVD from the visit. Several parents showed an
interest in reading the thesis, and some asked me to send the completed
work as a book. Children did not ask for any further information. Several of
them were proud of the diplomas that I had brought, documenting their
participation in the project. I left the children and their families with the
impression that there was a sense of pride among the participants in having
contributed to the research, as well as having had a chance to talk about
places that mean so much to them.
In the following parts of the chapter I go into details about the process of
developing an understanding of the collected material and building the
analyses in the coming chapters.
Initial steps
While watching the video-recorded interviews, I transcribed the majority in
brief for the purpose of achieving an overview. Selected parts were
transcribed in detail, focusing on consumption, children and family along
with happy accounts. I watched the interviews between two and four times,
with additional focus on parts of the recorded material. The transcriptions
include spoken accounts about emotions and longing relating to the parks,
bodily gestures – smiling, making faces, laughter – and also how material
things play a role. These included soft toys and souvenirs, to give two
examples, which children have collected – as park consumers and as gifts.
The reason for watching and transcribing the material was to learn more
about what theme park visits in a wide sense imply, and to develop a focus
on recurring matters. During this process of learning more about the
material, I noted that happiness could work as a point of departure and
provide a focus for discussing different accounts and practices.
I catalogued images from the visits in folders, giving a chronological
overview of each visit and day and the activities that took place at ALW and
Liseberg. I also looked at images from the visual documentation of the
parks, and observed similarities and differences in content: souvenirs in the
parks, mascots and characters in the parks, and facilities such as toilets (cf.
Sparrman 2011). This allowed me to see similarities and differences
between the visits and between ALW and Liseberg. I returned frequently to
the images to make sense of the places in which the children and parents
spent their time in the parks.
Reading the entirety of my field notes, several times, organizing images and
looking at the video recordings, along with their transcriptions, I created an
index to enable me to browse the material. The index was produced without
any pre-determined categories, and I elaborated on connections between
parts of the material with each other (Emerson et al. 1995: 150–156). It has
been helpful for navigating the material and for gaining an overview of the
visits – noticing similarities and differences. The index includes children’s
activities in the parks: social interaction and distance between family
members, the use of attractions, practical matters around eating, and the
involvement of material things such as cell phones, pacifiers, souvenirs,
games, measurement devices, playthings, maps, and money.
In creating this index, I was sorting out parts of the material into overarching
categories, which have developed over time. This process makes this
analytical stage of ethnography into an elaboration of its parts and into a
composition of “bits and pieces” (O’Dell & Willim 2011b: 29–31). It is a
task that can be compared with simultaneously “creating and solving a
puzzle” (Emerson et al. 1995: 144) where the possibilities for putting
different pieces together are explored (Atkinson et al. 2008). I have
considered how different pieces of the materials relate, whether they are
complementary (Hammersley & Atkinson 2007: 149f), but also whether
there is incommensurability between parts of the materials (Mol 2002).
What are practices and accounts about emotions, happiness and experiences
pointing towards?
The initial empirical focus on children means that it cannot be guaranteed
that happiness is experienced. Children and parents talk about and state the
relevance of happy emotions and places. They express happiness as being
part of places, practices and people. Only small parts of the material
explicitly and directly concern happiness, verbally, but these accounts
consider the parks in their totality and involve strong arguments about the
need to go to ALW and Liseberg.
Another methodological and analytical approach is to create so called
snapshot-stories (Mol 2002: viii, 145f). These stories from the field are
empirically composed and provide the starting point for analysis in most
chapters. These stories include fieldwork encounters, experiences in the
homes of children and at the parks, making issues of happiness part of
practices. My ambition here is primarily to offer introductions to the
analytical parts of the chapters where the words and actions of children and
parents are opened up for further exploration.
An example of a snapshot-story looks like this:
Tove (age 9), smilingly tells me that she knows Liseberg like the
back of her hand, that it is an extension of the family living room,
working as their garden and a fun backyard. It has become a
tradition that Tove receives an annual pass as a Christmas gift,
which includes free admittance to all the park’s attractions
throughout the year. Tove calls herself “a speed maniac” and is into
the park attractions. Her parents, Karin and Johan, say that the park
is part of their everyday life. They have the right connections, and
receive VIP tickets – as “honorary guests” – so that they can enter
the park without paying any admission. Karin and Johan tell me that
they stroll around to see what food is available. They surf the web
or engage in work tasks at a distance, using laptops and smart
phones, sitting in the cafés. Karin and Johan consider themselves
to be a “service team”, meaning that they are there for Tove when
or if she needs them.64
This example will be analyzed in chapter 7, and it is composed of accounts
during one of the interviews with Tove – the focus child – and her parents.
It presents a story of their use of the park. I am interested in relations
between people, material things, meanings and the implications of what is
presented through the stories. This means that I discuss, for example, how
children and parents divide up during visits for the sake of achieving
different goals, answering to different ideals and work tasks.
I include examples that provide contrasts, rather than being evidence for
proving a point (Emerson et al. 1995: 176ff), offering a story in the sense
Interview 1: Tove’s family.
that I am attentive to different practices. John Law (1994: 39) suggests that
ethnography should focus on different stories, and “not to buy into any of
them by turning the others into distractions.” This further suggests that
contrasts are important, and Mol (2002: 38) even states that they are what
marks good observation. The snapshot-story is a strategy of simplification
towards the understanding of happiness in its complexity, without
committing violence against ambiguities.
It becomes relevant to include snapshot-stories where happiness is
ambiguous, and not to include one distinct type of example that fits
scientific ambitions of purity. Following Mol and Law (2002: 3), a first step
is to avoid fitting and reducing reality into simple schemes that make
violence and repress complexity, and then use the notion of complexity to
recognize that things might “relate but don’t add up”.
Mol (2011: 33) describes analysis as a procedure similar to filtration within
chemistry, where mixed liquids are separated into their components, for
pointing out what is central within messy practices. Using Mol’s (2011)
vocabulary, I work with filtration to offer snapshot-stories which involve
happiness, recognizable and identified as such – by children, parents, and
me. However, I also move beyond happiness. I do not want to filter away
too much of the practice into unwanted surrounding noise that is disturbing
happiness (Ingold 2009a: 42). This would risk reproducing an image of
happiness as an entity or blob in itself, which is pure and can simply be
accessed (Ingold 2015: 3).
The snapshot-stories are presented as part of my explorations of material
things and intimacy, values and money, coordination of family and times of
childhood. These are followed by an analysis that focuses on bits of the
stories, and relates them to wider concerns – practices, theories, and
arguments in society at large. These stories are there to help the reader to
get to know the children, their parents, and the things and places they are
involved with, as well as wider theoretical concerns that have to do with
notions of happiness, consumption and family life today.
One way of highlighting the visits to the parks is to use images along with
text and the snapshots in text. Here, images are supportive in developing an
understanding of the visits, and inspiring thinking about various dimensions
of the visits. Drawing on Gillian Rose (2007: 239), the images work as
complementary materials, working as a way of introducing details that go
along with the text.65
Navigating the meshwork of happiness
How can we make sense of happiness? In this part, I address analysis as a
movement between details and wider practices in the materials.
I build my analyses on the openness of STS, exemplified by its slogan that
“it could be otherwise” (Woolgar 2012; Woolgar & Lezaun 2015: 465).66
Drawing on this slogan means leaving the theoretical turf war about what is
the right (one) definition of happiness, to investigate how happiness is
enacted – differently – in practice.67 It means subordinating theoretical
meanings of a general character to practices. This goes well with the
ethnographic unease with definite answers, giving “less closure” to
investigations and opening up new questions (Van Maanen 2011: 161; see
also Law 2004: 59, 150; O’Dell & Willim 2011a: 9). It allows a productive
uncertainty which Les Back (2007: 166) calls a “critical openness to the
other view.” It allows wider accounts, of messy multiplicities of happiness,
and connections with happiness that are discussable.
Mol (2002) has little to say about how to analyze practices. Therefore, I
combine her ideas of practices with Davide Nicolini’s idea of zooming.68
Looking at the material and moving between the index and its reference
points (interviews, notes, video, and images) involves zooming in and out,
paying attention to local sayings and doings, and understanding these in
relation to wider involvement (Nicolini 2009: 1412; see also Svabo 2008:
165). The metaphor of zooming captures the way in which parts of the
Images are complementary materials in three ways; to summarize, it is about their role
as (1) being helpful in interview discussions, (2) supporting relations with participants,
and (3) for illustrations within this book. Taken together, it means that work with images
is useful for the research, and also turns them into collections of family photographs
available to the participants.
Notable here is a similarity in formulation between Theodor Adorno’s notion of critical
studies and work in STS, both suggesting that “it could have been otherwise” (Berlant
2011: 13; Doganova et al. 2014: 91; see also Mol & Law 2002: 12).
Drawing on Mol and Law (2004: 46), I avoid taking a short-cut to happiness by
developing an ethnographic understanding that “consistently attends to the practices in
which it is being done”, where it is not simply located as a matter inside the body or at
the center of human life. This leads the analysis to focus on how happiness is enacted
For briefly outlined similarities with Nicolini’s approach, see Mol (2010).
material are brought to the fore, putting others in the background (Nicolini
2009: 1402).
Zooming makes happiness visible as part of practices, and provides insights
into when and where it becomes involved – and where it does not. Zooming
emphasizes that analysis involves ways of looking that are not fixed, but
shifting, and attentive to selected details at one time. It is necessary to zoom
in and out in order to consider practices in relation to theory, for theorizing
practice (Nicolini 2009: 1392). Committed to zooming, moving between
parts of the material, I explore how happiness becomes involved: in the
consumption of material things, in considerations of money and value, in
family practices, and enacting times of childhood.
With the involvement of theory, in dialog with descriptive explorations of
practices, there comes a recognition that a concept like happiness is social,
changing and involves power as part of its constitution. It is, therefore, not
a naïve sort of description that I aim to deploy – where one simply observes
and re-tells what happiness is – but a kind that is theoretically informed
(Alvesson & Sköldberg 2008: 538–543; Willis & Trondman 2000).
Happiness is not a single theme with a presence in every bit of material
collected. Happiness is consequently somewhere. It might not be central at
all times. It is in children’s and parents’ accounts and in practices. To focus
too much on happiness risks locating everything else as external to
happiness, drawing a border for the purpose of a distilled classification
(Ingold 2009a: 42). Meshwork recognizes the entanglements of things, but
not necessarily as explicit or outspoken connections. The recognition of
meshwork means that, drawing on Ingold (2009a: 40f), I develop a
“practical understanding” that analytically follows the various practices that
children are involved in with their families in relation to theme parks.
How things become tangled and are interrelated might differ and also be
unclear. Drawing on Chris Tong (2014: 201), this means that things will
remain “unaccounted for”, being left on the “outside”. What is it possible
to see then? Not the totality of happiness, or the meshwork with all of its
entanglements. But enactments of happiness within what Annemarie Mol
(2002) calls sites: where practices give it a presence. It means that
entanglements of the meshwork stretch beyond what it is possible to capture
– in my work and in research in a wider sense. There may be loosely related
parts, gaps and non-connections that can never be fully disclosed (Tong
2014: 204f). This is compatible with how Mol (2002: 87–117) both
recognizes and pays attention to gaps, distance, and silences, how she
locates practices in different places that are not in contact, and how realities
cannot exist in isolation even if these are enacted differently (Mol & Law
2002: 10). These ideas of Mol, Tong and Ingold challenge the belief that
science is fully able to capture and represent the world.
Approaching happiness through thinking about it as part of a meshwork
means that the analysis recognizes that: (1) parts of the world are entangled
and involved in movement (2) entanglements are possible to grasp, but also
(3) they involve uncertainties and unaccountable matters and (4) there is no
hierarchy in the multiplicity of enactments of happiness.
Children possess a variety of material things that originate from Liseberg
and Astrid Lindgren’s World (ALW). Toys, clothes and souvenirs of
practical use, including pens and bicycle helmets, are part of their everyday
lives. At home, commodities purchased in the two parks are visible through
strong colors as well as through children’s display of their dolls and soft
toys. Children involve their characters, like Pippi Longstocking and the
Liseberg rabbit, while they are talking about ALW and Liseberg.
This chapter explores material things associated with the famous character
from Liseberg: The rabbit. Rabbit toys, rabbit pens, and images of the rabbit
are all examples of theme-park materials found in the homes of children:
they are things that create associations with Liseberg. I focus here on things
in the homes of four girls who explicitly discuss and relate to the rabbit(s):
Tove (age 9), Kim (6) and the sisters Emma (11) and Felicia (15). They all
create a presence for the Liseberg rabbit at home, in decorating their rooms,
drawing and in talk.
As well as these children, there are others who show me things more briefly,
and without elaborating on the rabbit. Henrik (age 9) displays a pen that
contains several green rabbits. Casper (6) keeps rabbit ears – headgear –
from Liseberg at home. Thea (5), the sister of Leo (9), wears rabbit gear in
the park and visits a shop at Liseberg that specializes in rabbit merchandise.
Neither of these children elaborate upon their material things from Liseberg
at home. Their involvement with material things, however, is an indicator
that there are different ways of wearing, displaying and using things from
Liseberg. The pen is used, and consumed, and does not last forever. Clothes
and headgear provide both usefulness and the opportunity to get dressed up
as the rabbit, to become part of the character (cf. Wickstrom 2006).
Whether material things and the desire for these make children happy or
unhappy is a matter of debate, and researchers argue that there are “strong
correlations between materialism and negative wellbeing” (Nairn 2010:
111). Others emphasize that materialist consumption is not opposed to
happiness (Thin 2012: 213). Recent research on happiness in Sweden, on
the contrary, suggests that materiality is important, as individual happiness
is likely to increase with access to material things (Brülde & Fors 2012;
Nilsson 2012). This research concerns individual levels of happiness, where
external circumstances are identified as factors through statistics. It
emphasizes a correlation between material possessions and happiness. One
problem with these statistically oriented studies of happiness is that they
provide no understanding of the different ways in which people are involved
with material things.
While materiality is disputed when it comes to happiness and well-being,
intimacy is generally appreciated. Relationships and social involvement are
seen as healthy and intimacy as closely connected with happiness (Berlant
1998: 282; Illouz 2007: 29, 46). The homes of children are consequently
rich sites for investigations of the contested meanings of material things,
intimacy and happiness.
In this chapter I aim to develop an understanding of the intertwining of
material things from theme parks with children’s everyday lives at home in
order to discuss intimacy and happiness. Three questions guide the analysis:
How and why do material things from theme parks interest children? How
do they become interwoven with children’s everyday lives at home? Do
commercial products and brands enact intimacy and happiness?
According to Miller (2001b: 232), there is plenty of critique of consumption
and materialism; however, few studies are ethnographic. Studies of material
things – such as soft toys – and brands often suggest that these have a good
or bad influence. Such answers are common in research where consumption
often turns into an intrinsic good or bad (Miller 2001b: 232). As I am
carrying out an ethnographic study, I avoid signing up to theories that
provide general answers about whether material things, as such, are good or
bad for children. It is however important to outline the critiques of
consumption, as well as the positive aspects emphasized in some
Materiality – including commodities and “things” in a wider sense – is
assumed to create problems, and conditions that toxify childhood, leaving
children unhappy (Palmer 2006; Schor 2005). Social science studies suggest
that the market pushes into or penetrates intimate human relationships
(Illouz 1997, 2007; Löfgren 1979).69 For Marxists and critical theorists
building on Marx and Freud, capitalism involves a pathological fetishism,
where human relations are distorted by the world of commodities (Böhm &
Batta 2010; Böhme 2014; Kapur 2005a). Commodity fetishism as a
disorientation of humans to material things has been associated since the
writing of Karl Marx with problems of capitalism (Billig 1999; Böhme
2014). For Marx, it “produces a false path to happiness” (Belk 1988: 146).
This idea focuses on the corrupt system of capitalism.
Where critical social scientists see the power of corporations, researchers
focusing on branding look for profitable and meaningful relations between
consumers and companies. It is about a mutual relationship rather than
power and domination. This is the case in studies of corporate intentions to
develop close connections and intimate bonds between brand characters,
cartoonish mascots, and children (de Droog et al. 2011; Fournier 1998;
Hémar-Nicolas & Gollety 2012; Manning 2010). Brand characters are a
“tool” that companies use “to build a relationship between a brand and
young consumers” (Hémar-Nicolas & Gollety 2012: 20). This is part of a
wider trend, where companies aim “to build intimate relationships with
customers” (Bügel et al. 2011: 247). Studies of brand characters build on
psychological theory where the qualities of relationships between children
and material things are emphasized. In psychology, soft toys have been
described as transitional objects which give comfort during children’s first
years of life and allow them to reach independence as individuals
(Winnicott 1953), an independence that is associated with the pleasure of
feelings of autonomy (Russon 2014: 68).
The possibilities of ethnography have been addressed in calls for studies on
brands and brand characters (Gianneschi 2012: 245f; Gustafsson 2008: 19;
Hémar-Nicolas & Gollety 2012: 27).70 Drawing on the work of Steve
Woolgar (2012), ethnography allows researchers to address practice and
challenge claims of representation. This downplays the general claims made
above, that things (e.g. soft toys) represent commodities within an
oppressive system of capitalism, or are expressions of a toxic childhood.
The question of whether such claims are relevant or not to divisions of good
For a similar argument see Löfgren (1979: 71), suggesting that market principles push
further into life and give emotions the character of commodities.
Similar calls have been made in studies of tourism, regarding ethnographic attention to
movements of souvenirs and other materialities (e.g. Ateljevic & Doorne 2003; Haldrup
& Larsen 2006; Morgan & Pritchard 2005; Van der Duim 2007).
and bad, along with a dichotomy between the material and the social,
becomes a matter of fieldwork (Miller 2001a: 16). Do children make
material things good or bad? Do they make material things into a material
or social issue? This approach means that material things, intimacy and
children’s happiness turn into a matter of exploration. It becomes possible
to explore how children’s material things are given importance (Miller
2008a, 2009). There is an opportunity to get a sense of material culture and
society. It is not about a totalizing image of society but about insights into
how material culture is involved in movements and becomes relevant to
children in their homes.
There is a developing body of ethnographic research that recognizes the
involvement of commercial things within people’s homes (Fuentes 2011:
24ff; Miller 2001a, 2008a, 2009). Within this approach, there is not a strict
division between the location of home and the surrounding world. It is
observed that there are connections between places, different times, and
movements of material things into the home, for example things acquired
as commodities and collected as intimate memories through photographs
(Miller 2001a, 2008a; see also Hetherington 1997).
To be able to approach material things originating in theme parks there is a
need for concepts to describe the focus of my ethnographic inquiry. To be
able to capture and include difference, I need an inclusive concept of the
“material”. Ingold (2012: 439) suggests that things are “gatherings of
materials in movement, as distinct from objects”, where objects are
“completed forms that stand over and against the perceiver and block further
movement.” Materials are “matter considered in respect of its occurrence in
processes of flow and transformation” (ibid.). For example, considering soft
toys as things in this sense means that we are highlighting movement and
transformation rather than the ready-made and final. They are not the
completed commodities or brand characters of corporations, but take part in
practices within which transformation and change takes place. Meanings
might change, and materials are affected by use, becoming damaged, worn
or dusty or kept in mint condition with maintenance and effort. Looking into
the homes of children consequently provides an understanding of how
material things become whatever they are in practice.
The variety of things that are offered in outlets at Liseberg will be explored
in the next section, which provides an introduction to the rabbit and what it
is involved with, in the park.
The rabbit was unveiled as a central character at Liseberg in 1983, the year
in which the park celebrated its 60th birthday.71 Since its introduction, the
rabbit has been a marketing “symbol” for the park. It is possible to purchase
different versions of the rabbit in the souvenir outlets in the park. There is
the rabbit shop (“Kaninbutiken”), and other stores display the rabbit for
window shoppers, including the Liseberg shop (“Lisebergsshoppen”).
These stores offer different products that include the rabbit as an image: soft
toys, playthings, rabbit make-up kits, drinking bottles, clothes and even
bicycle helmets. Many products that are sold in the park also display the
rabbit as a logo. It is visible in displays of hamburger meals at Burger King,
on popcorn packages, as well as on the tickets to the park and the attractions.
Generally, the products include a rabbit that is green in color.
Figure 5:1: Sign
outside the rabbit
shop, Liseberg.
Figure 5:2: Shop
window, rabbit soft toys,
The importance of the rabbit to the park is illustrated in one of Liseberg’s
annual reports: “The green rabbit is Liseberg’s most central symbol and it
turns up as a soft toy, as well as a logotype and a living creature in the
amusement park” (Liseberg 2011 2012: 6). Throughout the park, the rabbit
is visible on flags and signs, and it is even included as part of a traffic light
just outside of Liseberg where people cross the road. People who enter the
‘1983 – Lisipedia’,
(accessed 16/06/15).
park will notice that large bushes have been trimmed into the shape of the
Large costumed rabbit mascots work as living creatures at Liseberg and
interact with visitors. There are stage shows with mascots. These rabbits
meet and greet visitors as employees bring the mascots to life. These are
popular and attract the attention of visitors, who take the opportunity to hug
them and to snap photos with them at the rabbit house where the mascots
frequently interact with children. The rabbit house is an attraction at
Liseberg and it is one of a few where the rabbits are the main focus.
Visitors also go to the Rabbit River where they see “a fairy-tale land where
the rabbit himself lives” and Rabbit Land, which opened in 2013, works as
“the rabbits’ own universe right in the heart of Liseberg.”72 This attraction
now features several different rabbits – which are given names such as
Kanne and Kanina. At the time of my fieldwork, differences between the
rabbit mascots in the park were visible in different clothing, but not through
the feminine and masculine names that are now used in Rabbit Land.
Figure 5:3: Rabbit topiary,
Figure 5:4: Mascots, Liseberg.
‘Liseberg’, (accessed 05/03/13).
When they leave the park, children and parents take with them soft toys,
clothes with the rabbits on, and funny rabbit ears from the shops. Adults are
also invited to answer survey questions after their time in the park and are
specifically asked about whether they are happy with the visibility of the
rabbits (in the plural), whether their children were approached in a good
way and to what degree they contributed to a nice and happy atmosphere73.
These questions illustrate ambitions that the rabbits should be available as
mascots, be something positive and that they should offer a good time to
children specifically.
The Liseberg rabbit is a famous character in Sweden. It is documented in
images published online by park visitors, as commodities from the park –
balloons, headgear, soft toys – and it is visible as a great smiling character
on a hot air balloon that is used to promote the park throughout the country.
The rabbit here, for Liseberg, turns out to be both an “object-to-be-sold and
as the bearer of a promotional message” (Wernick 1994: 15f). However,
this does not tell us much about how the rabbits are used by visitors. For
example, what happens to the rabbits from Liseberg in the homes of
Tove (age 9) tells me that she likes the Liseberg rabbit. This
becomes obvious when she shows me her room. It is full of green
Liseberg rabbits. Her collection of green soft toys of different sizes
overflows the room. Small rabbits mix with giant ones. The small
rabbits are all lined up next to one other on a shelf below her bunk
bed. They are surrounded by small lamps that help to direct my
attention to them. The larger rabbits are placed on the upper level,
on top of the bunk bed where Tove sleeps. There she also has a
pillow with an image of the Liseberg rabbit. Tove’s room looks like
a collector’s room. When talking about the rabbits, Tove speaks of
it in singular sense, as THE Liseberg rabbit. Tove’s mother Karin,
who also takes part in the showing of the room, says that she thinks
Tove has a “fixation” on the rabbits.74
Both Karin and her husband and other relatives constantly
contribute to the collection by giving Tove green rabbits as presents.
In the past, Karin says, Tove always wanted a new rabbit. Now she
Survey, obtained from Liseberg management.
Interview 1: Tove’s family.
is less interested, and she tells me that they are made of a new and
different material at the moment.75
Tove’s unique collection of rabbits makes her room into an exciting place
to visit. No other children in the study keep or show me such a massive
number of things that come from Liseberg or other parks. It provokes
questions about how she has been able to gather so many rabbits, and why?
Is she modest in her claim to “like” the rabbit, or is she a collector?
The bed is an important part of the lives of many people, not only in terms
of sleep, but also in terms of consumption. There is a need for further
research into the question: “What kind of consumption space is it?”
(Valtonen & Närvänen 2015: 1596, italics in original). This part adds to
such knowledge with an exploration of collecting, which is a common
activity among children (Belk 1995).
The material things described in the text above are well organized, not
arranged in a haphazard way. The collection of rabbits makes Tove’s room
into what seems to be her place. It associates her as an individual with
having a long-term interest in the rabbit. Tove collects material things that
go with her interest in the rabbit, at the same time making this interest
visible to others. Tove’s shelves, like shelves in a wider sense, “attest to the
lives lived by their owners” (Sassatelli 2007: 144).
Here, it is not fruitful to distinguish use – a comfortable bed – from
collection and passionate arrangements of things, beyond use. Tove’s
rabbits transgress the dichotomy of use/collecting, in that soft-toy rabbits
are part of both her sleeping arrangements and a display of collected things.
The rabbits are arranged so that they can be touched, looked at, and take
part in movement along with people in the room. Karin touches them, the
rabbits touch Tove, being in her bed, and she displays them to me.
The rabbits in Tove’s room make sense as things, in Ingold’s sense of the
term (2012: 439), as they are involved in movement and change.
Consequently, they are not objects put at a distance, blocking further
movement. This difference is important because it makes sense of how Tove
does not make her room into a collection of objects that one is to observe
from a distance, but makes them available to touch, to move around and to
Interview 2: Tove’s family.
get involved with. The rabbits are neither exhibition objects, calling for
restraint and care to remain the same, or given such a personal character by
Tove that they are within the reach of her, and only her.
Tove’s rabbits do not tell a story of collectable objects that distance people
from parts of her room or her possessions. Instead, they tell a story about
how material things and a child can provide meaning, and even develop a
biography, with each other. Tove’s history with the rabbits of Liseberg
becomes observable through her collection of material things, purchased at
different times, and all brought back to her room. The rabbit is important in
talk and also in a bodily sense. What you like, you keep close, I understand
from listening to Tove.
Embodied intimacy
Being in Tove’s bed, the rabbit toys and the pillow with a rabbit image
become an intimate part of her life at home. Intimacy is a notion that has
been a topic of concern and debate within the social sciences during the last
few decades, including the question of whether material things can be part
of intimate relationships (Cerulo 2009: 533). Kym Maclaren (2014: 56) asks
the question: what is intimacy? She writes that a “beginning answer is that
intimacy is a sense of closeness.” This answer is relevant to how intimacy
can be read in a wide sense, for example in fields of research that concern
children and commodities. In research on children’s involvement with
brands, for example, comparisons are made with friendships and
acquaintances (Ji 2002). Pushing the argument that Tove’s bed is about
human intimacy makes only a little sense. Many things and people are close
to children, and making a case for similarities with human relations
downplays actual material involvement. The notion of intimacy is, however,
broader, and covers diverse involvements which are more relevant to speak
of when considering how Tove and the rabbits share space, and their
physical closeness to one another.
David Morgan (2011) discusses intimacy and its different dimensions, and
suggests three notions that assist in understanding the close presence of
material things. Morgan (ibid.: 35) uses embodied intimacy to encompass
caring, touching and sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy to refer to
understanding the other, including sharing and disclosure, and intimate
knowledge as the “interweaving of personal biographies over a period” of
time. These intimacies can all be seen in the example of Tove.
The routines of touch that become part of Tove’s life with the rabbits in bed
make sense as an embodied intimacy, being close. The rabbits’ material
presence provides touch in both directions; the rabbits being in contact with
Tove and Tove touching the rabbits. Maintaining space for her soft toys
means that the rabbit of Liseberg is physically interwoven with Tove’s daily
life and becomes an intimate part of her routines of sleeping and making the
bed. The rabbit also interweaves into Tove’s personal biography, in which
others also take a part, by writing it. Following Daniel Thomas Cook (2003:
166), this means that biography fuses with consumption and that “the
boundary between person and commodity” becomes irrelevant.
Tove is not involved with any groups of collectors, or fan fiction, or actively
contributing to any subculture of rabbit aficionados. Her interest in the
rabbit is more of a family affair, in which parents and relatives are the ones
presented as having an involvement with Tove. Her mother Karin argues
that Tove has a fixation, as if it could be a problem. This is said with a smile,
suggesting that it really is not when it comes to Tove.
Individualism and psychology
In approaching Tove as a psychological subject, Karin enacts emotional
intimacy (Morgan 2011: 35), having an intimate understanding that she is
able to disclose. Karin’s understanding of fixation and Tove’s acceptance
of it suggest that the professional language of psychology is part of
everyday life in the family. Tove’s individual fixation is tied to the rabbit,
and this is visible to Karin, who lives with her daughter and is well read
about psychological theories. In speaking about Tove’s fixation she is
distancing herself from what she observes, making the case that it is an
individual who is into the rabbit. Karin then becomes what Viviana Zelizer
(2005: 99, 162) calls a “third party” in a discussion of intimacy. As a third
party, Karin is not actively involved, but external and secondary, observing
a biography of Tove with her rabbits. This suggests the relevance of the
individual within psychological thinking and at the same time downplays
the relevance of sociological explanations or consumer culture in a wider
As Tove accepts her “fixation” without contestation, the notion might seem
to be correct, as she does not make it into a big deal or fuss about it. She
might even agree. However, her silence may also mean something other
than accepting psychological accounts. Along with her explicit interest in
the rabbits comes the possibility of receiving more rabbits. If she contested
fixation as an individual trait, would Tove get any additional soft toy
rabbits? While it is impossible to tell, Tove’s acceptance highlights a social
order in which parents purchase material things for their children, and do
so, at least partly, with psychological motivations. Accepting the idea of an
individual fixation opens up the possibility of material things and social
involvement, including repeated park visits with the family.
What is missing in Karin’s distanced approach to fixation is actually the
role played by parents. Parental involvement with things that are intended
for children connects the various directions that a thing might take: from
purchase to the child, and from consumption to making it an intimate part
of the life of a child.
Adrie Kusserow (2004: 85) suggests that uniqueness and the possibility of
expressing oneself as unique is part of a type of individualism which is
psychologically oriented and about letting the inside of children come out.
According to Kusserow, the free flow of individual uniqueness, without
constraints, is associated by parents with the happiness of their children
(ibid.). These accounts of individualism as part of a wider order, established
historically and culturally, with relevance for children says something about
Tove’s “fixation” and how her psychology is involved in a social order (cf.
Lash 2010: 19, 100).
The rabbit soft toys at home take part in making Tove into an individual
who is able to express who she is. For her parents, material things also offer
the possibility of articulating who Tove is. It is relevant here that the
material things turn into a way of elaborating upon Tove’s psychology.
Giving a personal character to objects, keeping them close, and trying to
exercise full control over them, as an individual, are traits in the theory of
transitional objects (Winnicott 1953; see also Lee 2008). However, Tove is
not suggesting that others are intrusive. Her rabbits, and all of her rabbits,
are part of a family effort. Together, the family members provide space for
Tove’s favorite character and take part in arranging them.
Co-consumption and gifts
Parents are in this way not absent and secondary in relation to rabbit things,
but take an active role. Parents such as Karin, as well as Tove’s father and
relatives, are involved in what Daniel Thomas Cook (2008: 235) speaks of
as co-consumption: by purchasing commodities, taking part in arranging
them, and being there with children as they engage in activities involving
their things.
Karin is involved in acquiring and arranging material things as well as
making them into a psychological Tove-issue. Karin is also close with the
rabbits, not in the psychological way that she assigns to her daughter, but in
a material sense. Involvement, and having the rabbits close, brings her into
a kind of intimacy which is beyond the three types outlined by Morgan
(2011: 35): embodied intimacy, emotional intimacy and intimate
knowledge. It is an involvement with material things that centers those
things on another individual. It demonstrates that giving and sharing, among
family members who are close, also creates material intimacy as the close
presence of things.
Tove creates the possibility of receiving rabbits, again and again. This
affects consumption in a wider sense, where her individual preferences and
psychology lead adults to the rabbit things, as they purchase gifts for her.
Material things are consequently not only about Tove as an individual and
the rabbit in material isolation. The material things take part in creating
social connections, beyond Tove’s family, and beyond the park of Liseberg,
including relatives who are providing her with gifts.
Rabbits are memorable gifts for Tove, who associates them with the people
who provided her with the soft toys. Researchers who discuss gifts have
pointed out that the social and personal character of gifts contrasts selfcenteredness against the universality of commodities as orientations to
profits (e.g. Appadurai 1999: 11; Sassatelli 2007: 145). Co-consumption is
consequently a social endeavor that builds on what Morgan (2011: 35)
speaks of as intimate knowledge and emotional intimacy. Providing Tove
with rabbits suggests both an awareness of her affection for these toys and
understanding what she wants. In this way, the gifts are helpful for enacting
intimacy, “reducing the distance between two persons” (Illouz 2012: 221).
In fact, gifts are able to make more than two people involved in intimacy.
Relatives in the plural sense might provide one gift, thus reducing the
distance between several people using a single material thing, as a gift.
By focusing on how the rabbit turns into gifts, it is possible to address the
involvement of children, parents and relatives, including adults, which often
goes unnoticed in analyses of children and consumption (Martens et al.
2004: 157, 166, 175). The example of Tove and her collection further
suggests that the involvement of other people makes rabbits into an
expression of personal bonds, which involve both personal and sentimental
meanings (cf. Sassatelli 2007: 145). It demonstrates that commodities are
not unchanging and do not necessarily represent the market, and its
penetration of intimate life (Illouz 1997: 11). Here, the commodities from
Liseberg become material things that take part in emphasizing the intimacy
of family and with relatives. Consequently, material things are accompanied
by memories of the gift-givers and they make Tove’s room personal,
moving beyond her as an individual by including others. There is a power
in gift-giving relationships, calling for returns and reciprocity (O’Dell 2002:
164). In giving credit to the givers, Tove is happily able to recognize
generosity and in a sense to pay back through a process of remembering that
is tied to the people who care for her.
The rabbits become entangled in a meshwork of material things, social
relations, and personal meanings that make Tove’s bed into a display that
extends beyond the initial rabbit commodities. It is not a question of rabbits
as such, but of relations and meanings that run in different directions: to the
commercial setting, to relatives and families and to Tove as the girl in focus.
Immaterial entanglements
In thinking about Tove’s room and the arrangement of rabbits on the shelf
under her bed, I cannot avoid mentioning my initial thought that it looks
like an altar. Material things in religious practice are used to mediate
relationships between people and gods (Miller 2010: 71f). Similarities
between religion and consumption have been discussed since Marx
analyzed commodity fetishism in 1842 (Ellen 1988: 216; see also Böhme
2014). It remains part of analyses of consumer culture, and suggests that
there is a “worship of things” (Labanyi 2010: 228). Is Tove a “believer”?
Tove speaks of the rabbit, in the singular. She does not associate any of the
many toys in her room with reference to a specific rabbit. The rabbit is
represented through her many material things. Tove makes all of the rabbit
soft toys relevant to the one subject that she talks about and likes. Keeping
different rabbits allows the immaterial rabbit to be represented materially
for Tove. The rabbit is above and beyond direct reference in the sense that
Tove uses words to emphasize it in the singular, as a subject that
transgresses different material things. Rabbits are everywhere in her room,
but where the rabbit is remains unclear. What this implies is a limitless
collection of rabbits, without end, since none of Tove’s soft toys is fully
able to capture the essence of the rabbit. This might suggest that there are
greedy desires at play, where Tove wants more and more. But at the same
time, she is resisting the possible call of the new types of soft toy rabbits
that are available. As pointed out in the introductory example, Tove is
currently not drawn to the new, and the new materials making the rabbits
softer do not interest her as much. She does not reject them, but appreciates
the material things that she has already been given.
In this way, the rabbit turns into a subject which has a presence somewhere,
elsewhere, reminiscent of religious practice, where a spirit is not within a
particular material thing. Olga Nieuwenhuys (2011) argues that children’s
play with soft toys make material things come alive. This is not the case for
Tove, who keeps her rabbit soft toys mute, as material things in a collection,
close to her body, and making the room a place where she can sleep.
Embodied intimacy, emotional intimacy and intimate knowledge (Morgan
2011: 35) all become involved here. In Tove’s room material things, from
Liseberg in particular, take part in an embodied intimacy of touch. The
meaning of these many things, the rabbits, leads in several directions: to
family, to relatives and their gifts, to being purchased as commodities at
Liseberg. At the same time, the rabbits are material things that are present
and are associated with distant places and people.
Kim (age 5) lives in an apartment that contains plenty of recognizable
ingredients from popular culture. Her room is professionally painted with
colorful decorations of famous characters on the walls. In the living room
there are magazines, cartoons and a collection of movies. There is no sign
of rabbits here at first. No commodities, such as soft toys from Liseberg.
During our talk about Liseberg, however, the rabbit appears as a drawing
made by Kim.
Kim speaks about rabbits as a desirable part of visits to Liseberg.
Kim is enthusiastic about meeting the rabbits. She says that the
rabbits are “the best”. Sitting on the sofa in the family living room,
Kim tells me that they – the rabbits – know her name. Her mother
Lotta tells me that Kim sometimes draws rabbits at home. While
discussing Liseberg, Kim uses pencils and paper to draw several
smiling rabbits, explaining to me that they are at Liseberg. For Kim,
the rabbits in the park are important, in ways that go beyond her
drawings. To meet them she needs to go to Liseberg. Kim does not
yet know when the family will go to the park. It will be a surprise
visit, arranged by her parents Lotta and Fred, who are preparing to
celebrate the upcoming birthdays of Kim and her sister Mary (3) at
Figure 5:5: Kim’s drawing.
Familiarity and distance
Drawing rabbits on a piece of paper from my notepad, Kim gets into a
routine of creating the material and visual presence of her favorite
characters. Her drawings and comments about the rabbits make it clear to
me that there is a current absence of rabbits at home. When Kim speaks of
the rabbits, she is referring to the different mascots available at Liseberg.
While she is able to represent the rabbits, they are at the same time distant
from her. For Kim, the drawings do not provide more than an image of what
is present elsewhere. Representing the rabbits, at home, creates a path
towards what is desirable. Kim wants to see the rabbits, to be where the
mascots are, at Liseberg. She speaks of them in positive terms as being “the
There is an emphasis on difference here, in terms of places, and how
representation is here distinct from the reality of rabbits elsewhere. It marks
a line between outside the park and inside the park, suggesting that the
difference has to do with the presence and absence of rabbits. Kevin
Interview 1: Kim’s family.
Hetherington (1997) points out that places are actively made to be different,
through the arrangement of meaning, material things and people. While
Kim is able to produce representations at home, she also signs up to a notion
of place where there are distinct characteristics and an involvement of
different material things in different places. In linking the representation
with the depicted reality of Liseberg, Kim is both emphasizing and
navigating such a difference of place.
Previous meetings with the mascots have left memories, and connect
expectations of everyday life with the upcoming visits. In her talk about the
rabbits at Liseberg, Kim is able to “bring them to life” (Nieuwenhuys 2011:
417), giving them human properties, a voice, and the ability to recognize
humans and use her name. Responding to her presence, having knowledge
of her, and being there for her, the mascots turn out to be familiar with her,
according to Kim. They are there for her. This suggests that the mascots are
both able and willing to approach her when she visits the park.
Kim is longing for the rabbits. She wants to be where they are. Meeting the
rabbits at Liseberg, so that they can interact, requires movement and
reducing the distance. Kim’s rabbits are not distant objects in the sense that
they “stand over and against the perceiver” (Ingold 2012: 439). They are
with Kim, and call for intimacy as the achievement of a “desired familiarity
with another”, being “the antithesis of distance” (Thien 2005: 192f; see also
Illouz 2012: 221). To get close requires her to enter the park, go to Liseberg
and get involved in the activities that are offered at the house of the rabbit.
Appropriating the brand (character)
The idea that people in a general sense contribute to the brand, culturally,
and thereby economically, implies that there are connections between
various practices and “expressions” that are produced by children like Kim
(e.g. Foster 2007; Manning 2010: 44). The corporation is assumed to be a
body which is able to profit from different practices in various places. This
suggests that the corporation has a great reach, wherever its brands become
involved, and make value through production among consumers (Carah
2011: 437). Such an approach suggests that corporations succeed in their
aim of generating intimate relationships, subordinating consumers to their
Kim gives no indication of following Liseberg’s business plan. In her
version of Liseberg, there are only the rabbits. Everything else is left out.
There are only rabbits in her talk, and inside the circle of the park. To meet
the rabbit mascots, one has only to purchase an entrance ticket at the lowest
rate. The many other attractions that are available at a greater cost are not
included in Kim’s drawing, which suggests what is important and leaves out
what is not. Kim’s focus on rabbits does not challenge consumption or
Liseberg’s brand, but it demarcates particular things of interest.
Brands are commonly described as providing opportunities for lifestyles
and identities, suggesting that consumers adapt their existence, more or less
creatively, to what corporations offer them (e.g. Arvidsson 2006: 27f;
Bookman 2013). These arguments about consumer subordination to
corporate strategies and their brands might be significant in focusing on
goals and aims, such as how the goal of Disney is to “win over the hearts
and minds of young people so as to deliver them to the market as both loyal
consumers and commodities” (Giroux & Pollock 2011: 80). An
ethnographic turn to practices in which children like Kim are involved with
material things, however, suggests that commodities are not always
desirable in the ways that corporations might be aiming for. Rather than
subordination, there are parallel paths to the brand as part of the corporation.
Kim is moving along with the brand character, rather than becoming
directed in one particular way. This means that she adds to the rabbit of
Liseberg, subtracts from it, and enacts it into a character that builds on what
are relevant fantasies and desires for her. The rabbit is not fully her own,
and not fully Liseberg’s. Her drawings do not talk, they are kept mute. But
Kim’s park-rabbits, at Liseberg, do talk. In making the rabbits talk, Kim
takes part in a wider effort among consumers to animate products and
animate the brand (Fournier 1998: 344f). In doing so, she subscribes to
Liseberg’s notion of the rabbit as a “living creature in the park” (Liseberg
2011 2012: 6), approaching it as something that is familiar with her.
There is a certainty in what Kim says about the talking rabbits at Liseberg
that makes me uncertain. At Liseberg, in the park, the rabbits are usually, if
not always, mute. In a newspaper article, the vice-CEO of Liseberg tells the
story of the rabbit where he says that the silence of the rabbits is supposed
to stimulate the fantasy and play of children.77 How can the rabbits address
Kim by name? While vocalization might be inappropriate among cartoonish
characters in a theme park it makes sense in establishing intimacy for Kim;
GP (06/07/12) ’Så blev kaninen symbol för Liseberg’.
making the rabbits personal to her, interweaving them into a shared
biography (Cook 2003: 166; Morgan 2011: 35).
The process of involvement with a brand has been discussed in research
focusing on brands and consumption. Sonia Bookman (2013: 60f) argues
that identities are produced as consumers use brands, co-perform the brand,
and make it come alive, living it themselves. Through this process, it is
claimed that meanings are shared and that a common social world is
established. Researchers studying consumption argue that consumers
engage in the co-creation of brands through cultural expressions that create
value and company profits (e.g. Gustafsson 2008: 20; Prahalad &
Ramaswamy 2004; Thrift 2008: 41). A related observation is that
production and consumption are strongly interrelated, and that it might even
be of little relevance to separate the two (e.g. Johansson 2005: 220). The
case of children, brands and meaning, however, has remained unexplored
until now (Hémar-Nicolas & Gollety 2012). Is Kim creating value and
profits for Liseberg, by linking her production of rabbits on her own, at
home, with the ones in the park?
Theories of the brand emphasize the productive role played by consumers,
who provide meaning to corporations that seek a “competitive advantage”
through the involvement of consumers’ “creativity and innovation” to the
extent “that they develop the brand in certain directions” (Foster 2007: 719).
What this suggests is that corporations welcome consumer involvement but
also that they are observant of what they do. Drawing on Illouz’ (1997: 11)
concept, corporations do not want consumers to “penetrate” their brands,
but to work along with them. Liseberg’s approach to consumers – inviting
children to fantasize and to play with the rabbit mascots – places emphasis
on what takes place in the park. There, the corporation is able to control
what the rabbit is and becomes, where children’s fantasies are allowed only
to the degree that they do not interfere with what the rabbit is supposed to
be. Visitors – children primarily – who punch the mascots in the park are
one such example of undesired activities, which Liseberg tries to avoid.
Fighting is frowned upon, and particular ways of interacting are
encouraged, including hugs.
Drawing a line between consumption and production
Kim’s involvement with the rabbit as a commercial symbol makes sense as
co-creation within theories of brands (e.g. Gustafsson 2008: 20; Prahalad &
Ramaswamy 2004). As noted above, it suggests that consumption is in fact
about production. It assumes that production is about symbolic values. But it
is about more than that. The rabbits are material things, available as
commodities of different kinds in the park, as was seen in the example of
Tove’s bedroom. These are produced in factories, by laborers. While children
get involved with the brand, culturally, and take part in producing it,
associating it with their meanings, I understand that they cannot be too
While I am taking a guided tour of Liseberg, Anders, a senior
member of the staff, comments that Liseberg is a business with
global reach. The corporation uses production sites in Asia. I am
informed that Liseberg has quality controls. The park’s
management travel to China to inspect the conditions under which
the rabbits are produced – to ensure that no children are involved.
Why am I told about the production of the rabbit stuff and that no children
take part in it? Firstly, the origin of consumer products has been a hot topic
during the last few decades, in popular and critical writing that addresses the
exploitation of children (for one example, see Klein 2001). 78 Anders’
description of factory visits suggests that it cannot be taken for granted that
children do not work there and that the management of Liseberg is aware of
the possibilities and problems of poor working conditions that affect children,
elsewhere. His account of how children are left out of production suggests
that Liseberg does not exploit children through labor. By telling me this,
Anders makes me think about how the rabbit is simultaneously a product for
children that cannot be allowed to be produced by them. It makes the rabbit
into an ethical and emotional concern, where children in their roles as
consumers is less of a concern than the risk of children becoming involved in
Kim’s creative involvement with the rabbit is with it as a brand, not as a
producer of the commodities that generate sales and revenue at the park. This
might seem self-evident and beyond the need for comment. But what Anders
is highlighting in relation to Kim and other children is that their involvement
with the brand is separated from production, in the case of commodities.
Production is consequently different when it comes to brands and products,
and there is a risk that this point may be missed, in general talk about the
A discussion of the conditions in industrial production and the manufacturing of
Liseberg products is beyond the scope of this study. For general studies that discuss how
children take part in industrial work, are exploited and also suffer from a lack of safety,
see Langer (2002, 2004).
mutual involvement of consumption and production in the talk about children
and their practices.
Material things – the mascots – are involved in occasional embodied
intimacy, as part of meeting each other in the park. But it is not the material
presence throughout everyday life of rabbits – as soft toys, or drawings –
that matter to Kim. It is the living presence of creatures elsewhere, in the
park, where Kim’s past and future with the rabbits is. She is developing her
meanings of the brand character, creating new ones that go beyond
Liseberg’s rabbits. She has such a creative approach in common with other
children elsewhere (Ironico 2012). An absence of material things such as
soft toy rabbits, along with her appreciation of the rabbit as the “best”,
provides a background to the combination of fantasy and thinking about
representation and reality that Kim is involved with at home, outlining a
shared biography which is maintained in relation to the mascots at the park.
It tells a story of a desirable presence and intimacy with rabbit mascots for
mass consumption, which are currently at a distance.79
The Swedish Christmas Calendar is an annual television show aired by The
Swedish Public Service Broadcaster (SVT) throughout December, from the
1st to the 24th. It started in 1960, and the story differs each year. The tradition
of the SVT Christmas calendar creates great interest among both children
and adults in Sweden, where the episodes are watched “live” during their
premiere broadcast each morning and as repeats in the afternoon. The
episodes are also distributed through copies of the show.
In 1998 the program had the title När karusellerna sover (While the
carousels sleep). It is still possible to buy the show as a DVD collection
through retail companies. The show takes place in an amusement park that
is closed during winter time, not explicitly spoken of as Liseberg. However,
the show was recorded in the park and many things, including attractions
Heinz Steinert (2003: 127) similarly points to the fact that intimacy does not
necessarily involve mutual knowledge or recognition but can involve anonymity; for
example, when a stage performer bonds with a mass audience. While an audience might
feel that they, as individuals, know and are close to the performer, the performer is not
able to engage intimately with individuals but only with a mass of people.
and background scenery, are recognizable as parts of Liseberg to people
who have visited the park.
Felicia (age 11) and Emma (age 15) are sisters who frequently
watch När karusellerna sover. It happens that they watch the show
after their Liseberg visits to prolong what they describe as a positive
feeling. For example, when they are at Liseberg, in the park, they
search for things they have seen to see if they match the show.
Emma and Felicia say that they have seen the show at least 75
times, and that it feels “cozy” when they watch it. They have
watched the show since they were small. They tell me that they
watch episodes of the program when they are home sick from
school. It is something that has become more or less a tradition.
Even though the watching is filled with tradition, Emma’s and
Felicia’s parents explain that the girls do different things in the park
today compared to when they were younger. For example, they do
not hug the Liseberg rabbits any longer. 80
A central character in När karusellerna sover is a rabbit, which is simply
referred to as The Rabbit. The “home” of this character is the rabbit house
at Liseberg, which is an attraction that one is able to enter as a visitor to the
park. While the park rabbits are generally green, the rabbit in the television
show När karusellerna sover is white. In the show, the rabbit also has a
voice, distinguishing it from the mascots at Liseberg, which are mute.
Extending emotions
Emma and Felicia approach this show as an expression of Liseberg,
regardless of the differences between the show and what is offered in the
park. It is a show that is about Liseberg, and it offers the possibility of
extending feelings that are available in the park to the living room at home;
from a place of roller-coasters, to the sofa in front of the television set.
The positive feelings associated with Liseberg are not limited to its
geographical confines. The coziness which Emma and Felicia emphasize is
also positive, being at home watching the VHS tape. Both park visits and
watching the show are traditions that are part of their family biography.
They go to the park together and Emma and Felicia watch the show
together. Watching the show, they are able to create the desired feelings of
coziness at home, and also memories that relate to what is available at
Interview 1: Felicia’s family.
Liseberg. This means that troublesome times turn into a matter of care that
involves siblings (Gulløv et al. 2014: 11), watching the show.
In Sweden, coziness is associated with informal and relaxed activities such
as family meals and watching movies together with an emphasis on
togetherness and setting aside time for each other (Brembeck 2012: 127).
Having a cozy time involves drawing a line between the people who are
included – a family, for example – and others. It is about the close presence
of people.
Coziness does not, however, require the presence or absence of other
humans, as Felicia’s and Emma’s consumption of När karusellerna sover
suggests. The show is watched when the sisters are sick, which is a time
when embodied intimacy can turn into a problem: being too close might be
contagious – if one is sick but the other is not. Helping during sore times of
sickness, the show becomes a way of feeling good, and likely feeling better.
The feeling is part of watching, but also of being home, together.
Consumption is made into part of a time with the family as well as part of
an individual healing process. It makes up a particular type of consumption:
one that is not about future plans, but remains in the present. Here, the rabbit
of Liseberg becomes part of a shared time, where memories of past times
enter the present. Being sick it is not possible to go the park, one stays at
Continuity and change
Intimacy is often approached as “a linear movement from distance to
proximity,” while in practice it involves greater complexity (Thien 2005:
201). The character and presence of the rabbit has changed over time. It is
no longer embodied intimacy that is relevant for Felicia and Tove –
touching the mascots in the park – but a more distanced intimacy with the
incorporation of the park’s rabbit into the show. Emma and Felicia have
moved away from bodily interactions. Hugs with the mascots are no longer
desired as part of their visits.
Viewing the show 75 times, as a low estimation, emphasizes continuity and
quantity. Stating this number, Emma and Felicia point to the importance of
the show. Along with this past and current relevance of the show goes the
importance of Liseberg. It is a place they have been to in the past and that
they will visit again. However, the rabbit mascots are not eternally relevant
to their interest in the park.
Emma and Felicia maintain the visual presence of the rabbit, as part of a
favorite show. The rabbits as material things offering intimacy are
simultaneously in the past, a past that their parents talk about
enthusiastically. It is part of their memories as parents, of the past childhood
of Emma and Felicia. In sharing these memories of the rabbit mascots, of
past times, the family shares their story, of memorable times. The
memorable times relate to being in the park, but are not limited to visits.
Even watching the show at home is memorable, in its coziness. It is worth
talking about, sharing the individual appreciation of a shared time at home.
In thinking about how Liseberg is simultaneously approached as a distant
park and as a presence through memories and the show at home, a relevant
question has been formulated by Chris Rojek (1997: 69): “Why travel if
[…] one can explore them from representational files in the safety of one’s
home?” While Emma and Felicia emphasize similarities between how they
feel at home and in the park, the VHS tape is a way of prolonging rather
than replacing their visits, and vice versa. It might be satisfying enough to
put it in the video player at times, but there is a relation to the park that
remains key, despite their now decreased intimacy with the rabbit mascots.
Would the show be relevant without the family’s positive feelings for the
park? Would Liseberg be important if it was not for the show? Each feeds
an interest in the other, as suggested by the idea that the tape prolongs
feelings for Liseberg at home, and that one look for things at Liseberg that
are part of the show.
Within and beyond political concerns
Swedish public television, which broadcast the show, is subject to
regulation of its content. This includes the goal of excluding commercial
features from children’s television. The Swedish Broadcasting Commission
works with these issues to ensure that state regulations are followed in aired
programs. The Commission made När karusellerna sover into a case after
it was aired. At stake was whether the program followed the regulations of
the Swedish state. In 1999 the commission decided that the program
unfairly favored Liseberg (case 534/98 and 148/99, Granskningsnämnden
för radio och tv). The focus of the review of the show was the rabbit, and
the question of whether it was the Liseberg rabbit or not. The content of the
program was framed as going beyond what is allowed, benefiting Liseberg
as a commercial actor.
The regulations mean that some characters are allowed to come close to
children, through the media, while others are not. The rabbit is a special
case in that it has been associated with a company rather than literature or
children’s stories from the outset. It had no place before the park first
introduced it in its limited geographical space. There are characters at ALW
which are widely present in television shows that do not get this kind of
attention, or turn into similar problems. One difference between Pippi
Longstocking and the rabbit is that the latter is not a remediated character
in the sense that it does not have an origin outside of the park, but originates
from practices of branding (see Bolter & Grusin 2000). Even the Disney
characters are part of annual traditions on public television, being almost
mandatory to watch (Hagen 2001: 229). While one can see these as
commercials or the merchandising of brands (Cook 2011: 339), this is not
generally the case in Sweden. The consequence is that certain characters,
including the rabbit, are not allowed to relocate freely, for example in
travelling from Liseberg to the television shows of SVT. In the view of the
state and its investigation, children’s familiar characters turn into a
problematic matter; the familiar rabbit brings the unwanted presence of
Liseberg to the show. It turns into a brand character, with the emphasis on
brand as a problem.
Commercial involvement is not only a state issue. It involves politicians as
well as outspoken activists. In this case, the author of the script of the
television show, Hasse Alfredsson, in an interview in Aftonbladet (199811-04), criticized the broadcaster for its involvement in the distribution of
the program in a commercial market. Alfredsson argued that, by selling
various products that are related to När karusellerna sover, such as a CDROM, SVT, the Swedish Public Service Broadcaster, made money from
directing products at children.
The arguments above are about the show and its undesirable commercial
involvement in two ways: involving its content, and its distribution. The
content benefits Liseberg, and the distribution benefits the public
broadcaster SVT. Accordingly, children should be separated from
commercial features and motives of profit. The anti-commercial arguments
of both the state and Alfredsson, an influential Swedish cultural personality
and author, direct critique, in different ways, toward the broadcasting
company for getting involved in business activities and favoring
commercial actors.
Along with their parents, Emma and Felicia do not make a big deal of the
potentially political issue of the show. There is no talk about profits, or
about the rabbit as an expression of corporate strategies and profit-making.
The rabbits are not kept at a distance, belonging to others or their interests.
It is their interests and feelings that matter to Emma and Felicia. And in
outlining their approach to the rabbit and to Liseberg, by talking about the
show, it becomes clear that the VHS tape does not necessarily lead to the
park, or calls for visits. It can also be part of a time that is bounded to the
home, where possibilities of positive feelings are incorporated by making
associations with Liseberg – without spending any money. This suggests
that children are able to invert the corporations’ approach of involving the
creativity of consumers (Foster 2007: 719), by copying products – the show
onto a VHS tape.
Cultural studies investigating consumption would perhaps suggest that
Emma and Felicia are here involved in creative acts or resistance that
challenge a wider commercial culture. I would argue, drawing on notions
of intimacy, that Liseberg and consuming the park retains a continuous
emotional relevance while embodied intimacy becomes less important.
Going to the park for Emma and Felicia then becomes less about hugging
and coming close to the rabbit. Distance and changes in intimacy do not,
however, suggest resistance. It is rather telling us that children live along
with material things rather than being subordinate or superior to them, and
that the relevance of material things can decrease and change over time, as
children get older (cf. Belk 1988: 160).
Using an anecdotal reference, it is noticeable that people keep rabbit soft
toys as adults. My friends and family refer to the places where they now
keep their aged rabbits – in storage rooms, at home, and at their parents’
homes. It seems as though the rabbit maintains an importance even if it is
not visually present and on display. Throwing it away seems to be a
challenging decision and a less likely option than moving it into the dark
spaces of plastic bags and storage rooms. If intimacy no longer involves
rabbit mascots, with the end of hugs, is there an endpoint to the rabbit when
children grow up? Emma and Felicia hold onto their VHS tape. And why
would they get rid of it or throw it away? Through this little piece of plastic
they are able to create a cozy time and connections with a well-liked place
elsewhere. This creates a sense of connection with past times, as a longing
for past emotions in the present which can be described as nostalgic (see
Kitson & McHugh 2014: 490f). Historically, nostalgia has been approached
as a disease-like matter (Dames 2010: 271) but in the case of Emma and
Felicia it becomes part of care and times of healing. It is about feeling better
in the present, using past experiences and positive emotions as a resource.
Material things are everywhere in this study, from commodities and
attractions in the parks, to the homes of children. The apartments and houses
where the children live provide insights into how material things become part
of intimate life and take part in individual expressions as well as family
biographies (Miller 2001a; Mitchell & Reid-Walsh 2002: 122).
The analyses have shown that Liseberg is enacted outside of its geographical
confines. This occurs through the use of material things that become part of
the lives of children and their families, and are involved in the routines of
everyday life. These things are part of decorating rooms, purchasing gifts,
imagining a time to come in the park, counting collected items, of sleep,
playing around, smiling at the collected mass of things, displaying it to others,
and identifying who a child is (a fixated one, perhaps). The material world of
theme parks is in the intimate or “private” sphere of the home.
The theme park does not simply enter the homes of children in one way.
Borders between the places are emphasized in how children draw and talk
about differences between home and the theme park. This suggests the
relevance of both places, of their differences and similarities and of moving
between home and Liseberg. Kim’s (age 5) and Tove’s (age 9) emphasis in
their representations is about highlighting difference. Emma’s (age 11) and
Felicia’s (age 15) observation of similar emotions in the park and at home
does not deny differences, but does not make these into an argument for why
park visits are necessary.
Concepts of the market, culture and capitalism at first seem quite distant
when entering the homes of children, being shown “their” things, rooms and
creative decorations, including posters and drawings. Childhood activist Sue
Palmer (2006) claims that childhood turns toxic through commercial
influences. This claim is similar to those of researchers and activists who
argue that engagement in consumer culture creates depression and
psychological problems (Layard & Dunn 2009: 59; Schor 2005: 167), that
commercialism and things offer merely a broken promise of happiness (Linn
2008: 4; Mayo & Nairn 2009: 237). Also, public voices in Sweden, such as
the famous psychiatrist David Eberhard (2013: 88) suggest that it is not
possible to buy happiness with money. These accounts propose that
children’s happiness stands in opposition to the market, and that there is a
barrier between them. There are, however, no calls to overthrow capitalism.
The solutions are similar to Benjamin R. Barber’s (2007: 257), in balancing
capitalism’s destructive tendencies in relation to other independent worlds.
This solution suggests, using the words of Illouz (1997: 11), that corporations
should stop “penetrating” the lives of children.
“Penetration” suggests a division, a crack and a break (Illouz 1997: 11). It
leads to questions about whether capitalism or markets are first outside of the
lives of children, and then enter or penetrate their homes and social relations.
Is there a good inside and a bad outside, against which children and capitalism
are organized? This chapter indicates that notions of good or bad need to be
reconsidered because there is no clear outside or inside. Children associate
positive emotions with consumption, and they find relief and desirable
opportunities in what others actively consider to be problems. This challenges
the straight line as a division between children’s happiness and commercial
things (cf. Ingold 2007a: 155): the idea of qualities and activities that have
been divided – into good or bad – simply does not hold up here. This means
that, in practice, components of happiness become mingled with those of
expected unhappiness (see Palmer 2006).
Zooming out, and considering material things in a wider sense in this chapter,
children and their parents make these desirable rather than something that
should be avoided. As with the Liseberg rabbit, material things are used for
play and are part of fantasy; they become part of the biographies of children
and parents, of past family life, that are spoken of in positive terms. In this
way, material things are invested with meanings that emphasize personal
relations and experiences. Things that have previously been considered good
and bad occur at the same time: consumption and playful creation (drawing),
individual fixations within social relations, remembering and unfamiliarity,
feeling bad and getting better, making the rabbit present and distant at the
same time.
Is the consumption of material things good or bad? What is good and what is
bad in terms of feelings is, according to Sara Ahmed (2010b: 39), a political
issue that involves struggle. In discussing children’s consumption through the
case of Emma and Felicia, and the regulation of commercial television in
Sweden, I have highlighted a distance between practice and state policy – the
concerns regarding a brand character are approached in different ways:
positive and negative. This distance illustrates how good and bad are part of
both societal notions of childhood and consumption, and of children’s local
consumption practices. To note this is different from calling for what the
world should look like, as noted by Daniel Thomas Cook (2013: 426): “We
need not concur with the values and attitudes surrounding children’s goods
and media, but we also must not denigrate outright the very things and actions
that forge the childhoods we painstakingly strive to comprehend.” Where
does this leave us? Do material things lead to happiness?
Material things not only enact relations with corporations but they also turn
into a part of family life and social relations. Through commercial products,
children maintain their lives as family at home and in relation to relatives
elsewhere. This complicates the idea that children focus on material things
and consumer items instead of engaging in social activities or playful and
creative practices – contra fetishism and limited brand relations. A
consequence is that the question of whether material things lead to happiness
needs to be reformulated to appreciate the ways in which social and material
matters are part of wider practices and everyday life.
Are consumable things part of practices of happiness that involve children?
Yes, indeed they are. For some this might seem to require regulation, inspired
by the laws in Sweden (Palmer 2006; Schor 2005). Laws do not, however,
necessarily challenge practices of consumption among children, at home or
in places like theme parks. Therefore it seems relevant to either challenge
practices in a wider sense than just by targeting children (cf. Buckingham
2000: 145–167), which separates them into a partially excluded segment of
society, or to develop approaches that are relevant to children, in which
politics becomes part of consumption and beyond, suggesting that “it could
be otherwise” (Woolgar 2012; Woolgar & Lezaun 2015: 465) when it comes
to capitalism as well as childhood. The political issue, of how it should be,
ought to involve children. Not limiting their involvement to picking brands
and commodities, but extending to developing society, not ending the
political history where we currently are.
Going to Astrid Lindgren’s World (ALW) and Liseberg can be an expensive
endeavor. Usually it is parents who hold the wallets. They finance the visits
and make preparations so that costs can be controlled. Different strategies
are employed to limit spending: tickets are purchased online, in advance,
covering an appropriate period for the visit, and memberships in various
organizations offer reduced costs for park entrance and hotel stays. There
are also the costs of getting to the parks, paying for attractions, activities
and food, drinks, and snacks, as well as for buying souvenirs. There seem
to be endless opportunities for consumption in the parks, with stores
offering ice-cream, candy, souvenirs, books, clothes, playthings and DVDs.
Primarily, I am attentive to children’s involvement with money. But the
children in this study are not in a position where money can necessarily be
accessed. Parents are approached in different ways for getting money. And
parents approach children through money. This does not take place in a way
that only involves issues of economy and happiness, it also involves other
values. For example, money is used as an encouragement for children to
reach goals that are considered valuable in one way or another. Also, money
is saved and not spent, being valuable in an imagined future. Money is
collected and becomes a token of social bonds. In exploring the nitty-gritty
practices of theme park visits, I am interested in questions of how money
and value become meaningful in terms of happiness. The answers are
helpful in reaching a wider understanding of happiness through money and
The aim of this chapter is to extend knowledge about children and happiness
by digging into practices where money becomes related to values. At the
end, this chapter addresses the questions: How can notions of happiness be
enacted through money? What do notions of happiness tell us about the
Distribution comes with an assumption that money and happiness are enacted
differently, rather than being a duo that work together in the same way through time and
space. Such assumptions – of stable entanglements or distance – run through statistics,
where correlations and non-correlations between money-in-numbers and happiness-innumbers are emphasized.
value of money in the consumption of theme parks? These questions offer
a chance to enter into dialogue with assumptions that have influenced
thinking about money and happiness, through explorations that focus on the
practices of children and parents.
Before I turn to the analysis, there will be two sections in which I discuss,
firstly, previous studies of money and happiness, and then how
Valuography involves these concepts in analyzing values in practice.
Today there is an all-encompassing interest in money and happiness. This
is illustrated by current books inspiring people to “seek genuine happiness,
with money as your partner” (Rowley 2005: xiv) and to “wring the most
happiness out of every $5” (Dunn & Norton 2013: 135). These books
suggest that money is a resource for individuals who are aiming for
happiness: make money and you will have increased opportunities for
happiness. This proposal is not only a part of literature that aims to guide
readers to individual success. There are happiness economists who “put a
monetary price on the problem of misery and alienation” (Davies 2015: 9).
The annual report on consumption in Sweden, published by the University
of Gothenburg, has recently provided statistics showing that money and
consumption correlate positively with individual well-being, as an
expression of happiness (Roos 2012: 17, 2013). Similar observations were
made some 10 years ago. According to Sören Holmberg and Lennart
Weibull (2005: 33), two significant factors in happiness in Sweden are
earning a lot of money and being young.
Both money and happiness are included in statistical measurements at
national levels – where there are rankings including countries worldwide.
In the identification of levels of happiness, money works as a partial
measure, measured as GDP (Bergheim 2007; Fors 2012b). There are also
alternatives, including the Gross National Happiness Index, which focus not
on the economy but on measurable happiness (Sachs 2013: 7). It is a matter
of dispute whether happiness and economics are two values that go together,
or whether they are fundamentally different. These measurements,
however, both suggest that money and happiness can be measured in
universal terms.
ALW and Liseberg measure satisfaction among their visitors, which is
similar to general surveys on happiness. Neither ALW nor Liseberg
considers satisfaction or happiness in life generally, but just during time
spent in the park. Questions are asked by employees committed to market
research about how satisfied or happy visitors are with their visit.82 Adult
visitors provide answers through numbers on a scale, accounting for their
company or family. Happiness in the parks is turned into a measureable
quantity that is gradable. How happy are you with the services provided,
with the attractions and the employees? Is the company of visitors happy
enough to come back? Are visitors unhappy “enough” to require another
visit free of charge?
Consumption and happiness are not necessarily compatible, and possibly
involve different values. Barbro Johansson (2005: 11) notes that
consumption is a question that involves different and contested values, and
particularly so when it comes to children. Money can stand against the value
of happiness in political arguments. It also does so in some psychological
theories, where it has been suggested that economic success comes at the
price of limited emotional fulfilment, standing in the way of happiness
(Illouz 2008: 199). How can one understand what money “is” and how it
becomes associated with different values?
Research investigating the social meanings and economic role of money
suggests that there is now no intrinsic value to coins or bills, but that people
and institutions take it as a promise – one can happily believe in their value
(Bjerg 2014: 107f, 110; Mellor 2010: 11; Yuran 2014: 16; Žižek 2008:
299f). Here, money turns into an issue of belief and trust, which provide
stability in the value of objects such as coins or bills. Money is part of
shifting practices in which it acquires meaning and value (Zelizer 1994).
This makes money into a matter that is not strictly economic but also relies
on social relations and cultural factors (Dodd 2014: 287f). Money,
consequently, turns out to be heterogeneous and is “continually invented
and reinvented by its users” (ibid.: 305). Money also involves emotional
meanings and these differ between places and situations (Schillmeier 2007:
594, 606; Zelizer 1985/1994). This complicates the approach to money as
being a measure of value. It requires attention to practices that enact money
heterogeneously (Dodd 2014: 288).
There have been calls for research into how children get money (Zelizer
2005: 250) and what the different sources of children’s money are (Zelizer
2002: 392). If money involves different emotions and takes part in the
Swedish: “Nöjd.”
enactment of happiness it is reasonable to ask how these acquire meaning
in the practices by which children access money. This calls for an approach
that draws attention to children’s money and values in a wide sense,
involving economics, emotions and happiness (cf. Samuelsson 2012;
Sparrman & Sandin 2012). Here, I explore money in its heterogeneity and
multiplicity. The question is not whether children should be involved with
money or not; they already are, and there is little to suggest that money will
disappear from the lives of children (e.g. Sparrman & Sandin 2012).
Daniel Miller (2008b: 1122) suggests that we are far from short of “theories
of value”, calling for studies of what value do rather than what it “is”. In
line with this curiosity about doing, Isabelle Dussauge et al. (2015) outline
an approach to the study of values in practice, defined as valuography.
Examining enactments of value, the program of valuography emphasizes
“empirically oriented research” and is concerned with how “certain things
come to be considered valuable and desirable” (ibid.: 267f). This means
avoiding general assumptions about values as a totality, and instead being
attentive to multiplicities and the “simultaneous presence of various values”
(ibid.: 269).
My approach to money and value suggests that there might be practices and
sites where children are allowed to get involved with money, and others
where they are not. It opens up space for accounts through which it is
possible to see how children’s money does not flow freely, as part of a
general world of liberal capitalism, but how different practices and sites
distribute money and values differently (Miller 1997: 13, 37).
Drawing on the work of Annemarie Mol (2002: vii, 6), I consider money
and values to be enacted in practice. This means that enactment makes
money and values into different things. Consequently, what money and
values become has to do with practices and relations (cf. Dodd 2014; Mol
2002: 5; Zelizer 1994). I do not draw on Mol for the purpose of outlining a
comprehensive theoretical answer to what a value or money “is”.83
This is a more open approach than, for example, Viviana Zelizer’s (1994), which
emphasizes exchange value as defining different “monies”. I am, however, inspired by
Zelizer’s attention to heterogeneity where money does not explicitly need to be labeled
“money”, but the approach becomes too narrow here, in the definition of monies as “all
Enactment challenges universal claims in which a notion of money, value
or happiness is portrayed through notions of stability – it is an achievement,
in such cases. The intriguing question in ethnographizing money and values
is about the ways in which these attain meaning, and how these meanings
are coordinated.
In focusing on money, I consider estimations, negotiations, judgments, and
priorities. At times during theme park visits considerations of money and
values are rather straightforward. They involve hypothetical questions such
as: Is it worth spending money on candy at this time, in the expensive shop
at the theme park, when there are sweets in the caravan just outside? There
are also less explicit considerations of money that require giving attention
to how values are spoken about and put into practice, during interviews and
in the park.
Parents hold the wallets, and pay for children. Consumption makes some
things good value and others expensive. Parents and children act in relation
to how things and activities are considered in terms of price: buy low-cost,
avoid expensive. In spending money on theme park visits, parents and
children are attentive to the value of things. They make comparisons. These
can be made since there are products in the parks which can be equated with
what is available elsewhere. Comparability in the prices of products runs
through the visits: bicycle helmets, playthings, and restaurant visits are
subject to discussions. Is it worth buying it? Does one need food, ice-cream,
playthings or clothes at this time?
What is special about theme parks is that these places offer experiences that
are challenging, sometimes impossible, to compare with products and
experiences elsewhere. Can the value of riding a specific roller-coaster be
estimated before it is experienced? Is it estimated? Experiences are trickier
to compare in terms of costs than, for example, a fast-food meal. This does
objects that have recognized, regularized exchange value in one social setting or another”
(Zelizer 1994: 21). A limitation to this approach is the focus on what happens around an
object, such as what is said about it, without considerations of how it is part of enacting
exchange value. Mol (2002) pushes the argument about objects further by examining how
different realities can be enacted, so that an object like a cigarette can be simultaneously
for use/smoking and have an exchange value.
not mean, however, that money value is set aside in favor of a sole focus on
emotions and experiences.
Felicia (age 11) enjoys various attractions at Liseberg and considers the park
to be part of her life, being her “backyard” (see chapter 1). However, not all
attractions at Liseberg are relevant to her.
Felicia (age 11) is talking about the attractions at Liseberg when her
father Björn offers her 20 euros if she tries out the thrilling rollercoaster Balder this year. This is one of several attractions that
Felicia has not experienced. She doesn’t dare to ride the big and
speedy ones. This is something which her parents and even her
friends are aware of, frequently speaking about the Liseberg
attractions. Felicia says that she wants a million to consider riding
Being alien to riding Balder, Felicia makes what seems to be an impossible
suggestion: she wants an offer of a million SEK (100 000 €) for even
considering this attraction. There is such a difference between Björn’s initial
proposal and that of Felicia that nothing more happens, there is no
discussion or negotiation about what is a fair and just amount. It is out of
the question to enter this attraction, and this is emphasized by numbers that
her parents are able to recognize.
It is not intangible points about undesirable emotions that are used in the
argument that Balder is good, bad, nice, or scary, that it makes you happy
or unhappy. Instead, two very different sums become an expression of the
relevance of riding it. The million SEK suggests a value that belongs in a
fantasy rather than actually being credible and leading to the attraction.
Interview 1: Felicia’s family.
Figure 6:1: Balder. Part of the wooden roller-coaster at Liseberg.
Björn’s financial backing suggests that there are material benefits to gain
from immaterial experiences for Felicia. In Björn’s proposal, these turn into
related matters. For Björn, it seems valuable to push the limits and to
explore new attractions. This involves leaving the comfort zone and
exposing oneself to experiences that might create fear. There is a similarity
here with the attraction of uncertain feelings in sport, where you do not
know the outcome (Asplund 1987: 29f). Too much certainty would
probably spoil the promise of the experience. Would it even be relevant to
pay for the ride if there was only certainty and that you fully knew what was
going to happen? For Felicia, the certainty of too much uncertainty makes
Balder into a challenge that, if not priceless, comes at such a cost that she
does not need to discuss it further.
Liseberg offers controlled fear, where attractions are supposed to provide
experiences, a sense of achievement and an adrenaline rush (Csarmann
2007: 10f, 61, 204). Nick Lee and Steven D. Brown (2002: 273) discuss the
roller-coaster as a “machine for generating fear effects that we can then
manage,” which provides an “imaginary danger” for those old enough.
According to Lee and Brown, the roller-coaster provides a “test of our fear-
disposal competences” which adults, accordingly, are expected to have
To recognize this imaginary fear involves an alignment with what the park
is selling and what many people appreciate, but it does not come without
challenges or contestation. Money enters the discussion, making it into a
negotiation where unwillingness might turn into a willing agreement to
experience Balder. It becomes a means of changing one’s perception of a
particular thing, a theme park attraction. Ideas about the outcome differ for
Björn and Felicia.
Here, money and emotions work together. They turn into valuable entities
that are subject to exchange in pushing the limits: for the certainty of
experiences that offer uncertainty. There is a value in the “imaginary
danger” (Lee & Brown 2002: 273), which for Björn translates into an
assessment of money.
Deborah Lupton (1998: 157) notes that family relationships are commonly
“represented as providing comfort and security,” and allowing “a safe place
to retreat from the dangers of the outside world.” But it is of course not only
comfort and protection that are relevant here. In contrast to comfort and
retreat, family relations also involve monetary transactions to encourage
involvement with things that are part of the controlled fear of aspects of “the
outside world”. Drawing on the work of Eva Illouz (2007), I argue that the
family takes part in practices that relate to a wider cultural order of
emotional capitalism, in which consumption creates associations between
the general economy of money and the emotions of an individual. Illouz
suggests that corporations are involved in offering emotionally oriented
services and products: the example of internet dating sites highlights the
fact that corporations turn into mediators of emotions and social life through
consumption. Does the notion of emotional capitalism make sense in this
Following the observation that Felicia and Björn approach the world of
Liseberg through money as a pay-off for surmounting challenges, it makes
sense to consider how encouragements direct family life in certain
directions. The interweaving of money and emotions, in the case of Felicia
and Björn, generates a path from home towards places elsewhere and new
experiences. Family not only ensures a delimited, “safe” place throughout
life, but also provides challenges in relation to emotional life in a wider
Encouraging Felicia, Björn makes money into a matter of costs-benefits. In
terms of money and emotions, it involves Felicia in a question of whether
she should accept a benefit to balance the cost of experiencing Balder. It is
possible for different persons to value things differently, and consequently
to enact the same matter – e.g. Balder – differently in terms of money and
(un-)happiness (Gilbert 2007: 50–53). Some pay for the privilege of
experiencing Balder, while others require payment to even consider taking
the ride. This highlights the shifting involvements of economics and
emotions, and how a roller-coaster involves various considerations of what
and where value is, and to whom it is considered to have a value.
Money becomes a way of crossing the boundary that Balder represents for
Felicia and entering the attraction. Björn wants to erase the dividing line
between Felicia and the attraction by offering money. But with talk of great
sums of money, Felicia maintains this line by suggesting an impossible
amount, making it into a measure of quantity rather than being dogmatic
that she cannot be bought. There is neither an agreement between Felicia
and Björn nor a conflict about money. What their discussion of the financial
sum required for riding Balder suggests is that there is no possibility of
family homogeneity during upcoming visits, as it would probably cost too
much for Björn to compensate Felicia for her unwillingness to join him for
a ride on the attraction.
Encouragements like those offered by Björn are forward-oriented, offering
monetary benefits from upcoming challenging activities. There are also
other more direct involvements with valuable goods during park visits.
Parents expect the unexpected, in considering what might be necessary.
Kim (age 5) and her family have just arrived at Liseberg. At the
outset of the visit, Kim’s mother Lotta talks about expecting some
fuss, and that there might be a need for bribes. The family’s father,
Fred, points out attractions that he wants to try. Kim is repeatedly
saying “I don’t want to,” refusing to take part in any of the suggested
activities. Lotta tells Kim about the ride passes that they just bought;
you buy these for the attractions, and that the money paid for these
could have been used for other things. Fred adds quietly that they
will never buy such a ticket again if Kim will not take the attractions
at this time.85
Park visit: Kim’s family.
Kim’s refusals challenge the ideals of the visit, as planned by her parents.
They have invested money in unlimited rides, which are now available
throughout the day for the entire family. Investments in tickets for the day
are useless if Kim does not join in. Doing things together, as a family, is
paid for here, and is desirable and demanded. The attractions that the tickets
offer are of little relevance to Kim at the beginning. A bribe opens up the
possibility that the visit will eventually be carried out in a way that accords
with the plan of Kim’s parents. Bribes become a potential solution to a
problem. Following the talk about future sanctions, not buying such tickets
again, and the explanation of how the money could have been used for other
things, Kim joins in. She does not show any enthusiasm.
The notion of bribes initially used by Lotta makes sense throughout the visit,
where attractions generate benefits.
Lotta tells Kim (age 5): let’s ride this attraction, and then there will
be ice-cream.86
Kim’s involvement in the family activity is compensated with things that
she as an individual enjoys; the cost of ice-creams becomes an additional
expense that is manageable in relation to the initial purchase. The ice-cream
seems more desirable to Kim than the attractions, in general.
It has been suggested that visits to a funfair come with expectations of an
orgy-like time, but that the limited financial resources of parents make it all
into a disappointment for children in their consumption (Vinterberg 1977:
251). What such an observation suggests is that children are the ones who
desire to ride attractions, who see a value in entertainments, and act beyond
the value of money, being committed to a hedonism that is limited by the
amount of money available.
The Kim example shows that parents do not necessarily have an easy time
in convincing their children of the inherently positive experiences of theme
park attractions. Lotta and Fred use bribes and rewards. Rewards are widely
used by parents: “Most young people have received and been rewarded with
sweets throughout their childhood, but parents strive for a certain
moderation” (Brusdal 2007: 393). This is the case with Kim as well, where
there is not an overflow of bribes, but moderation in how an ice-cream is
used as a reward that will come later. It will come to Kim after her
involvement in what Karin Aronsson and Asta Cekaite (2011) call a target
Park visit: Kim’s family.
activity, here being riding one of the attractions that her parents have
planned for. Ice-cream becomes, in Sara Ahmed’s (2006: 168) words, an
orientation device, for giving direction to life, so that subjects become
aligned with others (see also Ahmed 2011: 166). This suggests that
enjoyable products not only have a value as tasting good, being appreciated
and desirable by individuals like Kim, but also play a part in establishing
the social order.
The moderation that Ragnhild Brusdal (2007: 393) addresses when it comes
to parents rewarding children makes more sense than hedonism in the case
of Kim, and throughout this study. There are no visits where money, candy,
ice-cream, or other desirable things flow freely. Instead, they become part
of an order in which there are treats and threats, encouragements,
appreciated times of sitting down between activities and indulging in some
energizing snacks or food. The moderation during this visit is not about
putting ascetic or hedonistic ideals to work but to get children and parents
willingly involved in activities where it is accepted that children might not
enjoy everything, but that there is something to be gained for everyone.
Ellen Seiter (1993: 20f) suggests that providing candy for children offers
mothers the opportunity to be heroes for a while and that it offers them some
calm. Calm and acceptance of the will of her mother describes how Kim
finally joins in, without making much fuss. However, Lotta does not turn
into a “hero” but rather someone who recognizes and manages different
desires, through purchases of things that Kim will enjoy later.
Value for money, the value of the ticket, value of and for the ice-cream, all
become involved during the course of the visit. As the ice-cream turns into
a bribe it is possible to make the most, or at least more, out of the money
paid for the tickets. This suggests that individual considerations of value
become important here, when there are different opinions regarding the
attractions in the park. The ice-cream helps in aligning different desires
about consumption into family time in the park, so that there is less friction
or individual resistance that might make the initial ticket investment
Children receive money from parents for particular things, and they also use
money that they already possess in the parks. This part explores how
happiness becomes visible as children get involved with money. How do
they access and spend money? In different ways, it turns out.
The money of others
During the interviews, Rebecca (age 11) and her mother Anne talk about
money in terms of costs and value, and also discuss it in relation to
I ask what it costs to go to ALW and if it is an expensive place.
Rebecca tells me that it is “lagom”, the Swedish word for describing
it as appropriate, not too much or not too little. Rebecca adds that
she, in fact, does not have to pay. Her mother, Anne, looks at
Rebecca and tells me that it is not particularly expensive. Lars, her
husband, nods in agreement. Anne emphasizes that you get plenty
of things for the money paid in terms of theater and experiences.
Anne tells me that Rebecca is a happy kid, who has never cried in
frustration or anger about not getting things. Rebecca, however,
suggests that she has been grumpy when she has been denied icecream. But she has not cried over anything, Anne adds.87
These accounts suggest that Rebecca’s parents consider money during visits
to be without conflict or any unwanted emotional outcomes.
If someone else pays, why bother about money at all? Is there a value, as
such, in being a child that provides a freedom in which money becomes the
responsibility of others – adults, parents? Money from Anne’s and Lars’
wallets makes visits and consumption in the park possible. Rebecca is not
expected to provide money for ice-cream or the visits as such, nor can she
access these freely or in any amounts, for anything that one can consume at
ALW. There is a line drawn here, between keeping money and spending it.
While Rebecca is allowed to do the latter, she is not provided with money
to keep on her own.
Researchers suggest that children are involved with money that is provided
by parents and that they earn some on their own, and that money paves the
way for consumption as autonomous actions by children (Davidson 2012;
Hjalmarson 2007; Samuelsson 2012). It has also been argued that parents
limit children’s access to money and work as gatekeepers (Martens et al.
2004: 166).
Interview 1 and 2: Rebecca’s family.
There is a question of dependence and gatekeeping here, which highlights
how Rebecca’s park visit is tied to her parents’ consumption and their
money. The arrangement of parents who pay and the child as a consumer
involves issues of happiness, as Anne suggests in her observation that
Rebecca is a “happy kid” who does not get angry or frustrated. This suggests
an appreciation of the un-relatedness of money and emotions. This is, as
Anne implies, not necessarily a general fact among children: Rebecca might
just as easily have turned out to be a child who reacts with anger and
disappointment, and demands to get money and things at ALW, being
something other than a “happy kid”.
There is a firmness to the “happy kid” here, which goes well with
gatekeeping parents who keep money in their wallets. Rebecca is,
accordingly, happy regardless of whether money comes to her or not. While
Anne suggests that there is a permanence to happiness, Rebecca identifies
herself in contrast to this through grumpiness, at moments when she has
been denied ice-cream. In her talk about money, there is not the same
stability as in her mother’s account. She is, instead, emotionally adapting to
money and consumption. Rebecca, in her talk about grumpiness, recalls
moments that make happiness into something of a strange matter; she is not
the “happy kid” but a grumpy kid, turning into a stranger to her mother, as
she desires ice-cream and money and these accordingly influence her
Here, emotions are presented as part of a palette of possibilities in relation
to money: happy, angry, frustrated, or grumpy. Being a “happy kid” is better
than the alternatives for Anne, but Rebecca is not constantly happy. This is
something which Anne does not recognize. It is perhaps unknown, and
something she learns about during the interview, or something undesirable
that not is worth noticing.
Anne and Rebecca act as happiness economists, who put a monetary value
on happiness and undesirable emotions (Davies 2015: 9): the price of
happiness is low, but at times her parent’s’ wallets are required, according
to Rebecca. How can children like Rebecca, who rely on and spend the
money of others, be considered in terms of happiness?
Etymologically, emotion relates to movement and being moved (Dahlgren
& Starrin 2004: 9). There is a value in Anne’s account of not being moved
by the movement of money: a desirably blasé attitude of the individual child
towards money – being, not ignorant, but untouched; being happy
regardless of wherever they are, and whether or not they are able to control
this. While movement has historically been associated with positive values
(Werner 2015: 170), children are exempt in the case of movements of
Viviana Zelizer (1985/1994) writes about the emotionally priceless child,
and how she or he is valued in terms of money. Children, in Zelizer’s
historical study, were “reserved a separate noncommercial place”, in an
“increasingly commercialized world” (ibid.: 11). Zelizer highlights how
borders are drawn between the adult economy and children, who are drawn
into emotional thinking and valued as being priceless. Rebecca and her
parents offer an insight into how “happy” can simultaneously be beyond
money and work as a possession of others that becomes accessible
The “happy kid” who reproduces the limit between children as emotional
subjects and the adult economy offers a story that contrasts with arguments,
explicit and implicit, that individuals use money to achieve a self-fulfilling
happiness (Dunn & Norton 2013; Holmberg & Weibull 2005; Roos 2012;
Rowley 2005). Pascal Bruckner (2010: 2) argues that children are told from
birth to be happy. It is an imperative that, accordingly, stretches from the
cradle, as young people are made responsible for their own happiness.
Bruckner and other critical scholars argue that happiness makes sense as an
ideology that directs people to “be” in certain ways, to align with a social
order (e.g. Ahmed 2010a; Berardi 2009: 90f; Burnett 2012: 44), living
happily as an individual who is autonomous, free from constraints and
dependence, and is responsible for themselves (Binkley 2011: 385, 391).
The condition of Rebecca’s happiness is “natural” to her mother but
changing and social, involving various emotions and orientations towards
rewards. Rebecca’s happiness differs from a stable state where one “is”;
instead she becomes happy or unhappy in relation to other people and things
and the fulfilment of the imperative of happiness makes sense in relation to
benefits. Rather than isolating the view of the “happy kid” who “is”,
Rebecca makes ice-cream or similar desirable things part of its continuous
constitution. For Rebecca money turn out to be absent with a momentary
presence in passing that is considered important.
Uncertain fortune
I meet Christopher (age 9) and his mother Ulrika outside ALW on a sunny
day in May. They are frequent visitors to ALW. Christopher enjoys
theatrical plays and visits the park for a few hours, three or four times a
week, each summer.
Christopher talks about the theatrical performances he wants to
see. He is also eager to test his luck in the lotteries and games that
are part of the park. Christopher tells me that he carries money
himself, and that his mother is also indebted to him. Christopher
adds numbers for counting the debt, “45+30 is 75”, to finally present
me with a number that is somewhere around 100 SEK (10 euros).
Repeatedly, Christopher asks his mother Ulrika about 10 SEK for
one of the games during our visit. After repeated calls for money
lasting a couple of minutes, Ulrika hands over a golden 10 SEK coin
to Christopher. They both buy lottery tickets. Ulrika gets a winning
number and is rewarded with a soft toy, “Herr Nilsson”, a small
monkey that is a character from the Pippi Longstocking stories. She
does not keep it but quickly offers it to Christopher. He nods,
accepts, and puts it in his bag without a word. The games attract
further interest from Christopher. During a break for drinks and
snacks, following the lottery, Christopher asks for another 10 SEK
from Ulrika. Ulrika now tells Christopher that it will be subtracted
from her debt to him. They debate but do not agree on the amount
of money that Ulrika owes Christopher. Without reaching a
consensus, but with the 10 SEK in his hand, Christopher smilingly
moves at speed to the location of the games. I join him. After a
couple of meters he suddenly slows down, to tell me that “my
mother can be persuaded through nagging.”88
Christopher asks for money, comments on it, and money leads him to
activities like the lottery. There is no flow of money that goes from Ulrika
to Christopher. It does not come to Christopher easily. Ulrika will not
simply give any amount of money to Christopher and she differentiates the
occasions when 10 SEK are given to him (1 €). Christopher goes to some
effort and nagging becomes a way of getting money that is not necessarily
his from his mother.
How Christopher gets the soft toy provides a contrast to the many words
that are used for addressing and accessing money. “Herr Nilsson”, the prize,
does not get the same attention as money, as something to talk about and to
notice as a success in what Christopher is able to get. There seems to be no
Park visit: Christopher’s family.
dispute over who is the rightful keeper of the toy, it being a product that is
valuable to children rather than adults. Money, however, is less specific in
this way, in practice carrying no exclusivity for adults or children. And the
disputable matter of who should have money opens up the potential for
quarrels that become a recurring part of the visit to ALW.
6:2: “Good Luck”, sign at ALW, in front of a ball game.
As he tells me about his successful nagging, I get the impression that
Christopher is satisfied and happy with gaining access to money from his
mother – it is something worth commenting on, telling others about.
Thinking about money here leads me to consider how it is associated with
Christopher and Ulrika respectively. Is there money that belongs to different
individuals? Christopher refers to money that his mother has borrowed, that
is his. He also suggests that there is money that he can get from his mother
that is not earmarked as debt.
Christopher’s request for 10 SEK does not refer either to debt money or to
some other kind of money – perhaps belonging to Ulrika. It is unspecific. If
Christopher asked for his money he would risk losing the chance of getting
Ulrika’s money. The request here becomes a kind of gamble, which can be
profitable for Christopher if he receives money from Ulrika that is not part
of the debt. The 10 SEK asked for here is not defined as a possession of one
individual, but becomes an object that both Ulrika and Christopher are
involved with, as something in Ulrika’s wallet and as something that
Christopher tries to get his hands on, by nagging.
Christopher’s nagging reveals that money is not a matter of course: it might
be debt money that he receives, or it might be money from his mother. These
two alternatives make the desired coin into different objects. In practice, the
10 SEK is enacted as multiple objects (Mol 2002), a coin kept by Ulrika,
belonging to her, and part of Christopher’s plans for carrying out coming
activities. The first can be considered as part of gift-giving, where Ulrika
provides Christopher with money as a gift without making any claim for
returns. Such an idea is recognizable in previous research, where money that
children receive from parents is considered a gift (Bjurström 2004;
Johansson 2005). But the example does not end there. The call for a 10 SEK
coin leads in different directions. This is illustrated by the difference in
Ulrika’s answer to the first and second questions – from what might be a
gift to what subsequently is made explicit as debt money.
Giving Christopher the requested 10 SEK ends his nagging, for a time.
Offering 10 SEK as debt money involves discussion about who the money
actually belongs to. Putting emphasis on nagging and debt, it might seem as
if Christopher and Ulrika are individuals who have conflicting interests,
where the parent finds a solution in giving the pestering child what is asked
for (Buckingham 2011: 155–159; Lawlor & Prothero 2011). Children,
accordingly, have their own needs for consumption which are not dictated
by parents (Seiter 1993: 41). Money is also, however, a possible “sore point
between parents and children” (Zelizer 1989: 352). These observations
suggest that there can be conflicts and differences between individuals
within a family, and contrasts with ideas in tourism and consumer research
in which the homogeneity of families is emphasized (Kerrane & Hogg 2013;
Obrador 2012).
The contrast between conflicts and gifts does not fully capture how
Christopher and Ulrika relate to each other via money. Their involvement
with money and each other cannot be reduced to individuals who are in
conflict or an example of the gift-giving parent. There is not one fixed way
in which Christopher and Ulrika act as the giving parent and the receiving
or pestering child. Instead, the fact that there is money without any explicit
label, debt money and individually earmarked money, makes Christopher’s
and Ulrika’s involvement with each other through money into a changing
matter. They do things together, using Ulrika’s money, and as Christopher
collects individual debt money he uses this for consumption on his own.
Barbro Johansson (2005: 43f) has observed that there is collective money
that is shared in families, which children and parents can access. The money
that Ulrika shares with Christopher, however, is not the kind to which there
is equal access. Ulrika is in control over how and when to share money with
Christopher, including the money that is his. For Christopher, money is
something to spend and for Ulrika it is something that she spends together
with her son, as well as wanting and perhaps needing to hold on to it.
Christopher’s access to, and use of, money can be compared with the
findings from Allison J. Pugh’s (2004) study. Pugh (2004) observes that
there is much talk about money among children but little presence of such.
Similar to Pugh’s study, I observed that money becomes an intense part of
talk with an occasional material presence. Christopher talks about money
when there is none, and also when coins are momentarily in his hands, and
he is ready to move on and spend them. Money is passing. It is as if it offers
him a desirable opportunity to be in control of both money and his activities,
as an individual, rather than relying on his mother in every situation.
According to Sara Ahmed (2010a, 2010b), people make orientations to
happiness through objects – happy objects – which promise what is
considered “good”. Ahmed (2010a) provides illustrations of how children
and parents are involved with objects, such as gifts, that call for happiness.
Ahmed suggests that different objects are made good and desirable in
practice and that they are approached as if they promise happiness (ibid.).
Happy objects are things that are established culturally and socially as good,
things that people orient themselves towards and look forward to. Does
money work as a happy object here?
As a means for consumption in the park, rather than as something to save,
money bears similarities with how Ahmed (2010b) defines “happy objects”.
Like Ahmed’s happy objects, Christopher enacts money as being a thing
that he wants even if it is not available. Similar to tasty seasonal fruits,
which Ahmed (2010b: 31) uses as an illustration of happy objects, money
is something that Christopher looks forward to, and that he goes to some
effort to lay his hands on, for the sake of consumption. A different kind of
valuable resource, also in passing, will be discussed in the next section,
where money and happiness go firmly together in a more direct visual sense.
Gill tells me about how her sons Eric (age 6) and Jacob (age 4) get things at
particular times, and at a specific value.
“The children don’t have candy every week. They have no particular
pocket money. Now, I have introduced smileys each day. So there
is an opportunity to buy some extra ice-cream during the vacation.”
The smileys, Gill adds, can be added up to be used by the children
when going on vacation: “then the children can take a hundredkrona note each of their smileys to play and to buy candy, then they
can choose freely what to do.”89
The smileys are marked in a calendar hanging visibly in the kitchen area of
the house. The calendar lists dates, and names with smileys. According to
Gill, they are worth 10 SEK each (1 €). The calendar combines a standard
format presenting the days of each month, throughout the year, and a
monthly image of the family from their previous vacations. The association
of the smiley and monies is not haphazard, but possible to understand in
relation to wider social and cultural practices.
The smileys lead to financial value being involved in a symbol that is widely
recognized as representing happiness (McMahon 2006: 463f; Trumble
2004: 99–102). The smiley face was first introduced by an advertising
executive in 1963, and has since spread from the USA throughout the world,
being the forerunner of a vast array of commercial products that incorporate
smiles under a theme of happiness (McMahon 2006: 463–465). The smiley
as an equivalent to money value makes happiness and economics into part
of each other. Eric and Jacob’s involvement with the smileys echoes how
economics and emotions come together elsewhere, in products and services
that corporations make into businesses (Illouz 2007).
Similar to the “special money” with a limited reach and usefulness that is
used by children elsewhere, and that is used by corporations to “limit
economic transactions” of children (Ruckenstein 2010b: 5), the smileys
Interview 1: Eric’s family. Gill says “glada gubbar” in Swedish, which I translate as
smileys. An alternative translation would be happy old men.
enact a boundary between different realities of value. The smileys become
to Eric and Jacob a sign of recognition of appropriate behavior, which are
collected over time. It reminds me of a so-called “token economy”, in which
rewards work to encourage children’s good behavior (Christophersen &
Mortweet VanScoyoc 2008).
At home, Eric and Jacob collect smileys. Good behavior during a day
generates an individual smiley. Smileys on the calendar become a
noticeable indicator in the family for the children’s earnings, and help to
keep track over time of the money due to each child. The association of
smileys and names on the calendar earmark money for Eric and Jacob as
individual children in the family, and promise them opportunities for
spending later on – but not at any time or in any place. Eric and Jacob collect
smileys during a period of time that is not set to a week or a month, but is
more fluid. For Gill, the hundred-krona note (10 €) is indicative of the
amounts that Eric and Jacob are able to generate from their smiley collection
for family vacations. This implies that there is some time between visits to
theme parks, Swedish summer resorts and cruise ship experiences, when an
amount of smileys is exchanged for general money, to purchase candy or
extra ice-cream. Then the smiley tokens turn into money, another token that
is recognized more widely as being of value (Mellor 2010: 14).
Eric and Jacob need to exchange smileys for general money for specific
family outings during the vacation, relying on their parents to decide when
the appropriate time has come for turning smileys into general money as an
amount of SEK. While the smileys can be seen as offering less freedom for
consumption when Eric and Jacob are at home, they might offer a greater
sum of money during vacation time.
According to Barbro Johansson (2005), regular money allowances provide
some sense of freedom for children in how and when they can spend money.
But this kind of allowance, which is part of a weekly routine, is not
something that Eric and Jacob receive, as Gill tells me. In comparison with
weekly allowances, the smileys limit Eric and Jacob’s money-spending
freedom as these are not predictable routine transfers of general money that
can be used for consumption when they see fit. The smileys are part of
dividing time into periods, of collecting smileys as money value at home,
and then times of consumption during vacation when Eric and Jacob
exchange their smileys for general money. The smileys cause the children
to access general money in a different way than regular allowances, which
are usually provided on a weekly or monthly basis (Nordea 2011; Swedbank
2011). The enactment of smileys as valuable entities works as a way for the
children to accumulate money value and for parents to limit consumption.
Children’s limited involvement in consumption has been described as an
ideal of excluding them from an assumed corruption of the market
(Johansson 2005; Sjöberg 2013). The smileys assist in enacting this ideal of
boundaries between children and money for consumption. Saving the
smileys locks Eric and Jacob’s accumulated money value into a system that
makes sense within the family. This does not imply that the boys are denied
lollipops or consumption that they can be happy about. The smileys do,
however, restrict when and with what frequency things can be consumed.
The separation between the reality of smileys at home and the value of
money, elsewhere, is not total.
Using a laptop, Gill shows me images from a candy shop at ALW
where Eric and Jacob had the chance to get large-sized colorful
lollipops. Placing himself next to the computer Eric shows me, using
his hands, the size of a lollipop that is huge, bigger than his own
head. “A huge lollipop?” I ask, and he nods, smiling, and
commenting that it was only “30 kronor” (3 euros).90
In his enthusiastic description of consumption, Eric does not refer to the
cost in smileys but to general money that is set as prices in shops, and is
accepted as payment. To state the cost of the lollipop in smileys would not
make any sense in relation to how prices are set and presented in the general
money economy, where SEK are used rather than just any kind of money.
Parallel systems of value involving economics and happiness become
entangled in Eric and Jacob’s consumption. In terms of happiness, it is
notable how rewards generate money and associations with happy symbols
that widely signify emotions rather than fortunes; here they entangle. In the
next part, money turns into an even more complex issue as its value is
challenged during park visits. Is money valuable?
At ALW and Liseberg, people spend money with consideration of what is
appropriate and wise, acting as if they are certain that they get value for their
money. Visitors also use money for things that seem less rational. At
Liseberg, some throw money into the wishing well on the main street. Many
Interview 1: Eric’s family.
people play the wheel of fortune. There is a hope of winning at ALW and
Liseberg, including ideas of beating the system and getting more value out
of the money than one can count on (Cardell & Sparrman 2012). This
indicates uncertainties in money spending: will wishes turn into a reality?
Is money of such little value that one can “throw” or gamble it away?
Piggybanks, gifts and chocolate
Eric (age 6) and Jacob (age 4) arrive at ALW with their parents Gill and
Tony in the family caravan for a two-day visit. Eric and Jacob are most
involved with the characters in the park, and want to meet their favorite,
Pippi Longstocking.
Eric and Jacob are joined by Gill in several activities in the park,
with Tony a little distanced. In one of the shops in the park Eric and
Jacob find different things to play with. They have a sword fight with
Gill. And they find a box full of glittering golden coins. The coins are
marked with a skull and crossbones on one side and Pippi
Longstocking in relief on the other. In their exploration of the things
in the shop, Eric and Jacob finger the coins, made of a plastic
material. They put them into piggybanks that are placed just to the
side of the coins.91
In the Pippi Longstocking stories, there are “real” golden coins, which Pippi
keeps in a sack and uses to buy her friends candy. The coins that Eric and
Jacob play with in the shop relate to the “real” golden coins that are part of
the story, but they are not useful in the same way for making purchases of
other stuff. Here, the Pippi money is bought and collected.
Park visit: Eric’s family.
Figure 6:3: Money. Eric shows me a plastic Pippi
coin in their caravan, after the visit to ALW.
There is also Pippi money at ALW that can be eaten, being made of
chocolate inside a golden foil wrapping.92
Tony, the father of Eric (age 6) and Jacob (age 4), keeps golden
chocolate money in his pocket throughout the visit. The second day
he tells Eric and Jacob that these are new coins from Pippi. When
Eric and Jacob receive these it is as though they are a gift from
Pippi, who generously shares “her” money. 93
Tony keeps the coins from Pippi, close to his wallet, before giving them to
the boys. Similar to how Tony describes the way in which he moves closer
to the other family members when it is time to use his wallet, for making
purchases, he also becomes part of the park experience in delivering money
from Pippi.
When money comes to children in this way, from fictive characters like
Pippi Longstocking, there is a challenge to the fundamental quality of gifts,
which is the so-called duty of paying back. Marcel Mauss (1997: 17), in his
The foil protects the chocolate candy money and avoids a mess, so that even if the
candy melts it can be taken home (see also Fjellman 1992: 164). The chocolate coins are
marketed as “golden money”, and there is also the plastic “Pippi gold coin”. In Swedish:
“Guldpengar” (chocolate) and “Pippi guldpeng” (plastic).
Park visit: Eric’s family.
classic work on gifts, suggests that reciprocal gifts are called for, making
continual exchange between individuals a concern. According to Ahmed
(2010a), a possible way to pay back for what children get from their parents
is through showing their appreciation and being happy. Ahmed and Mauss
focus on how humans relate to each other, in how gifts call for a return.
Money is enacted as a personal gift, coming from Pippi. She also appears
as a visual symbol on one side of the coins. This brings Eric and Jacob close
to Pippi – materially and immaterially. The money bought by Tony becomes
a symbol of a relationship with the character who is present in the park. And
in receiving these coins as a gift, it is as though Eric and Jacob are being
treated like Pippi’s friends in the story, who receive things as well (Lundby
The golden Pippi money, from Pippi, provides a contrast to the impersonal
character of general money, which has been described as problematic in
gift-giving. Ultimately, gift-giving is about displaying “detailed,
affectionate knowledge of the recipient and the relationship” (Zelizer 1994:
82). In the case of the Pippi coins which are moving to Eric and Jacob, these
are enacted as personal rather than impersonal or abstract, and they enact
the presence of the character.
The enactment of Pippi money simultaneously incorporates fiction and
things that are beyond the story of Pippi. Eric and Jacob are not unfamiliar
with such special money, because they collect smileys at home. However,
Tony, Eric and Jacob use the Pippi coins in the park in similar ways as
general money: Eric and Jacob test how the Pippi coins fit into piggybanks,
pointing to the material resemblance with other kinds of money and how
they can be used in similar ways.
General money has been described as “worthless” in itself, being pieces of
cheap metal, or paper, which acquire exchange value by way of social
agreements and trust (Mellor 2010; Žižek 1993: 28). The plastic coins that
Eric and Jacob get at ALW could be compared with general money in that
they are of no or little economic value, if it was not for what they make
possible. The object becomes a material part of children’s relationship with
Pippi, the character whom Eric and Jacob appreciate and they offer a value
in practice for exploring, enjoying the park, and having fun.
In selling the golden coins, ALW offers something similar to Disney
Dollars, which are collected by consumers (; Sorkin
1992b: 223). In contrast to such special money, which is useable for making
purchases, ALW does not accept Pippi coins as having exchange value –
they are for eating or playing with, period. Theories of money and
economics would suggest that there is a lack of value in the Pippi money
since it is not useful for making exchanges (Mellor 2010). Since it is not
involved in exchange, or enacting exchange value, it is possible to question
whether it is money at all (Zelizer 1994).
Focusing on how these coins are enacted in practice (Mol 2002), it becomes
clear that they are used like other money by children and parents in the park:
spoken of as money, distributed to children as money that comes as a gift,
to be collected and remembered. Also, in addition, they are enjoyable
through the possibility of eating them as snacks.
As Tony speaks of the chocolate coins as “money”, they offer value, not for
exchange but as pleasurable, with an edible content. They are not spoken of
as edible, fake money, or merely part of fiction. In Tony’s words these are
money from Pippi, illustrating that fiction and the real mingle and coexist
for children, while being supported by adults (Lindgren et al. 2015; see also
Ehn 1983). There is no clear division between fiction and reality, but these
are brought together through the golden coins, of plastic and chocolate,
entangling coins from fiction with those at hand. There is a value of fiction
at play, which equates the golden colors in Pippi with the reality of gold,
being valuable.
At times, children are provided with candy at ALW. Characters from the
stories of Pippi Longstocking hand out candy to children who are
celebrating birthdays, that one needs to pay for on other occasions. There
are also companies that get involved in giving things away.
At the time when Eric and Jacob visit the park there is a lucky dip
at ALW, offering children candy. Next to it, adults enjoy bundles of
stuff, including bananas, soft drinks, ponchos and buns. Candy and
usable stuff are provided for free or, to be more precise, at no
monetary cost. Gill, the mother in the family, speaks of the kindness
that is involved here, and that they are “lucky” that they – as a family
– are members of the Coop or “Konsumentföreningen”. This
corporation displays several logos and there are representatives
there talking with visitors. According to one representative, Coop
occasionally engages in these activities, which are “fun”.94
The activity of giving stuff away can be about “fun” and a story of “lucky”
recipients. It is as though there is a conditional kindness at play in Gill’s
account as no money, nor any membership, is asked for. Things seem to be
given away for “free”, but the distribution of candy and things that are
ordinarily sold as commodities takes place in relation to the visibility of the
Figure 6:4: Lucky dip. Coop at ALW.
Freebies do not call for money, but for a different involvement. What kind
of values are enacted here? Gill emphasizes that the family is part of the
Coop membership program. This suggests that the family is involved, not
freeloaders who benefit from what is freely available, at this time. Gill’s
Park visit: Eric’s family.
approach makes sense: there is nothing to pay for here, and being “lucky”
refers to the fact that the things that come for “free” usually cost money.
Why are different corporations displaying, handing out and selling products
at ALW and Liseberg? The presence of Coop in the park in the first place
suggests a different take on value from only involving money and
immediate commercial concerns – transactions using coins or bills.
Elizabeth Moor (2003: 49f) notes that promotional gifts are distributed so
that consumers will remember the event and also the brand. Nigel Thrift
(2008: 246f) argues that event-based marketing has become increasingly
important. Adam Arvidsson (2006: 89f) suggests that sponsorship is part of
the making of brand value, where corporations direct efforts to reach
consumers and groups in order to establish an identity that people will relate
to. These observations suggest that the act of handing out candy and
ponchos – bearing company logos and within an event marketing the
company – is involved in current capitalist enterprises of creating economic
value over time.
ALW and Liseberg provide space for companies, which promote their
business to consumers. Would they do this if they did not think were no
profits to gain, financially? Likely not. Corporations trust that they will
generate revenue from making space into a commercial arena of displays
and events that will be profitable in the long term, not only from the
products sold directly to people who, for example, visit a park.
Lucky or rewarded? Getting things for “free” or working? Happiness is
invested with various meanings and, as shown by Sara Ahmed (2011: 162),
it is now commonly seen as “a reward for hard work, rather than being
‘simply’ what happens to you” (see also Thin 2012: 37). This suggests that
current happiness involves individual efforts and responsibilities rather than
being something that happens to an individual by chance (Ahmed 2010a:
10; Burnett 2012). Previous etymological meanings, of luck, chance and
good fortune, are consequently subordinated to a rational sense of earning
from efforts. Luck is about how the world affects the individual, being part
of wider conditions that cannot be fully controlled. Hard work, in contrast,
suggests a route towards rewards for what one has done or achieved.
Freebies, in this case, involve a blur of rewards and luck. You are lucky if
you don’t have to reach for your wallet and instead receive appreciated
things at no monetary cost, but on the other hand it makes the same sense
in terms of being a reward for work – accepting promotional gifts that are
kept, and lead the way for the distribution of the Coop brand elsewhere, as
the green poncho becomes useful later on, and candy at no cost might be
remembered later on (Moor 2003; see also above, on the cheap lollipop).
The simultaneous involvement of luck and rewards serve as a final
observation before the final part of this chapter where I will discuss money,
values and happiness.
As I put different ethnographic pieces together, it becomes evident that
happiness involves money, in several quite different ways which illustrate
how children and parents value theme park consumption, but also nonmonetary things and other activities. With its multiplicity of values (Mol
2002: 88), money turns into a changing social matter that is associated with
different desires and goals, among children and parents, which influence
how they relate to each other within the family. It is not an order that is the
same everywhere, but that distributes money and values differently, with
emotions and happiness as reference points.
By exploring practices in which money acquires value I have highlighted
its heterogeneous role which creates different emotional expectations and
outcomes, differing between places and situations. This suggests that
money indeed “acts in complex ways”, as noted by Nigel Thrift (2005: 76).
How do notions of happiness enact the values of money? In this chapter I
have shown that happiness is not necessarily an outcome of possessing
money. Money in passing – or avoiding the possibility of cashing in – makes
as much sense in terms of happiness. This challenges ideas in previous
research that possessing money works as a means towards an individual
goal of happiness (see Dunn & Norton 2013; Roos 2012; Rowley 2005).
Nowhere is a lack of money for entering the parks and consuming its
products emphasized. A total absence of money is not an issue for the
children and parents who are part of this study. But handling limited
amounts of it is. Spending time at ALW and Liseberg is desirable, at a cost
that is handled with caution rather than flowing into an excess of spending.
There is more moderation than hedonism in the park consumption, and there
is no reckless spending for the sake of maximizing happiness. Happiness
does not provide such a tangible measure as the value of money: continually
counted in numbers. Money assists in enacting happiness through
encouragements with bribes, occasional purchases, negotiations, and luck.
Moderate spending takes place along with the hope of getting more than
you expected for the money invested.
Research on family life has emphasized that children’s involvement with
money is increasing and that they are part of making decisions about
consumption within the family (Hjalmarsson 2007), including vacations
(Cullingford 1995; Gram 2007). In this chapter, money takes part in
practices where emotions and economy come together, being part of an
order that Eva Illouz (2007) defines as emotional capitalism. Here it makes
sense to discuss the emotional capitalism of family life, with its rewarding
and profitable systems of smileys, encouragements and practices where
children are involved in an order in which they are subordinate to money
and the resources of others. Economics and happiness entangle in family
life. It is not only a concern with the “external” world but a matter that plays
a role for how children and parents interact and money gives an emotional
direction to life.
Capitalism has been portrayed as a threat to the happiness of children, and
to the practices of play and fantasy that constitute childhood. Golden
chocolate money and plastic coins are however part of playful activities and
personal relations, which involve fantasy and a social involvement with
material things that are enacted as valuable. This suggests that different
enactments make up a complex of stories which challenge money as “one”
threat to children (see Palmer 2006). If money is a threat, or the possibility
of coming treats, it is so in ways that involve various values and activities.
As shown initially, and throughout this chapter, money does not stand alone,
there is no value in money as such. So, what do notions of happiness tell us
about the values of money in the consumption of theme parks?
The stories in this chapter suggest that money is important for the
multiplicity of happiness, involving future outlooks and expectations, but
also unexpected opportunities for luck. Models of happiness are involved in
practices where children and parents deal with money by control and
forward-looking plans, as well as with hopes of fortunate circumstances.
Along with happiness, money maintains multiple, shifting and sometimes
uncertain values.
Months in advance of theme park visits there are discussions among
children and parents about what attractions to experience. Will you dare to
ride the new roller-coaster? Can we do it together? Considerations like these
tell us about the expectations and ambitions of being together in the parks
in imagining upcoming experiences. There is less concern with practical
necessities. When arriving at the parks, many visitors need to visit the toilets
or go to eat. The most frequently visited location at Liseberg is actually the
toilets. It is not only the spectacular attractions that are part of park visits,
but also concerns regarding individual needs, and family desires.
The aim of this chapter is to develop an understanding of family theme park
visits that challenges the fixation with togetherness and its time as equaling
static intimacy and shared happiness (see previous research, exemplified
below). At the end of the chapter I address these questions: How is family
life involved with happiness in theme parks? By whom, when and where is
it enacted?
Happiness is approached through the visits and this allows me to explore
how time spent at ALW and Liseberg involves children’s and parents’
wishes and desires, practical necessities and demands. This chapter
highlights how children and parents use the parks through different
practices, making family time heterogeneous. It suggests that visits involve
collective and individual aspects and are quite flexible in terms of when and
where family time is relevant. Initially this chapter provides a brief
introduction to notions of family in research, and then proceeds to the
central approach of this chapter: Co-ordiography. Ethnographic
explorations follow, focusing on the different ways in which children and
parents enact family in coordinating their park visits.
Research on theme parks is full of observations stating that visits are about
family. It is often assumed that family members stay together and do things
together (e.g. Gottdiener 1982: 153; Keng 1996: 14; Shoval 2010: 173f),
suggesting that theme parks are places where adults join children to find
their happiest moments and “take the role of children” (Van Maanen 1992:
11, 24f; see also Francaviglia 1981: 155). These studies – relying primarily
on interviews and limited observations – emphasize the importance of the
family. Accounts of family in relation to theme parks, interestingly, contrast
with an observed invisibility of the family in tourism research (Obrador
2012: 404).
Studies of theme parks and visits do, however, rely on assumptions that
children and parents experience parks and attractions together, being in each
other’s company in general, and without going into details about dynamics
or challenges. It is consequently a quite fixed idea about family that appears
in this previous research, which, drawing on Pau Obrador’s work (2012:
414), does not acknowledge “multiple subject positions within the family
as well as its changing nature.” It is as if the “doing” that has been
highlighted in research on family as practice has not been acknowledged by
research on theme parks.95
Early on during my fieldwork, I observed that family visits did not always
involve everyone equally in one and the same activity. Children and parents
split up at ALW and Liseberg for different reasons. This is a quite different
story from accounts in previous research. It might seem like an insignificant
matter: that, for example, two siblings go to do different things with one
parent each in different parts of a park. But my point is that such separations
are important for how and when family becomes relevant in a setting like a
theme park, and that it offers the opportunity to explore ideals and practices
that permeate family time – which, in the case of leisure settings, tends to
be described as happy quality time when the stress of everyday life is set
aside (Blichfeldt et al. 2011: 145; Gram 2007: 27; Hjemdahl 2003a). This
is not always the case, as theme park visits also involve negotiations,
preferences for different activities and emotions that challenge
togetherness. To make sense of how children carry out park visits with their
parents – in changing ways – I will turn to two concepts: modes of ordering
and coordination.
Drawing on the notion of ordering in the work of John Law (1994: 1f) and
Annemarie Mol (2010: 262f), I emphasize that continuous work is required
“Doing family” suggests that family is accomplished in practice rather than simply
being, existing as a stable social phenomenon (Morgan 1996).
in establishing order – in this case family order – as well as in keeping that
order (Mol 2010: 263f). Following Mol (2010), there is not one given order
(e.g. “the family”); order is achieved through practice. Family as a shared
park experience – involving an order of togetherness – consequently turns
into one of different possible achievements, through practices.
Mol’s (2010: 263) notion of modes of ordering suggests that order should
be seen in multiplicity, that there is more than one way of doing order, and
that it should be the subject of investigation. Modes of ordering call for an
understanding of the work involved in continuously establishing and
keeping order/s during visits. The latter suggests that there can be a
coexistence of orders at a “single moment” (Mol & Law 2002: 7f). Using
the notion of coordination, Mol (2002, 2010: 264) focuses on how modes
of ordering and realities are organized, how they hang together, or compete
and are distributed between different sites. Drawing on Mol’s (2010: 264)
notion of “hanging together” I emphasize proximity and commensurability.
With the idea of being “out of each others’ way” I focus on how different
orders are coordinated between different sites, making it possible to see
family as an achievement rather than as a natural entity that is part of theme
parks. This assists in recognizing happiness as a matter of movement that
might involve togetherness, but not necessarily so as individual emotions
are taken into consideration.
How do modes of ordering and coordination become relevant in
understanding family time in theme parks? To exemplify the outlined
approach I turn to Liseberg and the notion of lost children as “runaway
children”96. This idea of runaway children helps to explicate how this
chapter builds on Mol’s and Law’s work and the notions of modes of
ordering and coordination that guide the analyses.
Anders, head of security in the park, tells me that runaways are
counted in hundreds each year at Liseberg and that it usually takes
no more than 3–5 minutes to find the parents of a child. Liseberg
both predicts and holds an account of runaway children – names
and numbers are documented in the park. Employees keep their
eyes open for children who need assistance in solving the
Swedish: “Bortsprungna barn.”
Guided tour with Anders at Liseberg.
Implied in the notion of runaway children is the belief that parents should
be with their children throughout visits to take care of them. Parents are
asked to find and collect their children at the guest service office.
The notion of runaway children implies that there is an undesired distance
in the same way as there is a desired proximity of children and parents, or
others, as an ideal order which calls for coordination. It works with how
being “out of each others’ way” might imply actions so that people are
“drawn together”, being a matter of coordination (Mol 2010: 264). These
terms highlight that proximity and distance are coordinated and that
different modes of ordering coexist. The example of runaway children is
perhaps most relevant to human proximity and distance – between children
and adults, or family members – but, following Mol (2002), it is equally
important to consider the involvement of material things.98
Figure 7:1: Runaway children. A sign
asking and providing directions
“Runaway children? We refer you to
Guest service.”
Figure 7:2: Bracelet. The bracelet
used by 5-year-old Thea during her
visit to Liseberg, with the phone
number of her parents (anonymized
Non-human entities and agency is also on the agenda in actor-network theory and
beyond (e.g. Knappett & Malafouris 2008; Latour 2005).
Liseberg and ALW offer I.D. bracelets to children. These are material things
that assist in creating an order where children are aligned with parents. I.D.
bracelets provide information so that children can be returned to the adults
who are supposed to be in their company. This example helps to highlight
the ways in which order is at play: a child becomes a runaway when a tight
group of visitors – a family perhaps – fails to sustain togetherness in the
park. This implies that several orders are planned for and observable in the
park: one of visitors as groups, one of children that possibly involves disorder (runaway children), and one of the park, which is ready to assist and
support visitors when needed.
In theme parks, material things take part in coordinating order, which is
evident with the I.D. bracelet: in the case of a runaway child there is an
opportunity to identify who should be contacted by the information
provided in text and numbers, which helps when making the phone call to
parents. The materiality of bracelets, cell phones, and the offices in the park
is thus involved in making things happen so that there can be a shift from
distance to proximity, transforming undesired social distance into a desired
proximity – from dis-order to ideals of an appropriate order of family
togetherness and control. There are also examples of other material things
which, instead of connecting people, divide space – fences, park attractions,
etc. – and might, in contrast, challenge the family togetherness of children
and parents. Social proximity therefore relies on, and is challenged by, the
material outline of the parks.
In studying family visits to Liseberg and ALW, coordination and modes of
ordering become quite a complex matter, simultaneously involving the
wants and needs of individuals and collectives. In the coming sections I
explore modes of ordering in how children and parents coordinate distance
and proximity. Coordination and modes of ordering allow me to highlight
how park attractions become part of family time and also that tasks
associated with work and labor blur family togetherness.
In this part I focus on ways in which children are accompanied by parents
who provide services, rather than having a mutual focus on experiencing
the parks. Moving from ALW to Liseberg, I provide stories that highlight
different experiences of what this support might include.
Asking for an extra hand
There are children who visit Liseberg or ALW with one parent. This comes
with certain challenges, that have to do with the limited assistance that one
parent can provide to one or several children.
Evelina asks me to keep one of her sons company, as she is going
to the campsite outside ALW to get shoes and clothes that are more
appropriate, as the weather has changed from rain to sun. It is
possible to imagine how Evelina, with her three boys, will be able to
get the things quicker – keeping two of her sons in the stroller,
moving it at some speed – if I keep the remaining child company.
Evelina is the one parent who asks me repeatedly for help. At
another time she asks me to take one of her sons to the toilet. After
some hesitation I agree to this as well, being aware of the
challenges faced by Evelina in taking care of three boys at the same
Evelina is a lone parent who is at ALW with her three sons – who are 2, 4
and 5 years old. Evelina does not talk about the absence of the family father
as an obstacle but asks me to help her in some practical matters. Along with
park experiences, I am asked to help her to carry out the visit so that needs
can be taken care of. When Billy, the family father, joins in during the last
day of the visit, my assistance is no longer needed or asked for. Evelina
expresses her gratitude for my support, which has made things easier during
the visit.100
There are practical challenges involved in keeping a visit together when
different individual needs become apparent to a parent who is responsible
for taking care of three children. Children and parents, occasionally, ask not
only me but also employees for help.
What is striking here is that Evelina makes use of a stroller that she can push
forwards with some speed, if there only are two children in it. Three would
not fit. Briefly sacrificing the company of the third, leaving him behind with
me, makes it possible to reduce the time that it takes to solve practical
matters. It allows the family to maximize their time in the park, as adults
are able to control the children at hand. In the stroller they sit tight.
Park visit. A discussion about visits to toilets with children is provided in Samuelsson
et al. (accepted). The hesitation about joining children in the toilets described in that
piece of research was similar here. I felt uncomfortable, while my assistance seemed
unproblematic and appreciated by both child and mother.
Interview 2: Rick’s family.
Similar to security arrangements in roller-coasters elsewhere, strapped-in
children are moving at speed in the stroller as Evelina moves away.
Controlling the stroller allows movement where there is little risk of losing
someone along the way, when the goal is to get the appropriate clothing
from elsewhere. This is a way of moving through the parks that differs from
movements at ALW and Liseberg in general: it emphasizes straight-line
movement towards a goal, what Tim Ingold (2009a: 35) defines as transport,
which is destination-oriented. In contrast to what Ingold calls wayfaring
(movement that does not necessarily involve a destination), transport
involves minimizing the time spent in reaching the destination. Wayfaring
is not considered in terms of time in this sense, and it is typical of most of
the visits to ALW and Liseberg in the sense that children and parents
explore things and move around, aiming for destinations at times, but
walking around to see what opportunities there are rather than arranging a
plan for the trip in the park before they begin to move.
Evelina’s approach to transport does not exemplify the entire visit but is
about solving practical matters during a time that is not extensive. This
speedy part of the visit extends the time for experiencing performances and
environments for play in the park for the children. It makes efficiency and
straight-line movement part of the visit, for the sake of maximizing the less
goal-directed experiences that follow. I will discuss the fascinating
relevance of efficiency in the following parts of this chapter.
Not far from Liseberg, there is a family who frequently visits the park.
Tove (age 9), smilingly tells me that she knows Liseberg like the
back of her hand, that it is an extension of the family living room,
working as their garden and a fun backyard. It has become a
tradition that Tove receives an annual pass as a Christmas gift,
which includes free admittance to all the park’s attractions
throughout the year. Tove calls herself “a speed maniac” and is into
the park attractions. Her parents, Karin and Johan, say that the park
is part of their everyday life. They have the right connections, and
receive VIP tickets – as “honorary guests” – so that they can enter
the park without paying any admission. Karin and Johan tell me that
they stroll around to see what food is available. They surf the web
or engage in work tasks at a distance, using laptops and smart
phones, sitting in the cafés. Karin and Johan consider themselves
to be a “service team”, meaning that they are there for Tove when
or if she needs them.101
Is it possible to think of more divergent ways of spending time in a theme
park – children riding the roller-coasters and parents sitting down to work
using a laptop? Tove and her parents, accordingly, do not look for time
together in the park, and do not experience the attractions together. Tove’s
parents’ tickets do not include ride attractions. They spend their time doing
other things.
During the first visit of the season, when it is time to use her Christmas gift
for the first time, Tove plans to experience several of the park attractions.
Tove is dressed in functional clothes and a headscarf with a pattern
consisting of the Liseberg rabbit – the brand character of the park.
Karin, who accompanies Tove on this occasion, carries a bag with
clothes for Tove. Karin spends time on her own while Tove and I
move quickly through the park. During the visit with her I try to keep
up my speed so I do not fall behind. While Tove and I run between
carousels, Karin uses her time for strolling around. Perhaps she is
also performing work-related tasks. Tove and Karin frequently go
looking for each other. At times Karin turns up outside one of the
attractions, waiting for us, and at other times she comes walking in
our direction as we are moving quickly to the next attraction. 102
In selecting attractions, Tove decides what to do. We ride roller-coasters
several times. Our speedy steps let us pass by others who would possibly
otherwise stand in front of us in the queue, slowing things down. To move
quickly is important for Tove, not to lose any time, making it possible to
ride many attractions. When I move alongside Tove throughout Liseberg, it
is hard not to think about sport and exercise. Being with Tove is about speed
and efficiency, to make the most out of the hours that are spent in the park.
Throughout the visit there is a mixture of Tove’s experiences of the
attractions, Karin’s strolling, and their shared time when Tove is using
Karin’s services. When we team up with Karin our speed slows down. We
sit down for food, look at things, and even stand still. She pays for food and
carries stuff like Tove’s rain clothes in her bag. The Liseberg visit with Tove
and Karin involves overlapping and different paths: moving in different
directions, in the same direction, as well as in shifting tempos.
Interview 1: Tove’s family.
Park visit: Tove’s family.
Karin and Johan’s idea of seeing themselves as a “service team” highlights
the fact that Tove is accompanied and can use her parents when she needs
them; that there is an opportunity for proximity at times when Tove, with
her running steps, and her mother are “drawn together” (Mol 2010: 264).
“Service team” captures the sense of efficiency and being there as a type of
parent-on-demand (see DeVault 2000 for similar observations).
An important device that assists in the visits, coordinating how and when
child and parent come together and allowing them to separate, is the cell
phone. Both Tove and Karin carry phones. These provide opportunities for
keeping in touch, from a distance. It lets Karin “accomplish mothering
responsibilities”, bringing the “private world of domestic responsibilities
into their public world of work” (Rakow & Navarro 1993: 155). The phone,
drawing on Lynn Schofield Clark’s observations (2013: 150), makes it
possible to “remain in touch.” Here, the challenge is to coordinate Tove’s
experiences with the various activities in focus for Karin – working,
strolling around, and serving her daughter. Multiple commitments and
movements, in their own directions, could make it a time-consuming task
to find each other – the phone solves this.
How is it possible to make sense of a visit that involves both divisions in
terms of activities and sharing time together in the park? Tove and Karin
keep out of each other’s way, maintaining a distance, and are consequently
able to focus on different activities. The different activities in which they
are involved, however, are not constant or definite. An examination of Tove
and Karin’s visit to Liseberg suggests that there are different modes of
ordering at play, where different tasks are in focus. These include the
different desires and needs of children and parents, and changes from
individual time into social family time, shifts from leisure and consumption
into a time of labor. Thinking about how these matters are coordinated
provides a rather “messy” image of what is included in park visits, with
some obligations that also stretch beyond the park: being a providing parent,
who takes care of one’s child, when required.
Using the notion of “mess” it is possible to capture the complexity of
ordering (Law 2004), in which concepts that are usually approached as
dichotomies have a co-existence in practice, e.g. work/leisure,
tourism/everyday life. The park visit is not necessarily (only) about leisure,
as opposed to work. As suggested by the term “service team” and the use of
a laptop for labor, parents observe windows of opportunity that make space
for tasks that need to be completed on time, working against demanding
deadlines. They consider themselves to be on duty watching out for their
children in the parks, but they are also, at times, on duty in terms of labor
which generates the salary that provides the means for consumption in the
park. This illustrates how there are overlapping orientations during the visit.
In creating different orders of visit, both Tove and Karin are oriented
towards efficiency. Tove makes efficiency part of her visit through her
speedy movements, making the most of the limited hours during her day in
the park. Karin makes efficiency part of being at Liseberg, a leisure setting,
by combining parenting and labor. She does not stand on the side passively
waiting or observing her daughter riding the attractions.
Efficiency and accessing a parent-on-demand is not limited to Tove and
Karin’s visit, but is also visible elsewhere.
Shifting worlds
Tony, the father of Eric (age 6) and Jacob (age 4), keeps a distance
from the rest of his family at times, making phone calls, taking care
of the business through which he earns some extra money. He is at
the same time there, nearby, prepared to engage in the visit when
called for by Eric, Jacob or Gill, the family mother and his partner.
Tony tells me that he is involved when his wallet is needed during
their visit to ALW. But Tony does not simply offer financial support.
After a woman pushes one of his sons, lightly, in a candy store at
ALW he explains that “one is here for the children”, and it “is their
world”. The world of children inside ALW, in which parents and
adults are there to assist, is contrasted with what lies outside of the
park, where Tony invites me “after work”.103
It has been suggested in previous research that parents stand on the side
observing children, at playgrounds and in theme parks (Blackford 2004;
Economou & Hergli 2010). In this case, Eric and Jacob face challenging
adults who do not buy into the idea of ALW as a children’s world.
Ironically, to maintain this world – that Tony observes – it is necessary that
he intervenes. He not only takes part in confronting the woman, but also
throughout the visit he is there to ensure that there is money to pay for
everything. There is consequently a movement between the position of
being an observer and being an advocate who intervenes, ensuring that the
ideal of a children’s world, being about them, can be maintained. This
Park visit: Eric’s family.
suggests that adults should be servants who do not disturb children’s
presence in the park, but remain there for them. Parents like Tony – and
Tove’s mother Karin – shift between distance and presence in relation to
what children do, ready to engage when called for.
Throughout park visits, parents like Tony and Karin, are multitasking,
switching between care, experiences, labor, business, and consumption in
the parks. This means that they are together with their children as well as
being distanced, offering opportunities for children to be close spatially but
in a sense keeping their world for themselves, as long as there are no threats.
Tony is committed to the task of serving his children, ensuring that they
have space and opportunities for consumption. This means that he stays
physically close to Eric and Jacob. But he does not focus in full on being
part of the experiences available in the park. This enables him to carry out
tasks in parallel with joining his children: making business calls (e.g. selling
a car), and talking to me, another person who is close but not fully able to
do the same things as children. Together with Tony, I turn into an adult who
must “work” to see what children do and to take part in some of the
children’s activities. It is perhaps our mutual acceptance of children as the
ones who are important here that leads the way to the “after work” activity.
In the caravan Tony sits down next to his wife and children, without
being obliged to focus on what they do and where they are – as in
the park. He is laid back, enjoying himself, and offering me beer and
snacks. He consumes alcoholic beverages in the caravan, outside
of the park.104
The after work activity takes place in the family caravan where they spend
the night outside of ALW. Whether the word work – in “after work” – refers
to assisting his children, doing business, or both, is not clear. It is, however,
a time of rewarding consumption for those who have put energy into work
There is a sequential approach to ordering here (Mol 1999: 84), where one
order – of parents serving children – is followed by another, as adults
indulge without necessarily focusing on children. Adult activities are
allowed to take place. What is interesting here is how this simultaneously
has consequences for children and for adults. Tony makes ALW into a
world for children, and the caravan into a time and space where he allows
Park visit: Eric’s family.
himself to indulge in drinks. He does not consume alcohol inside the gates
of ALW. Would this not be challenging the world of children? Vacation
time does involve alcohol for many people – but there is a dividing line
here, locating the appropriate time for drinks as following the visit to the
park. A dividing line is drawn (Ingold 2007a: 81) between a world for
children and the caravan, which provides space for adults outside.
Children are in focus in terms of what the parks have to offer, the attractions
that are inside of the entrances. What they do with the attractions and the
experience is what becomes important to parents. It would perhaps make
little sense for parents to spend money and put in effort to conduct visits if
children, like their parents, decided that there are more important things to
do, than riding attractions or watching theatrical performances in the parks.
Parents spend time during their vacations in the theme parks prioritizing
their children. In this part I focus on how park visits become a parental
With or against us
Speaking about Liseberg in their home, Kim (age 5) asks her
mother Lotta if they can go, now, at this minute. The park is not
more than an hour away and it would perhaps be doable. But this
is not the day for going to Liseberg. At our first meeting Lotta tells
me that the day of the visit will be a surprise for Kim and Mary (age
It takes almost three months before it is time for the surprise, taking the car
to the city center of Gothenburg to spend the day in the park. It is late in
July when the whole family enters the park. Kim and Mary wear colorful
green and pink t-shirts and are easy to spot.
Kim and Mary hold hands with their parents, from the entrance
towards the ticket booths. Lotta tells me that this is a day where the
“children will decide a lot”, and you go to Liseberg “for the
As shown in the example in the Valuography chapter, there is however no
acceptance of the idea that the children will be the ones who decide. Kim’s
Interview 1: Kim’s family.
Park visit: Kim’s family.
undesirable way of answering her parents’ suggestions about what
attractions to ride challenges the ideal order that is expected: of shared
pleasures and doing things together, and getting involved in the activities
provided in the park.
Previous research suggests that children decide a great deal in theme parks
(Gottdiener 1997: 113), being the main decision makers in families (Gram
2007: 27; Johns & Gyimóthy 2002: 326). It is also a typical account among
parents in this study: the children will decide what to do. Children’s
opportunities to make decisions, but not any decisions, have also been a
topic of concern in research on parenting, in a wider sense, where scholars
have addressed the ways in which parents adjust to children and try to adjust
children to the norms of family and society (e.g. Forsberg 2009).
Kim and Mary’s decisions are not allowed to be about anything, but are
limited to particular choices, which Lotta and Fred make available through
the ride passes: choose attractions, but do not choose not to take part. In the
Valuography chapter I highlighted how Lotta expects some fuss relating to
the need for bribes to convince Kim to join in. Her parents invest money in
tickets for doing certain things together in the park: taking the attractions.
Having bought ride passes for the duration of the day, additional bribes
make sense as a small investment to be able to carry out the visit as a family,
together. Handling the problem of dis-order that goes with refusals is about
making the visit hang together, so that children and parents do things
together. This suggests that visits are not without challenges; there might be
a need to convince or even to coerce those unwilling to buy into what the
visit should be about, to make it a shared social event for the family.
It has been argued that the contemporary child-rearing of today is more
democratic than previously (Smith 2012: 30). Today, the talkative and
happy child, with a voice that influences others has been described as
essential (Oswell 2013: 104, 111). To have a say, to influence, is
accordingly important. But parents who go to theme parks struggle with
how to approach children to make things happen, as they wish, as a family,
when there are different individual desires – ideas about doing different
things that challenge family unity.
Focusing on the possible motivations for doing things together in the park
it becomes clear that there is pressure on Kim, involving sanctions that go
beyond this specific visit. If she does not join in the attractions now there is
no guarantee that she will have access to all the attractions in the future.107
If she adapts to the pressures she is perhaps aware that there might be
positive effects, and encouragements (bribes?). There are possibly things to
gain from aligning with the family order of the visit, in line with her parents’
ideals, riding the attractions together.
Mixing authoritarian and liberal parenting
Researchers have discussed different approaches to parenting as
authoritarian and liberal. These are identified in relation to historical epochs
in which the authoritarian was replaced by the liberal approach during the
course of the 20th century (Fromm 1947/2003: 117; Žižek 1998).
Authoritarian and liberal modes of parenting can, with the help of Slavoj
Žižek’s (1998) observations, be differentiated through the following: an
authoritarian mode directs children through commands while a liberal mode
is about posing questions which the child has the responsibility to consider
and think through, as well as allowing space for discussion (see also
Valentine 1996a, 1996b).
Considering the authoritarian and liberal modes of parenting, it becomes
evident that they are not necessarily historically bounded but flexible and
changing, and can follow each other in sequence. Rather than being located
in different epochs, the authoritarian and liberal modes are mixed through
directions and posing (leading) questions. One example, where there is a
shift from children’s decisions – parents asking questions – to those of
parents, is similar to but also more obvious than the one above.
Anne repeatedly asks her daughter Rebecca (age 11) “shall we…”
during their time at ALW. On one occasion she comments on her
way of asking questions: “I shouldn’t pose it as a question”, adding
“we shall”.108
This highlights a shift from liberal to authoritarian parenting during a park
visit; from a focus on the child answering questions to a parent who is giving
directions, calling for the child to follow. This challenges ideas that children
necessarily have a say and that their voices really matter, even in a place
Park visit, Kim’s family: Fred adds quietly that they will never buy such a ticket again
if Kim will not take the attractions at this time
Park visit: Rebecca’s family.
where most experiences are for children. It is perhaps the case that to decide
is big but to decide what is right is bigger.
The fact that both Kim’s and Rebecca’s mothers change their approaches
suggests that children are expected to adapt to how parents appreciate the
park visits and what they consider is important to do there. Visits should,
accordingly, be about activity and certain activities become more important
to parents who are in the position of making demands. They have paid for
the visits and for things that are consumed in the parks. To have a say –
having a voice as parents – in the theme parks where children are expected
to decide a lot becomes important.
A shared family visit
Why should Kim (age 5) or other children do the same things and join their
parents? A first explanation could perhaps be: children are not able to take
care of themselves in settings like a theme park. Or: if you go as a family
you should do things together.
There are the threats and possibilities of bribes, and future visits, related to
emotions and economics which might influence children in adapting to an
ideal of a shared order of family. With Illouz (2007), I consider that the
“cold” economy, of bribing and making threats about future nonconsumption, meets the order of being together, an intimate time of being
as a family. The social is here entwined with material encouragements. The
interrelatedness of the social with emotions and economics, highlighted in
the work on intimacy by Illouz (2007) and Viviana Zelizer (2005), can assist
us in thinking beyond an appreciation of being together and valuing family
time as “quality time”, emphasized in previous research on park visits (see
Blichfeldt et al. 2011: 145; Gram 2007: 27). It is also quantity time – where
the family, in full numbers, is expected to stay together and share the visit.
The proximity of humans within family is commonly described using the
notion of intimacy. The meaning of intimacy is associated with confidence
and the “warmth” of a relationship (NE; Moss & Schwebel 1993). Intimacy
is about reducing distance and embracing proximity (Thien 2007: 192). In
Zelizer’s (2005) work on money and intimacy, intimacy involves
individuals who are close to each other. She adds that there might be mixed
emotions about being with one another. Intimacy is thus not necessarily
considered to be an entirely warm and positive matter. Illouz’ (2007) work
on emotional capitalism suggests the term of cold intimacies which
highlights a central point in her analysis, of the simultaneous involvement
of emotions and market calculations, of costs and benefits.
Kim’s unwillingness to participate helps to cast light on how family visits
that come with assumptions of doing things together face challenges and
require work to be achieved in terms of togetherness. No natural warmth
from either family or the park as such makes Kim part of the visit, but
individual sanctions, treats and threats do work.
There are times during which problems of “family” become relevant as
intimacy is challenged: there are lost children, there is fear among children
which is handled differently from Kim’s unwillingness. And this remark
leads me to consider how shared visits can turn into something else,
resulting in a family splitting up and thereby splitting experiences.
Different challenges, expectations, and desires make children and parents
split up to do different things. In this part I consider how visits turn family
into a part-time company.
Too far away, too close
After a couple of the park attractions, having eaten ice-cream and observed
how their parents play some of the games in the park – winning them soft
toys – Kim (age 5) and Mary (age 3) are on their way towards new park
Holding hands, Kim and Lotta are walking together, and soon fall
behind Mary and Fred. Not by far, but enough, so that when they
reconvene Fred tells Lotta that he will now take Mary to an
attraction, the Rabalder roller-coaster. “Call me several times, if I
don’t hear the signal” Fred tells Lotta as the family splits up. Lotta
takes Kim to see the attractions that are about the Liseberg rabbit
– the brand character of the park. Mary is scared of the rabbits and
when she sees them in the park she starts to shake. So a division
of family turns into a solution through which Kim’s fascination with
the rabbits and Mary’s fear can be taken into account. Kim, who
enjoys the rabbits, goes with her mother for a tour of the Rabbit
River. Kim enthusiastically points out where there are rabbits, and
talks to her mother about whether they are real or make-believe.109
Park visit: Kim’s family.
Kim and Mary respond differently to the rabbit mascots, getting close to
them for a hug and seeking distance, respectively. The rabbit is too far away,
or too close. For Kim the rabbit calls for extended intimacy.
The family meets again outside the Rabalder attraction. Soon a
couple of rabbit mascots turn up. The mascots are dressed as
policemen and interact with children. Kim approaches them for a
hug. Mary, however, starts to shake when they appear. Lotta, the
girls’ mother, explains to me that Mary usually likes policemen but
that she is afraid of the rabbits and that they don’t know why. Mary
keeps her distance from the mascots and turns her eyes away from
them and moves close to her mother. Lotta picks Mary up in her
For Mary the mascots produce undesired emotional reactions that she is able
to overcome by hugging her mother and turning her face away. Nick Lee
(2008) describes how parents engage in making appreciated things present
for children. In this case Lotta also contributes to making undesired things
absent. Parents and children are consequently engaged in making things
happen, making sure that undesirable things do not come close to them.
To imagine a change of roles where Mary would hug the rabbits seem
unthinkable as she starts to shake when she notices the mascots, and stops
doing so when hugging her mother. By moving in opposite directions, to
the rabbit and to the mother, Kim and Mary engage in hugging, but do so
Lotta seeks explanations for Mary’s fear of the rabbit mascots. It is as
though her shaking body needs justification in words. Why one should like
the rabbit mascots and be close to them is not clear to me, but it seems to
call for no explanation. Kim’s ambition to hug the rabbit mascots is not
discussed and does not call for emotional support from Lotta, as in the case
of Mary. According to Lotta, Kim wants to see the rabbits and they go to
the rabbit house, leaving Mary at a distance from the mascots together with
her father.
Kim checks out the different activities that are available in the rabbit
house, singing karaoke and taking a ride on a slide. Then she
suddenly starts to cry, just outside the rabbit house. A rabbit mascot
turns up almost instantly. It moves close to Kim. The rabbit is not
alone. A man is following the character. As an employee of the park
he directs his attention to Kim, telling her that with the rabbit close
Park visit: Kim’s family.
all will be well. Just a moment later her tears stop flowing. Kim and
her mother leave the rabbit house, and team up with the rest of the
family to see the rabbit shop.111
The Liseberg employee provides an explanation of how the rabbit is the
solution to a problem. There is no discussion about why Kim is crying and
the reasons are not addressed. The man does not seem to be familiar with
Kim or what happened but he nonetheless considers the rabbits to be a
solution. By proposing that having the rabbit present makes an emotional
difference, so that people feel better, the employee puts into words the fact
that children are expected to be happy rather than sad in its presence.
The above example shows that emotions and material things are related, and
that it turns into a common project of the park employees and parents to
make these work together in desirable ways: “all will be well”.
Making things distant
Lotta’s tour of the rabbit house with Kim as well as her way of making the
rabbit mascots absent for Mary illustrate that there is a flexibility to do
things together or to separate. The transformation from the importance of a
shared visit into two different experiences has to do with preferences as well
as individual considerations and sensitivities within the family. The way in
which individual children want to come close to some things and keep
others at a distance becomes an important matter, emotionally, which
involves parents. They take part in making desirable emotions present and
undesirable ones distant.
The attractions in the park generate, or are expected to generate, different
emotional effects. Dizziness, fear, or something else. The avoidance of
undesirable emotions is influential in the ways in which children and parents
select and experience park attractions. What to do, when and how often as
well as who will do it and in what company are questions that are relevant
when considering how children and parents coordinate their visits to the
Several of the visits are divided in this way, where the possibility of
undesirable emotions becomes the guiding factor in what attractions to
experience. It is not only fear, but also other emotions that motivate a
separation of children and parents in the park.
Park visit: Kim’s family.
Henrik (age 9) enjoys attractions at Liseberg that are speedy.
I join Henrik on the speedy rides, feeling dizzy at times. I can hardly
walk straight – we laugh about it, me and Henrik. His parents, Åsa
and Frank, tell me about their feelings of nausea when taking such
rides. They pass on some attractions and are waiting nearby for us
to finish them. Other attractions are experienced together. 112
The issue of dividing up visits for the sake of experiencing different
attractions is also part of Leo’s (age 9) visit to Liseberg. It involves the
entire family most of the time, but not when it is time for the daunting
AtmosFear attraction.
Leo and his father Sven leave Thea (sister) and Mathilda (mother)
to do AtmosFear on their own. The family of four splits up into two
pairs (father-son, mother-daughter), to make use of different
attractions, one designed to carry smaller children and the other
designed for taller individuals. Thea is not tall enough to experience
AtmosFear. Leo says that his sister would shriek if she could join
them. After AtmosFear they gather again in the area of Liseberg
where there are attractions that shorter children can experience
together with taller children and adults. 113
Nausea and fear are undesirable to some, and to some degree desired by
others – considering attractions like AtmosFear. But fear is perhaps
different for Leo and Thea? AtmosFear makes the issue of fear both real
and a hypothetical, but nonetheless relevant, issue. By coordinating visits,
some visitors stay unexposed to what is (too) frightening, while Leo seems
excited about going to the attraction with his father to experience
Nick Lee and Steven D. Brown (2002: 273) provide an example of “fear”
in the way in which there is an “imaginary danger” in experiencing a rollercoaster. The roller-coaster example in Lee and Brown (2002), and how Leo
approaches Thea and AtmosFear, suggests that there is an order in which
children move towards more thrilling experiences, which adults are able to
handle, as they can handle the fear better, or in appropriate ways, compared
with children.
Taking the examples above into consideration, it is not necessarily the case
that the division between parents and children is the most revealing,
suggesting that the former are willing, competent and perhaps keen to be
Park visit: Henrik’s family.
Park visit: Leo’s family.
exposed to (imaginary) fear, while children are less so. Children might
experience attractions that involve undesirable emotions for their parents.
There is consequently an unwillingness among different visitors, regardless
of age, to take part in certain attractions.
Henrik (age 9) is the one who experiences attractions which his parents
describe in terms of producing undesirable dizziness and nausea. In
ascribing nausea and fear to others, and to oneself, Leo and Henrik’s parents
suggest that they have knowledge about emotions as the result of particular
activities. This knowledge allows them to avoid certain attractions and
unwanted emotions.
The approach of sharing the visit as a family on a part-time basis allows a
partial focus on individuals. As a consequence, there can be a division of
family, and a focus on simultaneous activities in parallel. It is about making
desirable activities and positive emotions part of the visit for individuals
rather than negative and undesirable emotions. Shifting between doing
activities all together, involving parts of the family, or as individuals make
visits a matter of coexistence, simultaneously taking place in different
locations within Liseberg or ALW. Central here is the recognition that visits
can be “drawn apart” and “hang together” in shifting ways, so that it is
possible to share some attractions and experiences while there also are
things which are not enjoyable for everyone.
The visits in this study are child-centered in the sense that it is children who
are expected to be most involved with the park attractions. When it comes
to the attractions it is children who ride them, while parents join in or wait
by the ride’s exit, not the other way around. Part-time company visits
suggest that parents are attentive firstly to children, and secondly to
themselves. Children, regardless of their age, are not left behind for the
purpose of adult-centered experiences in the attractions. The closest I get to
such adult-oriented ways of approaching the parks during family visits is
when Anders, the head of security at Liseberg, tells me that there at times
when fathers drink too much beer, “then it can go very wrong.” Without any
further details from Anders it is still possible to imagine how a drunken
father might be challenging when it comes to doing things together with
Alone in the company of four
During Casper’s (age 6) visit to Liseberg, the matter of assistance and
support for children becomes intricate and complex.
Casper’s mother Lena, and her friend Dan, try to make the most out
of the day for Casper. This means that they engage in different
activities that might serve Casper. The visit has been planned so
that it involves attractions in the park early during the day, and
listening to Casper’s favorite artist, Eric Saade, who performs
during the evening, when the popular television show Lotta at
Liseberg is recorded. Casper has prepared for the concert by
creating a poster with Eric Saade’s name written in large letters.
Like many others in the park he is looking forward to the concert.
Dan carries a bag with this poster. But he provides more support
than this. The Lotta at Liseberg show is popular and attracts
thousands of visitors to the park. Many people queue next to the
stage from early during the day. They want to get themselves a
good place, in front of the stage. Almost immediately after entering
Liseberg, Dan walks away from us. He takes his place in the
growing queue that leads to the big stage, where Lotta at Liseberg
will be performed. While Casper, Lena and I move on to the
attractions, it is clear that Lena’s friend Dan will spend his time
queuing here; he is our key to getting close to the stage later on
during the evening.114
Figure 7:3: Queue, Liseberg. Queuing at Liseberg when
there are popular stage performances means standing in
one place for hours – at least for those who want to get
close to the stage.
Park visit: Casper’s family.
Lena and Dan have tickets to enter the park, but they do not include anything
besides stage performances and access to a few attractions, in the company
of children. Six-year-old Casper is the only one who has a ride pass to be
able to experience all the attractions.
Lena asks her son what he wants to do. He points to an attraction
with ornaments that look like animals, and asks if Lena will join him.
She tells Casper that she has not got a ride pass, and can only join
him in certain attractions where parents are allowed without any
additional charge. I join Casper on a couple of attractions. Some of
these make me feel dizzy. Casper asks if I can join him on the
attraction with the animals – Lena tells him “but David isn’t your
Having unlimited access to the attractions at Liseberg, I am the only one
close to Casper who has the possibility to go along. The fact that Lena,
Casper’s mother, states that I am not his father seems to mean that Casper
should not expect me to join in. Casper’s father is not present and cannot
not join us during the visit.116 Lena marks a boundary to this by telling
Casper that he cannot count on my involvement. Lena speaks about the
physical absence of a father, and makes the father into an ideal character
who accompanies his children. This suggests that attractions should be
experienced with parents, making park visits into a family affair even if
there is geographical distance between Casper and his father and no one else
but me is there to join in.
The distance of Casper’s father is marked in two ways, and assists Lena in
making Casper into the one who is going to ride attractions. My
opportunities to join Casper, being there with him, are set aside and Casper
experiences some attractions on his own.
Shifting between riding attractions alone, with me, and visiting parts
of the park together, Casper talks with his mother about what to do
and decides where to go. Casper enters an attraction called Skepp
o’ skoj, where Liseberg invites visitors to “Be captain for a day!”
Riding in a small boat on his own, Casper is navigating the pool
where other children move around in boats together with
accompanying adults. Clearly, Casper and the other children are
not allowed to spend the entire day in the boats. Just as with other
attractions in the park, it is a question of the minutes that each ride
is supposed to take. I notice that Casper is having problems with
steering the boat and navigating the pool. Lena tells me that “he
Park visit: Casper’s family.
Lena and Casper’s father are separated.
hasn’t taken this ride many times.” Casper is standing up in the
boat, and then sitting down, seemingly annoyed over not having
control over the boat. Through the loudspeakers, the attraction
operator tells Casper to sit down. Repeatedly she makes calls for
Casper to leave his boat – asking boat number three to dock. After
what I experience as an eternity, Lena starts talking to one of the
employees. And after a couple of minutes they bring Casper and
his boat from the open water to where he can exit the attraction. 117
Figure 7:4: Attractions, Liseberg. The Skepp o’ skoj attraction at
Liseberg where children navigate the pool by themselves, or in the
company of adults who assist in handling the small boats, which
can carry two people.
I was worried about Casper’s struggles in the boat. He was out there
seemingly in need. This occasion was one of the few during my fieldwork
when I have considered suggesting that something needs to be done, that a
child requires assistance. How many adults are there to assist this child?
Four – myself, Lena, Dan and the attraction operator – or none? I did not
help. I thought that maybe there were reasons for leaving Casper in the boat,
perhaps an educational way of making him learn how to handle himself.
Casper’s visit to Liseberg is quite tricky to comprehend.
‘Liseberg – Skepp o’ skoj’, (accessed 05/03/15). Park visit: Casper’s family.
Around Casper and throughout the park there are adults and employees
ready to serve. But they do not always do so. It is as though the distance in
this attraction between Casper and adults is about making him do things on
his own, withdrawing the instant services of adults at the moment when he
might find them most appropriate. Karen Smith (2012: 34) argues that the
recognition of children as competent actors in contemporary society might
be beneficial to children at the same time as it can be a burden. The situation
in which Casper navigates the pool at Liseberg resonates with the
responsibilities of children, as highlighted by Smith. But there is no absolute
divide, or a constant distance between Casper and others who could provide
a helping hand.
As time passes, adults become engaged to help Casper and his boat move
to the safe harbor, where his mother is waiting for him. The time spent in
the boat involves Casper in what, following Smith (2012), can be described
as the wider order of childhood, where children are expected to learn to be
responsible and become independent of others. The visit involves both such
an order, where the distance between Lena and Casper is significant, and
one of togetherness, moving and eating together in the park. At the same
time there is Dan, upon whom both Lena and Casper are relying – counting
on him to secure places so that Casper will be able to see Eric Saade’s
performance during the evening, at the end of the visit.
While Casper’s situation in the boat is somewhat exceptional, being
watched by adults who do little more than observe for several minutes, it is
a situation that is telling for family visits. Children and parents, in the wide
sense, do move with each other and away from each other. The attractions
in the park both offer them a time together and make interaction and support
into a challenge. This in turn challenges ideas that theme park visits are
about family togetherness, a quality time of sharing equal amounts of
I propose the metaphor of the yo-yo to capture how children and parents are
related, continually moving between proximity and distance. The yo-yo
metaphor highlights that the movements of children and parents constitute
the park visits as family visits. Movements vary in frequency, between
occasional or repeated, sudden or planned, and involve voluntary or
involuntary proximity and distance. These movements are called for due to
needs, wants, and what is (un)desirable. The metaphor of the yo-yo
highlights how children are in practice enacting dependency equally. It
provides a contrast to notions of children as either dependent or
independent, emphasizing that in a sense they are both (see Smith 2012).
For children here, their momentary independence goes with a dependence
on parents. The same goes for parents, focused or ready to focus on their
children in the parks – depending on what children do, where they are, and
on being there to observe and assist, to avoid the risk of dis-order and lost
The yo-yo metaphor highlights the complexity of difference and similarities
in the examples given in this chapter, just as when playing with a yo-yo
there is an involvement of acquired skills, chance, and variations in
proximity and distance as well as speed and frequency. Explorations of what
can be done and the movements of children and parents make a visit into a
coordinated matter. Making movements possible, children and parents
make use of devices such as the cell phone – connecting children and
parents, letting them be distanced but keeping in touch. This makes it
possible to be simultaneously available and unavailable, experiencing
attractions or doing something else, being distanced and close at the same
The notion of family in this thesis has been associated with intimacy, and
intimacy is related to proximity or closeness, of children and parents being
together. The examples in this chapter point to the partial relevance of such
a notion of family, but also to what lies beyond shared experiences of
family. So even though the visits here could be described as child-centered,
there are challenges that parents and children face in actual situations in the
theme park. While intimacy, then, has been associated with happiness
(Illouz 2007; Thien 2007), is this perhaps the case only under some
circumstances? Being together will at times create undesirable emotions,
which distance assists in handling momentarily. What the movements of
children and their parents tell us about family is a story of heterogeneity,
where the coexistence of individual and collective ways of ordering a visit
is significant, rather than a stable unity of family.
How is family involved with happiness in theme parks? By whom, when
and where is it enacted? This chapter adds to previous research in exploring
what a happy quality time might mean in practice. It is not necessarily the
coherence of family, or the sacrifices of parents that create happiness,
among children or adults. In practice, coherent family visits face challenges
as children and parents focus on different or the same activities. Family is
involved with happiness as an ideal of togetherness, but also splits up for
the sake of achieving individual happiness that can contrast with
experiences taken together as a collective. Children, parents, park
employees and characters, as well as attractions, are all involved in the
enactment of happiness; not as a totality, but in messy and situated ways
that are hard to anticipate as expectations meet the unexpected events of a
theme park.
Happiness, in the models outlined in the introduction to this thesis, is about
linear movements where achievements and means of different kinds lead
individuals to happiness. Such stable linearity is not visible during the park
visits I witnessed; there is no plan by which activities are carried out along
a given path towards a destination of happiness. What is apparent during the
visits, altogether, is the avoidance of what are known to be undesirable
emotions, including fear and nausea, and orientations towards various
activities – as different as work and riding the roller-coaster.
Summer time. From the end of May to late in August there are increased
opportunities for families to spend time together, and to visit desirable
tourist destinations. Children are on summer break, and parents take their
vacation. A combination of paid vacation leave for parents, the fact that
many children’s everyday activities are put on hold and the weather invites
people to spend time outdoors makes theme park visits into a suitable
activity. Season and time are consequently crucial for visits to Astrid
Lindgren’s World and Liseberg. Time is not only a window of opportunity;
it also becomes a limitation in considerations of when, where and for how
long a visit should take place.
Depending on the extent of a visit, there are different considerations in terms
of the need for speed. Among children and parents visiting these parks it is
common to come across reactions to how much time it takes – that things
take a lot of time, or that you are lucky things went smoothly and you were
allowed to enter an attraction without waiting too long. There are not many
clocks on public display and those that are visible at Liseberg primarily
provide information about the time expected for queuing, in minutes, rather
than stating what time of day it is.
Time in theme parks is consumed as a product (Cardell & Sparrman 2012).
Some people purchase one-day tickets and want to do as much as possible.
Others return over several days and this allows them to slow down the pace,
and avoid being stressed about what they managed to do during the day.
People who consume the theme park experience shifting rhythms and get
involved with time in various ways. During a visit to Liseberg, Henrik (age
9) comments that riding an attraction extends the feeling of time in
comparison with standing at the side and observing.
Time in the park is entangled with expectations of a good and happy time
in a wider sense. To give one example, time is approached as an important
factor in choosing when one should visit a park: one mother says that it will
be time to visit the theme park Legoland in Denmark later, when her
daughter gets older, arguing that it is “fun if she remembers.” This is
symptomatic, indicating that the timing of a theme park visit is not
haphazard – there are concerns about when the right time is. This leads to
the question of the ways in which time and age are important. Moreover it
raises the issue of whether childhood has a role in the enactment of
It will be shown in this chapter that theme park visits make time into a
shifting and complex matter. Before I get into the ethnographic parts of this
chapter, there is a section that focuses on how chronography serves the
purpose of widening our understanding of happiness, time and childhood.
Chronography provides an approach to the study of how time is enacted.
The term chronography is used here to describe my approach to time as,
borrowing from Chuk Moran (2013: 7), “an enacted, material, social
practice.” A relevant question here is how time is enacted in practice (Mol
2002; see also Shove 2009: 17). Practices widen the scope of time beyond
quantitative measures – moving beyond a set temporality. It is not
necessarily about counting hours, but also about feelings and estimations,
as in the case of Henrik above. My take on chronography is in line with how
Science and Technology Studies (STS) ethnographizes target concepts
(Woolgar 2012: 36). It means beginning with specific empirical questions
about time, rather than building a grand theory (Lynch 2013: 454, 458).118
I will now briefly touch upon the notions of childhood and happiness in
relation to notions of time.
Many theories of childhood “take a linear view of the developmental
process” (Corsaro 2005: 23). Nick Lee and Steven D. Brown (2002: 262f)
highlight that temporality is considered a substance of childhood, which is
a period, a passing phase, on the way towards adulthood. Temporality
suggests a chronology of life in the wider sense, where childhood is
followed by adulthood. But, nevertheless, childhood scholars note that there
is a need for research into the construction of time, and childhood as
temporality (Prout & James 1997: 28; Uprichard 2008: 307–309).119
The term chronography is rarely used, and has not “develop[ed] as a distinct discipline
as both geography and cartography” (Jessop 2008: 285; see also Sharma 2013).
Calls for research regarding time have also been made elsewhere in social and cultural
research (Birth 2007; see also Adam 1995: 6; Halas 2010; Harro-Loitand & Kõresaar
Time and age are also concerns in research on happiness. In statistics, there
is a U-shape of happiness, suggesting that children and seniors are happier
than middle-aged people (e.g. Blanchflower & Oswald 2008; Frijters &
Beatton 2012). Parents are, statistically, unhappier than other adults (Gilbert
2007: 220f). This might contradict expectations, and also challenges the
model of family, in which children are approached as external goods of
happiness. These encompassing observations provide a broad and rather
abstract image, where age and the constitution of family explain happiness.
There is an observation in studies of theme parks that makes sense here and
provides detail to the above research. Nick Johns and Szilvia Gyimóthy
(2002) write about parents who sacrifice themselves for the sake of happy
children in visiting the Danish theme park Legoland: “although adults were
happy to come to Legoland on their children’s account, they often did not
like it themselves” (ibid.: 324). There is a division of time here during
family visits, between a pleasurable time for children and a purposeful time
for adults – being there for the sake of the children (cf. Dolan 2015). This
contrasts with ideals of theme parks as places that offer families a shared
time, to “concretize the experience of family” (Willis 1995: 51), and fulfill
ideals of the “happy family” through tourism (Carr 2011: 16, 21). It
indicates that there might be tensions regarding time, or that pleasure for
one person involves the sacrifice of others (Ahmed 2008, 2010a; Baader
2012: 495f).
The common happiness model, which constructs it as an individual
orientation, involves ambitions of overview, involving a linear time that
suggests the possibility that calculable actions and rational choices lead
individuals to happiness; that by doing “this and that”, happiness will be
achieved (e.g. Csikszentmihalyi 2002; Dolan 2015). Theme parks fit within
this line of thought, where some individuals achieve happiness through
visits. There is, in my view, too much certainty about happiness in such an
approach, with its narrow focus on the individual. I would, however, suggest
that time and happiness do not only involve assumptions of an overview
into the future, and what Ingold (2009a, 2009b) speaks of in terms of
transport – where individual happiness is certain if one spends time going
to a particular destination. The notion of time also involves opportunities
that cannot be foreseen.
The model associated with chance and luck emphasizes that there are times
when happiness arrives, and that one cannot control these times at the
outset. This model takes a different view of time, involving what I call:
timely opportunities. Following Hans Rämö (1999: 312), it is a time that
might not come back, being a moment of right and opportune time. Rämö
suggests that the notion of kairos – timely occasions – is rarely used
nowadays.120 There is instead a dominance of chronology, chronos, which
involves ambitions of overview and an “exact quantification of time”
(Rämö 1999: 315). By considering these shifting concepts in practice, it is
possible to explore how time and happiness become entangled in different
ways. Chronography allows for explorations of chronology and beyond into
the timely opportunities which arise during visits to theme parks.
Together, these different notions of time allow me to emphasize that time is
not necessarily homogeneous, but that there are also different social
rhythms and that time, in practice, is multiple and heterogeneous (cf. Adam
1995: 12; Birth 2013: 233; Kern 1983). Practices are consequently not only
in time (that is quantified), but they also enact time (Mol 2002; Moran
2013). I explore time, age and happiness as interlinked and entangled
concepts through park visits. The point is to explore time through practice
with regards to happiness rather than arguing for what time “is”.
I have thought about how, for whom and under what circumstances does
time, and different times, become a matter of concern in the parks. In this
chapter I explore beginnings, endings, timing and duration. This leads me
to focus on how children, parents, and the parks are involved in practices
that enact time with the concerns of childhood in mind, including contrasts
with and movements towards adulthood. Several of these matters have to
do with expectations. This means that children and parents outline what is
likely to happen in the future.
In this part, I focus on how theme park consumption involves expectations
of another time to come, which is different from the present and involves
the transformation of children. Children and their parents identify growth
John Urry (2000: 114) suggests there is now a dominance of clock-time, chronological
time. Mikhail Epstein (2011: 79) even speaks of chronocracy, which emphasizes the
importance of chronology. Chronocracy makes sense in relation to arguments about the
Taylorism of leisure and theme park settings, emphasizing efficiency and control over
time throughout the visits (e.g. Sorkin 1992b: 223). Research on theme parks also
suggests that time there is distinct from everyday life, as a time away from
(chronological) time (e.g. Baudrillard 1998; Ritzer & Liska 1997: 106).
and development as influential for how and where one should spend time,
now and in the future. It points to possibilities and desires to experience new
things. In this, material aspects of the theme parks become important.
Bodily possibilities
Children are measured at Liseberg to ensure that they are tall enough to take
part in the attractions that call for a certain number of centimeters. There
are different categories of attractions – requiring minimum heights of 90,
110, 130 or 140 cm. These numbers are important for whether an individual
can ride an attraction or not. Measurements are critical at Liseberg and in
parks with ride attractions more generally, where the exactness of numbers
implies safety (Csarmann 2007).
Figure 8:1: Ruler, Liseberg, asking “How tall are you?”
In the “guest service office” at Liseberg, children are subject to
measurement – inspected by park employees to discover whether they
qualify to enter an attraction. This is a voluntary procedure and a preferred
way of dealing with the issue of height for some visitors.
Henrik (age 9) is one of the participants who is measured in this
study. Visiting the guest service office at Liseberg, he is placed next
to a ruler and measures 131.5 centimeters tall. During the
measurement Henrik stands straight, still, and stretches his body.
Employees use the ruler to measure him while his parents observe.
He receives a bracelet with the number 130 on it, giving access to
rides without further measurement throughout the park attractions
during the day. Henrik tells me that he thinks it should state 131.5,
being the actual measured height of his body. 121
Going to the “guest service office” helps to minimize inspections at each
attraction. The bracelet offered there becomes a sign of authorized use, a
key for Henrik to access attractions that require 130 cm, so that employees
do not need to bring out the rulers, again and again. It speeds up his passage
through the entrances and the time in the park can be focused on riding the
attractions. Bracelets, like the one worn by Henrik, become a solution to the
challenges of measuring bodies that are on the move – that eagerly and
quickly want to pass through the entrances to the attractions. It means that
employees can look at the arms of children before they suggest that one
should stop for the necessary measurement – it has already been conducted.
A fixed and measurable height becomes important at the outset of park
visits. To adjust the body to fit it for measurement suggests that height is
not continually fixed. During the measurement there is a kind of focus on
the body “as is”, which is visible in how Henrik calls for a more specific
bracelet – with his height, rather than a generic number. His height, along
with other children’s, is stretched out to its maximum capacity.
Park visit: Henrik’s family.
Figure 8:2: Bracelets. Having received the bracelet stating that his
height is more than 130 centimeters, but less than the tallest height
category – 140 cm – Henrik is equipped to start riding attractions at
During the 12-hour day at Liseberg, Henrik is keen on taking many
attractions and some of them several times. Being authorized, it is clear to
Henrik and his parents which rides are available to him, and which are not,
at this time. While being measured, however, as shown elsewhere, there are
also children who deploy strategies to make them as tall as possible, using
shoes that increase their height a bit (Cardell & Sparrman 2012). The
ambition among children and parents to experience new attractions does not
involve any material additions to gain height. Children and parents in this
study accept the measurements and also, more or less actively, buy into the
idea that bodies ought to be observed, defined and subject to inclusion or
exclusion. They accept that Liseberg defines when bodies are allowed to
enter the attractions, due to issues of safety.
Family park visits involve not only an acceptance of the height that has been
achieved at the current moment. Anticipation of growth to come is part of
the park visits. Time is expected to generate numbers.
Lotta says that her youngest daughter Mary (age 3) is expected to
grow before next summer: “she will be 108.5 centimeters next
summer, if she follows her growth curve.”122
As months or years pass, growth takes place and previously unavailable
attractions become accessible to a child. Numbers in the park become a
hierarchy against which children’s development is matched. Mary becomes
subject to transport through time, in the sense that one point in the
centimeter curve is expected to connect to another; probably with an
expected end to it – being grown up. Lotta’s comments about this
development provide the most explicit example of such a detailed line of
thought. But it makes sense to consider this approach in a wider sense: there
are no children or parents in this study who expect that children will not
reach the upper category required to use all the attractions. Not having
worries about this is significant for expectations of times to come in at least
two ways.
Children can expect to grow, in due time, and they do not approach their
current visit as a one-off occasion. They will likely come back, sometime
in the future, after growth. Time, therefore, makes sense in relation to
expectations that children will move along a predictable curve, where the
future involves certainties about growth and continuous consumption. This
suggests that current visits relate to future ones.
The above observations provide a story about time that is focused on
growth. Measurement becomes a part of noting that development is taking
place – also making visible (im)possibilities of consumption to children and
parents. The possibilities and impossibilities illustrate that Liseberg, along
with other commercial spaces, organizes consumption in stages of growth
(Cook 2004: 97, 118f). Sara Ahmed (2006: 51) has pointed out that spaces
are for “some kind of bodies more than others.” This is especially true when
it comes to riding attractions in theme parks (Csarmann 2007). What I
would add is the importance of time and change in a theme park like
Liseberg, where categories of height run alongside an expected trajectory
outlining the coming growth of children. Consequently, the opportunities at
Liseberg are constituted to align repeated consumption of the theme park
with the “natural” physical development of children (cf. Langer 2004: 256).
Waiting for some things thus becomes a requirement, which is accepted by
the children and parents in this study. The notion of waiting is associated
Park visit: Kim’s family.
with the becoming of children, a time of developing (Qvortrup 2005: 5).
Some argue that children learn to wait throughout childhood (Ehn &
Löfgren 2007: 24–26). Children do not – and are not required to – accept
this for the sake of waiting as such. Waiting is consequently not related to
an ideal that children should postpone pleasures that are available for
increasing the happiness of life in a wider sense (Binkley 2014: 59ff; see
also Brusdal & Frønes 2014: 1440). There is no focus on the moralism of
waiting, or as an explicit part of an educational agenda. Waiting is
consequently set aside, in favor of an active time where visitors experience
available attractions. There is no big fuss about the fact that, for example, a
roller-coaster is not yet available, as there are other opportunities at hand.
Beyond numbers
In contrast to Liseberg, there is no explicit significance to numbers at ALW
– either in age or height. In theory, these are not relevant for being able or
unable to do certain things in this theme park. As I join children it becomes
clear, however, that adult bodies do not easily fit in. They are too big.
In a small-scale house I am guided by Eric (age 6) to a corner where
I can stand upright, and he tells me that “here, here it is normal for
you.” Not bending my back becomes preferable to Eric who
observes how the small house fits himself and his brother but not
Fitting in, or not, divides the bodies of shorter children and taller adults in
these houses in the park. The material scales at ALW result in a division
that challenges the inclusion of adult bodies, especially so in the spaces of
the miniature houses. ALW consequently makes height into a problem in
ways that are less explicit but more obvious than at Liseberg. The tall ones
need to stoop, bend down, to move along; the antithesis to ideals of good
posture (Ingold 2007a: 153; Turmel 2008: 138–142).
Park visit: Eric’s family.
Figure 8:3: Small houses. A man uses a video camera to record
children inside one of the many miniature houses at ALW.
Few parents enter the small houses at ALW, and the tight spaces leave
adults outside. This inverts the order of waiting: it is not children who are
waiting here, but parents who stand outside during the activities of their
children inside the houses, waiting for these to end. This is the case
generally at ALW.124 Growing implies that time in the houses is likely to
end, as being tall means waiting.
Children do not stay long in the cramped spaces of ALW. They spend
minutes there rather than hours. Perhaps this is because most of the small
houses offer little in terms of content – there are tables and chairs in some
of them, but usually not much more. Leaving these houses, children rejoin
their parents.
Some activities at ALW require additional height, and at times children call
for such, provided by parents. There are children who ask taller adults to
Here, there is a connection between chronography and scalography, the study of scale
in practice (see Hinchliffe 2009; Yaneva 2009).
“lift me”. This enables children to see beyond what their eyes can see when
they are standing on the ground. Exploration of the contents of the park then
becomes a collaborative affair, involving several bodies: child + adult +
physical strength + materiality. This is a turn away from the focus on
individual bodies at Liseberg (cf. Samuelsson et al. accepted).
Together, the above observations suggest that time and material things are
entangled. Some attractions leave adults waiting, others call for a social and
shared time so that children will be able to observe and experience what is
available in the theme park. The shifts between attractions that exclude and
include park visitors correspond with a mix of ideals that are part of
previous models of happiness. Depending on where one spends time, and in
which company, different ideals become relevant: childhood time with a
focus on children’s play, family time with a focus on togetherness, and
theme park time as a matter of consumption and positive experiences. These
ideals – from the previous models of happiness – are consequently
entangled with the material outline of the park and concrete social situations
in which considerations of time are made. Children are allowed time to play
on their own, while parents are just outside, ready if there are any problems,
followed by times that offer family togetherness (cf. Hallman & Benbow
2010: 15; Mayall 1998; Stearns 2010). If a park visit is to include different
times, there is a need for continuous change, from a focus on children’s
activities, to social time, sharing experiences.
Changing phases
Tove (age 9) and her parents Karin and Johan tell me about Tove’s
history at Liseberg. We speak about her long-time enthusiasm for
the park, and the family’s consumption of it. Both Tove and her
parents have noted changes. Karin speaks of previous times when
Tove visited the park attractions together with her parents. We are
smiling and laughing as Karin presents the experiences of the
young Tove at Liseberg. Karin describes how “there is some kind of
development,” referring to the fact that Tove stopped hugging the
rabbits. Tove has moved away from the children’s area at Liseberg
to other attractions. “The next phase is when you start to ride the
bigger attractions,” Karin continues, speaking about how Tove is
now experiencing the attractions on her own, without accompanying
parents. According to Karin, Tove is now big enough to manage by
herself, “more or less”. Tove quickly adds, with what seems to be
some uncertainty, that “the next phase is probably where I can
manage to be on my own at Liseberg.”125
Tove notices that managing herself, individually, is part of a time to come
in the park. She is aspiring towards the bigger attractions. Movement from
one attraction or park to the next resonates with developmental thinking and
ideas that children grow and mature. Tove and Karin – who is
knowledgeable about psychological concepts of development, which
according to Alan Prout and Allison James (1997: 10) are dominant notions
of childhood – provide an account of the individual child, where park visits
make sense through the notion of “phases”. This notion has been discussed
by Ivar Frønes (2005: 271), who writes that it includes periods of “structural
stability” and transition, which “refers to more fluid periods of moving from
one phase to the next.” What does the transition between phases imply here?
Phases and transitions resonate with chronology and the overview of a
temporality of childhood, involving a before and after, that transport the
child to what comes next. In the story about Tove there is a before, a present
and also a future, which all entangle with Liseberg and its different
attractions. Tove and her parents claim that the so-called children’s area of
Liseberg is no longer of any interest to her. Past activities at Liseberg are
remembered as traces of a previous time, which provide a background to
what is taking place now and what will happen in the future. This means
that time becomes associated with physical and mental development, where
getting older and growing leads on to new destinations. The older and bigger
Tove gets, the more she is expected to do on her own, taking part in more
thrilling experiences.
As Tove follows a line of development, others no longer need to travel along
with her in the park. Following this comes increased autonomy, and
changed experiences plot Tove’s way onwards, into a future of expected
development. This illustrates how Tove’s time comes with expectations of
becoming something else, transforming from being accompanied by her
parents to having a presence as an individual child in the theme park.
Here, the theme park works as a place where Tove elaborates on
possibilities to manage herself, which is a matter of concern not only for her
but also for her parents. Tove and her parents are not spending time in the
park for the “simple” or only purpose of fun, but are interweaving the
appreciated attractions with psychological theories of child development.
Interview 1: Tove’s family.
Through park visits, they are able to test and observe how Tove takes care
of herself. Liseberg here turns into a testing site for a child’s developing
autonomy. During limited times, Tove is able to prove herself, in relation to
her parents, in moving towards the certainty of being able to manage herself.
My proposed notion of a testing site highlights how development is
expected and also explored, in relation to attractions and within a spatially
limited place.
The future expectations of age and growth are part of a developmental
approach and, according to Virginia Morrow (2013: 151f), this involves a
“fixation with numerical age” which comprises “very powerful normative
ideas about the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ age to do certain things.” Children
are expected to mature, grow up, and wait for the right time (James et al.
1998; Qvortrup 2005). There is a value in growing up, which, according to
previous research, children also find important (e.g. Corsaro 2005: 134f;
Kvale Sørenssen 2012: 180).
While children might value the increasing opportunities in the theme park,
it is notable that parents also play an important role in outlining the times to
come.126 They speak of when families will visit a park, and what is the
appropriate park at a particular age. Kim’s (age 5) mother Lotta says that
other parks than Liseberg will likely be visited when her two daughters get
older. Mathilda says that her daughter Thea (age 5) needs to be older before
they visit the Danish theme park Legoland. Helene considers this to be the
final year when her daughter, Tina (age 6), is likely to find ALW of interest,
and she assumes that Tina is growing up and away from the park.
The focus on numerical age suggests that children, in due time, make up a
good match with particular places. Their being in the present is not relevant
to some of the theme parks that are available for consumption, but will be
later as children become something different.127 And this is what the timing
of visits is about – a chronology of age against which individual children
are measured.
Previous research emphasizes that children “do” childhood, and are involved in
reproducing it (see also Cody 2012; Halldén 2007: 29–31; Helleiner 2007; James &
James 2004: 12; König 2008; Markström & Halldén 2009: 120; Russell & Tyler 2002:
622). This means that research on children and on childhood blur into each other
(Shanahan 2007: 408).
The notions of being and becoming are outlined by, for example, Lee (2001) and
Uprichard (2008).
In this part, I address opportunities that unfold during theme park visits,
which, for both children and adults, make up “the right and judicious
moment[s] to act” (Metcalfe 2006: 247). The timing here is of a different
kind than the time discussed above; involving greater uncertainties about
time as well as opportunities that arise more or less suddenly.
Pacifiers as loss and gift
Growing (up) involves expectations of leaving certain things behind. A
critical situation in which many children are expected to move on, leaving
things behind, in the past, is the termination of the use of pacifiers (UK:
dummy/dummies). At ALW and Liseberg there are special containers that
are designated for the purpose of leaving pacifiers – a barrel at ALW and a
machine at Liseberg.
Figure 8:4: Barrel. A barrel where pacifiers
are collected by Pippi Longstocking at
ALW, placed next to trash bins. 2011.
Figure 8:5: Machine. A
machine at Liseberg¸ where
pacifiers are collected outside
the house of the rabbits.
At Liseberg, children in large numbers leave their pacifiers just outside the
rabbits’ house. At ALW, famous park characters such as Pippi
Longstocking are involved in collecting the pacifiers in a barrel, as part of
their performances in the park. Park visitors have previously left pacifiers
wherever they see fit, for example in the house of Pippi Longstocking
(Economou & Hergli 2010: 58). By setting up special installations, ALW
and Liseberg try to remain in control – so that pacifiers not will be left in
just any place, throughout the park.
When is the appropriate time to leave precious things behind? Leaving
children’s pacifiers is part of family life in general and is here expected to
take place during a scheduled time in the park. Leaving pacifiers in the parks
involves deciding that it is the right place to do so, as well as considerations
of timing. Is it an appropriate time “now” or will there be too much sadness
and anxiety? Children face a situation which is associated both with a risk
of sadness and a chance for separation. The latter is evident in talk about the
fact that the pacifiers are “gifts” to those who need them more, like the
“baby” rabbits at Liseberg.
Parents prepare, getting children used to the idea of separation.
Jacob (age 4) is expected to leave his collection of pacifiers the next
day at ALW. When it is time to leave these on the second day it is
Jacob’s mother Gill who hands over the pacifiers to Pippi
Longstocking. Pippi puts them in a barrel under the supervision of
children and parents. His brother Eric (age 6) is there and his father
Tony records the event with his smart phone. Jacob is standing to
the side, silently observing how his pacifiers end up next to many
others, now separated from the children who are taking part in the
same event. After his pacifiers have been left, Jacob receives a hug
from Gill. Following the separation from his pacifiers, Jacob puts his
thumb in his mouth. Gill asks if this is what Jacob will do now. In
their caravan Jacob keeps another substitute: a lollipop shaped like
a pacifier, bought in a candy shop during the first day at the park.128
Getting rid of the pacifiers at ALW makes sense, and perhaps becomes
somewhat easier than the alternative of putting them into a meaningless
trash bin at home, or thinking of them as slimy plastic things, of no value.
The gift to characters like Pippi or the rabbits at Liseberg makes pacifiers
into something important that are not wasted. Their importance remains, but
someone else receives them. The point here is that, as a pacifier moves into
Park visit: Eric’s family.
the park, children’s experiences of an ordinary and mundane material thing
become mixed with fiction, making them entangle and even uphold one
another (Lindgren et al. 2015).
Ahmed (2006: 168) writes about how material things give direction to life.
Ahmed is focusing on arrangements of furniture, but nonetheless it makes
sense to discuss the barrel around which Jacob and his family gather in her
terms, as an orientation device that suggests directions for his future life:
not using pacifiers anymore. The range of products that are for sale at ALW
and Liseberg further assists in phasing out pacifiers, making the time of
separation a bit easier – both parks sell lollipops shaped like pacifiers.129
With such a lollipop, Jacob receives a material substitute – to go along with
his thumb – and is able to consume something similar to the pacifier, for a
while. This candy lasts throughout their time at ALW and is why there is no
need for the ordinary plastic pacifiers, at this time.
Is Gill’s hug supposed to comfort, to celebrate, or to get close to observe
how Jacob is experiencing the separation? Perhaps all of these. It suggests
that the time of the pacifier is in the past but that now there is an uncertain
time ahead. In Jacob’s case there is uncertainty about what he will do in the
future, revealed in his mother’s question regarding his thumb. Also there is
an uncertainty in the present.
Deborah Lupton (2013: 7) suggests that pacifiers are “important means of
controlling and civilising the disorderly infant body by reducing crying,”
which results in an “intense grief and a sense of loss when caregivers
attempt to wean them from the dummy.” Jacob’s separation from his
pacifiers does not generate any tears. Neither does it make him especially
happy, at the moment.
Jacob’s visit to ALW signifies a break with previous routines, which is
expected to change his everyday life. Drawing on the work of Randall
Collins (2004: 18), it marks an end to a long-term encounter; it is a transition
ritual. It is a ritual in which a transition is played out against current routines,
so that Jacob moves on from being dependent on his pacifiers. The
involvement of the pacifiers in this ritual demonstrates their “sentimental
value” and that the plastic objects carry “personal meanings” (Lupton 2013:
5). The park, the fictive (actor) Pippi Longstocking and the barrel become
Observed at ALW during the visit with Eric and Jacob’s family, and at Liseberg
during the visit with Kim and Mary.
involved to facilitate the attempt to say goodbye, to leave cherished things
behind, which calls for documentation. Images make it possible to look
back, to remember this time in the future.
Will this time be happily remembered? To answer this question with a
yes/no would involve assumptions about chronology that build on certainty.
Moving beyond the likelihood of individual happiness – for Jacob – it is
however possible to consider the event in relation to theoretical
assumptions. Leaving the pacifier makes sense in terms of the uncertainty
of happ in the model of luck and chance: one cannot predict and does not
know later outcomes, in the present. Timely opportunities do not provide
the certainty and chronological overview that are part of models of
happiness outlining recipes for action. Control is possibly lost, drawing on
Lupton (2013). And control is indeed important in previous models of
happiness – to manage your life situation for the purpose of individual
What Jacob and Gill, along with the pacifiers, highlight is that time involves
uncertainties, and makes theme park visits into a testing site, of dependency,
control and emotions. Control and emotions go with happiness, but they
provide no clear-cut answer about whether there is a happy time, or a time
that – following ideals of separation from pacifiers – has to take place
somewhere and soon enough. To learn that there is an end to becoming part
of theme park visits, not only in the case of pacifiers but also in other ways.
Research usually emphasizes that theme park visits are associated with
predictability and an absence of surprise (e.g. Arnal 2001; Gottdiener 1982;
Marin 1984; Sorkin 1992a). Reading this research one easily gets the
impression that there is control over time, that it is a happy time, and that
ideals of experiencing minimal stress become a reality (e.g. Hjemdahl
2003a: 36–46; Lukas 2010: 144). Leaving pacifiers behind is, however, a
possibly challenging and uncertain activity. These are managed in ways that
make ideals about a positive time, without tears, more likely to occur –
providing candy, hugs and creating space for talk about what will happen.
This suggests a need for concepts of happiness that comprehend it as an
achievement – among alternatives – in relation to time and material things:
making chance and opportunity relevant rather than happiness as a
guarantee of positive emotional outcomes.
By incorporating the ritual of leaving pacifiers, making them into gifts,
ALW assists parents and children in tackling a time of loss that might
otherwise produce different emotions – expected and unexpected. The
sentimental value and the personal meanings are strong enough to motivate
his father’s documentation, his mother’s concern about the thumb in the
mouth and the attention of Pippi Longstocking and ALW. Saying goodbye
to the pacifier creates an emotional connection between children and the
theme park through the transition ritual. ALW is the place where it
happened – the time when it was right to leave a previous time behind.
In one sense this ritual is about timing, being a time that might not come
back. Did Gill pick the right time to leave Jacob’s pacifiers? Time in this
case makes sense in terms of a trial, where chronological ambitions mix
with an awareness of timely opportunities – that timely opportunities arise
in relation to the material things at hand – barrels, pacifiers, candy. Who
knows the outcome? It is uncertain.
Stuck in the park
When I talk to Tove (age 9) and Rebecca (age 11) they argue,
independently, that Liseberg and ALW, respectively, will always remain
important. Tove speaks of Liseberg as a place for all ages, and claims that
she does not know when to say stop in terms of visiting the park. Rebecca
claims that there would be no summer without ALW. ALW and Liseberg
are not only part of life currently, but they will be so continually, with no
end in sight.
There are children and families who make a continuing presence in the park
into an important issue, and nowhere is this more evident than for Rebecca.
Sitting next to Anne, observing Rebecca, who is climbing on one of
the park attractions, she tells me that Rebecca “is really too old”.
Anne continues “she is the most conservative. If it’s summer
vacation then it’s ALW.” And: “She’s pretty small. Mentally.” Anne
and Lars are not parents who wait for their daughter throughout the
many days that are spent in the park. They watch the stage
performances and join Rebecca in activities. 130
Rebecca’s mother Anne reflects on the relevance of ALW in relation to the
age of her daughter, 11. In Anne’s description of Rebecca, it seems as
though she is failing to live up to the expectations associated with her age.
The term small here is not about body size, touched upon previously, but
about an approach to ALW that is perhaps more childish than one would
Park visit 1: Rebecca’s family.
expect from a girl of this age. Putting an end to the activities that Rebecca
is involved with at ALW seems to be the preferable way to go from the
parents’ point of view. But is it?
What makes the issue of theme park visits into a somewhat contradictory
matter in terms of age, and the relation between childhood and adulthood,
is that Rebecca’s parents find time in the park enjoyable as well.
During our first meeting before the park visit, Anne starts by saying
that they, as adults, have just as much fun. They appreciate being
in the park. Lars adds that there are many dimensions to the stories
of Astrid Lindgren which are part of ALW, and that adults get the
“deeper” message.131
Thus, according to Anne and Lars, adults approach ALW in different and
deeper ways than children. Regardless of the differences in how things are
appreciated, ALW is made into a relevant and fun park that is worth visiting
repeatedly. The argument put forward by Anne and Lars makes childhood
and adulthood into temporalities that provide different perspectives on
similar activities, resulting in equal amounts of fun. The argument here is
that children can be too “old”, but that there is no end to fun. This makes
the boundary between childhood and adulthood into a complex issue where
it is suggested that an equal involvement in activities produces the same
result: “fun”. Deep versus surface? Is this what differentiates adults from
children, and divides adulthood from childhood?
Returning to what takes place in the park during one of Rebecca’s visits,
age-boundaries are further challenged.
Rebecca imagines that there is a shop selling alcohol located in one
of the small houses, where empty bookshelves and a desk are the
only interior furnishing. Similar to a bartender, Rebecca stands
behind the desk and asks me what I would like to order, of the
available beer and liquor. Something without alcohol, I suggest. And
Rebecca symbolically hands over a glass of “juice”, through a
movement of hands and arms through the air. I take a sip. Rebecca
laughs and tells me that there actually is alcohol in the drink. She
tells me that I am drinking beer, strong beer. In a playful way I
pretend to be troubled, saying “oops”, at the same time feeling
amused by Rebecca’s trick. Moving her arms at speed in my
direction, Rebecca tells me “here is an antidote”. “That’s good”, I
Interview 1: Rebecca’s family.
reply. I am the only other person present, someone whom she can
direct and control to some extent.132
It is possible to understand Rebecca’s way of making me into a drunken
customer in her bar as a timely opportunity to explore the consequences of
incorporating intoxicating substances into the park. I do not play drunk, but
my “oops” is followed by a solution to the problem – the antidote. In this
way, Rebecca recognizes that this is not a time to play out extensive
intoxication. The antidote undoes the effects of my consumption, through
illusion and playfulness.
In her visual study of advertising, Johanna Sjöberg (2013: 55–57) offers two
concepts which assist us in moving beyond the dichotomy of childhood and
adulthood and to recognize age-related divisions as cultural constructions:
“childity” and “adulty”. Rather than defining, or essential, properties that
belong to children and adults respectively, the two concepts open up the
possibility of understanding what is associated with being a child and being
an adult – in practice.
These concepts help in exploring how Rebecca makes imagination part of a
timely occasion, momentarily involved in an adulty activity that seems
inappropriate in the park. She is momentarily focusing on an adulty practice
of drinking in a theme park that is centered on childity, and consequently
interweaves the two. What is challenging here is the example of how
Rebecca enacts herself; she is adultifying herself as a bartender, misleading
me, someone who wants a drink that would be appropriate for children in
this place. The situation involves ideals about what adults should and should
not do; to play along with children, or, as a responsible adult, focus on the
fact that now is an inappropriate time for alcohol.
While Anne expresses the belief that her daughter is small “mentally”
Rebecca can, at the same time, become involved in adulty activities. This
highlights that one does not necessarily need to limit one’s actions to
childity because one is a particular age. Linear approaches to time are set
aside, momentarily, in favor of humor, fun, and explorations of the possible.
Rebecca does not simply stick with childity or adulty practices, but
playfully makes this difference visible. She is consequently involved in
movements between activities that can be considered examples of childity
and adulty. Time in the park allows her this opportunity, in my company.
Park visit 2: Rebecca’s family.
There is no stability here, in the sense that Rebecca is either transgressing
expectations all the time, or conforming throughout the visit. In practice,
timely opportunities coexist with the chronological time of childhood. They
do so in two ways that make sense within Ingold’s (2009a: 35) theoretical
notions of movement, and the difference between transport and wayfaring.
This suggests that time is heterogeneous (Birth 2013), that in some spaces
timely opportunities coexist with her parents’ mindfulness about the
chronological time of childhood.
ALW provides timely opportunities for children and also for their parents
to step away from their numerical age, so it is no longer a fixed matter. One
can, for a time, move beyond expectations, and what is considered ageappropriate. The time in the park is consequently not one line of transport
through childhood in the sense that people match appropriate activities or
go to a more “grown-up” park to fit possible age expectations. Rebecca’s
parents address their belief that she is too old but do not rush into a pointto-point development. This involves notions of transport, but does not
hinder wayfaring and it suggests that there are “multiple lines” (Ingold
2009b: 152) of age and becoming at play, in practice and as an ideal (Lee
2001). The different possibilities at ALW, and the idea of shifting
perspectives, make the park relevant for visits through time.
The perceptual divide between children and adults, in terms of
development, suggested by Rebecca’s parents does not fully hold – as
childity in the park mixes with adulty practices. There is a blurring here
(Prout 2005: 34), which in extension makes it challenging to define exactly
where the boundary between childhood and adulthood lies. What are the
possible effects of a blurring of the boundary between childhood and
adulthood in theme parks? In The Future of Childhood, Alan Prout (2005:
34) suggests that:
… the boundary between childhood and adulthood, which
modernity erected and kept in place for a substantial period of time,
is beginning to blur, introducing all kinds of ambiguities and
uncertainties. This is the soil from which anxiety about the
‘disappearance’ of childhood grows and it is the feature of
contemporary childhood that demands new approaches to its
understanding and analysis.
To see childhood as existing, or not, is a rather narrow take on the issue of
time; it is binary and does not allow the inclusion of complexity or
differences. It is, however, an idea that has gained prominence. In his work
on childhood and the media, David Buckingham (2000: 21) writes that
popular psychology suggests that children “are growing up deprived of
childhood.” The existence of hurried, stressed children, involved in the
same activities as adults, including consumption, makes the case that
childhood no longer exists. Accordingly, we are witnessing the “death of
childhood” (ibid.: 32f; see also Jenks 2005: 117–136; Prout 2011), making
it into a historical phenomenon of past times.
The examples of Rebecca and Tove – who both desire to stay in their parks
for now and forever – suggest that childhood and adulthood blur. They want
to be there, grow there, rather than moving on elsewhere. The blur becomes
a way of avoiding stress and strict concerns about appropriate childhood
development. The parks have been important to these girls for years and an
abrupt end seems to be far, far away. Time becomes less important than
being in place. Their parents play along, and provide support. For these
girls, theme park visits are not an “escape” from everyday life, but are a
central part of constituting it (cf. Horkheimer & Adorno 1997[1944]: 153,
158). To terminate their time at ALW and Liseberg, indefinitely, would to
say the least create unhappiness.
Parents and childity time
Mischief and humor are part of park visits, and children and parents find
different ways to have a laugh.
Gill and Tony joke with each other, but some things stand out as
being childish. Gill tells her husband Tony that he is the same age
as the boys (aged 4 and 6) as all three of them appreciate the same
kind of toilet humor, jokes about wee-wee and poo-poo. Gill and
Tony speak of themselves as crazy, a label that might be
appropriate to describe their playful interaction, pinching each
other, and making jokes about each other. Gill and Tony move
between seriousness and playing and laughing.133
Park visits bring together children and adults in ways that make the
boundary between childhood and adulthood less relevant, as parents enact
childity in relation to one another and their children (Sjöberg 2013: 55–57).
Transformations and playful movements between adulty and childity
illustrate the importance of timely opportunities, which in fact involve and
move beyond a dichotomy of childhood/adulthood.
Park visit: Eric’s family.
What is it about Tony’s jokes that associates him with childity? Growing up
involves expectations about what is considered mature. Maturity is
“integrally tied to adulthood” (Mortimer & Aronson 2000: 29).
Momentarily, Tony is acting against linear development, in an anti-linear
way (cf. Renold & Ringrose 2011: 403), but there is also at the same time
the possibility that he will change, and quickly turn into a responsible
parent. There is not a total immersion in childity. Instead of considering
time as flowing in one direction, it makes sense to speak of Tony as
becoming (Lee 2001), including childity that creates joy and laughter during
the visit.
At Liseberg, adults get involved in attractions that are primarily for children,
in order to give support. In one of the attractions, parents join their children,
which gives a funny impression to many of the people standing at the side
observing the ride. On one occasion, I joined children in the Small Frogs
attraction. Many of the other adults who were observing their children
smiled at me as I sat in the middle of the attraction, about 50–70 cm taller
than those in my company.
I can only speculate about what it would mean to enter this attraction
without children, to spend time there for the sake of the attraction alone. As
part of the so-called children’s area at Liseberg, the Small Frogs ride, along
with other ones, only makes sense in relation to children – if you join in as
an adult, you do so in the company of children.
8:6: Small Frogs, attraction at Liseberg, with
one seat in the middle for adults.
Adults do have an interest in the parks. Alan Bryman (1995: 88f) points out
that families are the target group of Disneyland, but that adults make up the
vast majority of visitors. While this is probably not the case at Liseberg or
ALW on most days, there are parents – like Rebecca’s, above – who are
explicit about the fact that their interests are part of the motives for visiting
theme parks. Other parents argue along similar lines, where it actually starts
with their interest:
Emil’s (age 6) parents, Frank and Åsa, say that their previous visits
to ALW were about their interest as adults. Frank tells me that it is
a park for everyone. Åsa looks forward to what Emil will appreciate
in the park.134
The initial adult motivation to go to ALW makes it into a matter beyond the
age of children and childhood, where hopefully a child – following his
parents – will enjoy the park as well. From a focus on their own experiences
Interview 1: Emil’s family.
they will, accordingly, shift to put Emil at the center of attention, and this
multiplies the meaning of time. It is not only time in the park that is
interesting, but also the time of their son. The coming visits with Emil turn
into a timely opportunity, which goes with exploring whether a child enjoys
the same things as his parents. It means that theme parks not only turn into
a testing site for childhood, but for parenthood as well, where interests
within a family are explored on the initiative of parents.
Gill Valentine (1997: 66) relates current dominant understandings of
childhood to a conception in “which children are temporally segregated
from the adult world.” This separation is an ideal which Valentine
associates with notions of happy children, who are distanced from the
responsibilities and problems of the adult world (ibid.; see also 1996a: 587;
Valentine & McKendrick 1997: 220). In this study, involvement along with,
rather than separation from, children who are of the right age becomes key
for parents, who find opportunities in exploring and enjoying attractions that
are associated with childity. This suggests, at the same time, that
development is important and that people, regardless of age, in fact, might
find that theme parks offer things that are of relevance to them.
The examples in this section indicate that parents are not distanced, but
involved with children, that they spend time in theme parks and the
attractions – and that they simultaneously find the contents of the parks to
be relevant to them. They also take responsibility, creating a time of
togetherness, a social time. It is a time during which the role of children in
growing finds its parallel in adult explorations and experiences of
attractions that are primarily for children.
The happy ending
Parents are central in terminating theme park visits. This assists in an
understanding of the notion of happy time. Spending time at Liseberg and
ALW includes ambitions of positive emotions and getting involved in
various experiences. Time spent in the parks is managed so that it is likely
to be a happy time. This means that children and parents do not necessarily
stay as long as possible – for the duration that their tickets allow.
Having spent almost five hours at Liseberg, riding attractions,
playing games and consuming ice-cream, it is time for Kim (age 5)
and her family to leave the park. Their parking ticket is expiring.
Kim’s parents say to each other that it is time to leave. Fred says
that his daughters will fall asleep as soon as they leave Liseberg,
and tells me that Kim and her sister Mary (age 3) are now starting
to get grumpy. The last thing they do, before leaving the park, is to
purchase candy and balloons with Mickey Mouse for Kim and Mary.
Kim and Mary hold their balloons tight, and leave the park with their
There is an end to the time and the possibility of happiness in the parks. To
extend time in the park any further might generate both a parking fine and
increasingly grumpy children. Kim and Mary are not eager to stay for the
sake of riding additional attractions, and they have also been told that they
will receive things at the end of the visit. With regard to the analysis of
bribes above (in the Valuography chapter), where these are used for the
purpose of directing activities, it becomes relevant to explore what role the
candy and balloons have here. Is there a right time to consume these things,
and to leave the park?
Some of the things that are offered for sale at Liseberg challenge the
possibilities of using the park in full. The balloons are such an example.
They are big and easily move at speed in the wind. It makes sense to
purchase them when there are no more attractions to experience. Balloons,
during Kim and Mary’s visit, turn into a part of the visit as their birthday
gift, and a possible reward for spending time in the park along with their
parents. The focus, then, is not on the many things available in the park, but
on their balloons, which they keep close. Consumption of some things
becomes a matter of timing, at the end.
To end park visits at the right moment, just in time, is something that also
concerns other parents.
Anne, the mother of Rebecca (age 11), asks her daughter at the
end of one of the days in the park to “Get rid of the sourness”. Anne
not only uses verbal directions to make her daughter part of the
presence of happiness, she also tells me that she wants to give
Rebecca’s visit a happy ending. Ironically, they spend their last few
minutes at the so-called cry-maker street, as Anne calls it, playing
with the actual name of the street, which is named after one of Astrid
Lindgren’s stories. Anne calls it this because of the many children
who are tired and start to cry at the end of the day as they head
towards the nearby exit area. The situation during late afternoons
when children cry and make a fuss is, however, not permanent, or
characteristic of the park in general when listening to Anne. The first
Park visit: Kim’s family.
time I meet the family, she describes ALW overall as a place where
“there is very little fuss. You realize that there are happy children,
and it all works very well.”136
In general, children at ALW have a happy time, according to Anne. They
are happy, with one timely and challenging exception. The problem is that
children start crying at the end and this suggests that too much time was
spent at ALW, or that a visit was not carried out in an ideal way.
There are similarities and differences between the two visits outlined above.
Both involve considerations of when is the appropriate time to leave the
park. These considerations engage parents after having spent hours in the
park – experiencing attractions and performances. Grumpiness or sourness,
as such, is not a general motive – at any time – for leaving the parks. But at
times, late during the day, it turns into an incentive for moving on. Rather
than boosting energy levels by consuming food or snacks in order to stay in
the park, grumpiness becomes a reason for moving on, going back home. It
means that children and their parents do not necessarily strive to maximize
their time in the park, when there are negative physical consequences
generating undesirable emotions.
Anne makes crying into a problem of others, rather than being an issue that
really affects her or Rebecca. This suggests that practical knowledge about
time and possible challenges becomes relevant for parents with ambitions
to leave the park smoothly without risking uncontrollable situations of
crying children. It is suggested by Anne that children, parents and the park
in a wider sense do not have the capacity of determining the appropriate
ending. Who wants to see children cry when the theme park generally
provides a happy time? Knowledge and emotions become entangled here.
Providing a happy ending for Rebecca suggests that Anne is knowledgeable
about time and acts in relation to it and the emotions of her daughter. This
means that timing, and timing in relation to a child and children in general,
becomes a key component for understanding when it is enough, for the day.
Considered in terms of knowledge, the happy ending involves ambitions of
having an overview of people – oneself and others – so that one does not
become a victim of uncertain circumstances of time. It means looking into
the future, but also being ready to act in relation to what is taking place at
the moment. How to manage time and how to be with children in the park
becomes a concern for parents, so as not to risk tears, sourness and
Park visit 1, interview 1: Rebecca’s family.
grumpiness becoming a prevalent and memorable part of the visits. The
ending is consequently important for challenges of time and happiness.
Parents offer elaborate considerations of when it is the appropriate time to
visit a theme park, and when it is time to leave. For some children, however,
there is no endpoint to park visits: ALW and Liseberg become part of a
possible eternity. ALW and Liseberg offer different and changing
experiences over time and this suggests a continuing relevance. To return
there becomes part of a cycle of time. Theme park visits involve a variety
of possibilities – relating to the past, present and future – and are subject to
both continuity and change as time goes by, and as children grow.
In the first part of the analysis, it was shown that children and parents
scrutinize bodies and development in relation to chronological time, which
is expected to involve transformations that go with a linearity of age. In
consequence, dominant ideas of how the child should develop pose the
question of what happens next. Is it time to leave the parks behind and
engage in matters moving towards adulthood? The second part of the
chapter addresses the uncertainties of time, which add to and also challenge
the initial ambitions of chronological time.
Depending on the age of their children, some families go to different parks.
The individual age of children becomes important in arguments about why
time should be spent at one park and not at another: in making plans for
visits and generating expectations as well as reviews of the parks, parents
relate the age of their children to what specific parks have to offer. What
complicates time in the parks is that the development of individual children
is not the sole focus of visiting ALW or Liseberg. Accompanying siblings
and parents do not passively stand on the sidelines, and this complicates the
idea that it is the age of a particular child – age, development and
appreciation – that motivates spending time at the theme park.
Are time and age important for enacting happiness? Time and age are
entangled with and provide complex meanings for happiness. Time in the
theme park involves both meaning – a sense of purpose with regards to age
– and a time of pleasure, regardless of age. Purpose and pleasure, according
to Paul Dolan (2015), are what define happiness. This is a definition to build
on and it makes sense in ethnographizing time and considering the role of
happiness: time becomes heterogeneous, simultaneously involving timely
opportunities and chronology – mixing pleasure and purpose – for
individual children and parents. It puts emphasis on opportunities for
happiness in the present, and also involves goals that influence expectations
and practices regarding time in a wider sense.
Does childhood have a role in the enactment of happiness? It has been
suggested that childhood involves greater happiness than later parts of life;
that children are happier than other people. There is a qualitative difference
between the two entities at play here, which is organized by the quantitative
measures of temporality: childhood and adulthood. However, nothing in my
data suggests that children are happy and that their parents are less happy,
or unhappy. There is no continuous or clear division between adults who
sacrifice themselves and children who are happy (Johns & Gyimóthy 2002:
329). Childhood and age consequently become relevant as abstract
considerations during visits, suggesting how one should act. In practice,
when approaching the attractions and when it comes to explicit concerns of
desirable emotions – made possible by having fun, engaging in park
activities together – there are more direct concerns: whether the child is
happy, and what needs to be done in terms of timing so that positive
experiences become dominant during the time in the theme park. This
suggests that there not is one model of happiness at play, but that the
enactment of time – as chronology and timely opportunities – involves both
the haphazard, which cannot be controlled, and ambitions of managing time
in rational ways so that one makes happiness more or less likely, in the park
and during everyday life in a wider sense.
Based on both commonly held ideas and the discussions and analyses in this
study, a family theme park visit to the Swedish parks Liseberg or Astrid
Lindgren’s World (ALW) can be seen to come with expectations of positive
emotions and happiness, both by the park and its visitors. However,
happiness is not necessarily instant or guaranteed – it involves work, and
tackling various challenges. Ideals of family life – e.g. togetherness, sharing
experiences – are part of how theme park visits are approached. Parents are
involved with their children to manage them in ways that lead to a desirable
visit, including active consumption, and positive attitudes towards what has
been paid for. Here, control and the fulfillment of expectations are important
as the haphazard or the unexpected are generally perceived as undesirable.
This explains why children and their families often play it safe – by not
pushing each other into attractions that are too challenging. Visits are about
mitigating the risk of being surprised in undesirable ways that might create
the uncontrollable presence of negative emotions, when happy emotions are
The analyses in this book demonstrate the ways in which children and their
families enact happiness as an important part of park visits. Happiness, it is
shown, multiplies alongside ideals of being together/togetherness, ideals of
childhood and children’s development, and getting as much value as
possible for the money invested. These concerns, it turns out, do not
necessarily either involve or exclude happiness. This study shows in detail
the ways in which happiness is entangled with family life and theme park
organizations, making happy visits complex and “messy” (Law 2004). This
in turn challenges commonly shared and theoretical models of happiness
which suggest linear and singular isolated routes to happiness.
The relational notion of enactment that is employed in this study makes
happiness into an achievement carried out by both humans and non-humans
in interaction, rather than an abstract or natural matter that simply exists.
That is, enactment provides a take on the issue of happiness that emphasizes
its entanglements and multiplicities. I find this important, because it both
provides empirical insights into a notion that is sometimes described as an
enigma (Bruckner 2010: 3), and shows the struggle that families go through
in order to make happiness.
During visits to the two theme parks, Liseberg and ALW, children are
encouraged and even instructed by demanding parents to adapt to the park
settings and to modify their emotions to fit in with what is expected from a
visit. Parents direct children towards individual positive expressions, acting
to suppress their undesirable emotions. The parents in the study make the
theme parks into locations where failures of achievement or to experience
positive emotions and outcomes are scrutinized in relation to individuals.
For example, parents of children who are not in sync with the parental ideals
of family life, who oppose the plans of parents and the opportunities
provided by the parks, need parental motivation, or even bribes, to turn the
visit into a happy one. It is accordingly not necessarily the parks or the
parents who fail to provide happiness when families spend time in the parks;
in all possible ways children are important agents in this. Happiness
considered through family visits suggests that it is an achievement. It cannot
be taken for granted. However, when it is a happy time, the families credit
the parks rather than one another! This reproduces the idea and image of
parks as happy places (see Gram 2005a; Lukas 2010: 144; Van Maanen
1992). Considering the involvement of various ideals and the efforts made
by children and parents to carry out a theme park visit it is, I suggest, no
less than a wonder that it works out quite well, which it does in this study.
So, can it be argued that happiness exists in the theme parks? Children and
parents in this study describe Liseberg and ALW as places that provide
desirable and happy emotions. They use similar notions to those used in
branding and by employees at Liseberg and ALW when talking about it:
love, positive emotions and actual happiness. Theme parks are accordingly
places that children and adults love and feel happy about. The shared story
of happy and positive outcomes, the purchase of material things and
memories from the park visits unite families. In the interviews conducted
with the families, none of them suggest that their time was a failure (even
though conflicts existed), and most of the children were already longing for
another visit. Without expressing friction and troubles, the families share
their success stories of happiness with the corporations.
As theme parks are supposed to make children especially happy, the
question is whether children really do become happy when visiting the parks
for a couple of hours or, as some do, for days or weeks? Labels like “happy
kid” suggest that happiness is an individual property. However, the
ethnographic findings of the study suggest that happiness should not be
located within the interior of individual bodies. Children and parents in this
study ascribe happiness and positive outcomes to particular bodies, things,
places, money, time and experiences, which perhaps is necessary when
navigating the vagueness of happiness – it calls for some concretization.
The answer here must therefore focus on the social role of happiness, rather
than speculating on children as containers of internal emotions and
Consequently, happiness turns into a matter that is with and always also
beyond the individual, which aligns him or her with ideals in a complex
social and material world. During family visits, for example, children are
expected to consume the parks in ways that live up to several ideals: social
family time, childhood aspirations, value-for-money through efficiency,
and being happy about having the opportunity to visit the park as an
individual. Thus, ideals that are noticeable in the models of the happy
family, the happy childhood, the happy theme park, happy individuals and
collectives, become mixed up together. It is not a question of either family
or individual, of either childhood or consumption; these entangle without
any concern, they coexist, and can also be managed in sequence, following
on from each other.
Another important finding of the study is that these family visits are mainly
about spending and sharing time together in and through different family
constellations. There is a constant motion during which family members
move in and out of different family groupings in what I have chosen to call
yo-yo movements. These movements turn out to be a necessary condition
for happiness: balancing individual desires with collective ambitions and
creating an enjoyable time shared by the family. My notion of a testing site
that is used for addressing time adds an exploratory dimension to our
understanding of happiness and consumption, suggesting that life at large
involves not only certainties, but also trials and observations of what works.
However, whether things “work” or not, as has been shown, has
implications for happiness.
Park visits and everyday life outside the park “leak” into each other,
involving memories and expectations. It is reasonable to suggest that the
involvement of mundane concerns in theme park visits, and vice versa,
indicates that there is no clear-cut division between time in the parks and
everyday life. This is important for the thesis at large: there is no given
division between the content of the book chapters because family life,
consumption, time and the value of money constantly move in and out of
one another.
Visits to theme parks require money. The study shows that parents are
willing to spend hundreds of euros on a family day out in a park. Money is
not only a means for entering the parks, and purchasing things, but is also a
matter that directly involves children and parents with happiness –
emotionally and symbolically. There is a value in having access to money,
and keeping money, that points towards happiness as the achievement of
economic success.
In this study, children and parents find theme park consumption to be worth
it: they do not spend money recklessly, and this provides a sense that one is
knowledgeable about appropriate costs, which generates feelings of
satisfaction – where one receives a lot for the money spent, or even is able
to “earn” money.
I argue that the possibility of answering the question of whether happiness
exists has to do with our perception and recognition of consumption, and
the involvement of commercial matters requires further clarification when
addressing happiness (cf. Atkinson 2015). I would like to suggest that the
notion of emotional capitalism (Illouz 2007) is important in order to
position and situate the study in relation to wider responsibilities and
politics. Under emotional capitalism, corporations offer consumer products
and services that involve emotional expectations and desires. The concept
suggests that capitalism is a “culture in which emotional and economic
discourses and practices mutually shape each other” (ibid.: 5). In this way,
the notion of emotional capitalism adds another layer to our understanding
of happiness as in this study it repeatedly becomes entangled with
consumption, implying the need for money.
This thesis shows that children and their families are deeply and happily
involved with theme parks. Corporations and their branded products are
welcomed as part of a happy story about life in which children consume
enjoyable experiences, rather than the nightmare-like reality that political
activists portray in discussing a consumer childhood (e.g. Linn 2008;
Palmer 2006). Is it then relevant to transform children’s lives by limiting
their consumption?
In this study, happiness is of an inclusive kind, in terms of consumption and
economics. There are probably few incentives for children or parents to
disrupt a social order in which they can afford desirable pleasures, and
where they are allowed to adapt and flexibly explore different, productive
aspects of family life and childhood.
This thesis assists in recognizing that children and their families, along with
corporations and municipalities, are involved with emotional capitalism:
entangling economics and emotions. To me it is surprising to see how the
state is actively involved in associating happiness and childhood with the
profit motive that is central within capitalism. It tells a different story about
Sweden than the one in which the social democratic state relies on
capitalism as a tool to help strengthen a social democracy (cf. Sandin 2012).
The analytical focus on entanglements poses a challenge to calls for
activism around childhood happiness: it is not enough to withdraw
commercial goods from children, on the grounds that such goods are bad
for them. It is not possible to identify one center of capitalism against which
to direct any actions. It requires, instead, a perspective on change that
reaches beyond children, into wider political concerns focusing on politics
and the kind of culture and society that we want to live in.
A further discussion of children as part of society and culture is needed in
order to outline a blueprint for future politics. It would benefit from
abolishing the popular belief that “you are the creator of your own
happiness.” To recognize the involvement of various actors and their
entanglements with happiness might be a challenging task in emotional
capitalism. Corporations have much to gain from suggesting that there
exists the possibility of pure and true individualistic happiness, available
through their products and experiences. And it seems in this study that the
children and parents visiting family theme parks are keen to buy into this
line of thought. It provides a simple solution, a fantasy of how one becomes
happy. In the quest for happiness and fulfilling ideals of family life, theme
parks become a destination.
Finally, I want to raise the question: does happiness exist at all? As we are
all probably aware at this time, there is no guarantee of happiness – there
are, according to this study, timely opportunities for happiness that highlight
its haphazard character, through consumption. However, it also indicates
that enacting happiness also means becoming involved with wider social,
cultural, material and emotional matters. In the end, there are happy
occasions and so much more. The co-consumption that children engage in
along with their parents opens up a field for further inquiries into how our
own contemporary childhood is constituted through market interactions.
Play spaces, commercial sporting activities and public enterprises all offer
children experiences and emotions, and many of them at a cost which not
everyone can afford. It is a development that deserves further exploration.
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