"When is a Doll?"
Dissimilar Meanings of Similar Things

FRS-002II, Spring 2003 (CRN 53289)
Tue: 12:10-2:00, Wellman 25
Instructor: Jon Wagner, School of Education

Overview: This seminar explores how and why some inanimate, three dimensional human-looking objects are regarded as "dolls" while others are regarded as "action figures," "puppets," "mannequins," "dummies," "statues and statuettes," "sculptures," "knick-knacks," "toy figures," "totems" "figurines," or "models." Exploring this question provides an intriguing window into the social construction of meaningful objects, the intersection of material and non-material culture,  and the social organization of knowledge.

Goals:  The seminar will help students to develop a greater understanding of how material objects are used and transformed as props and resources to support different forms and frames of social life, including:  teaching, learning, work, play, worship, intimacy, marketing, politics, and research.  By examining selections from the social science and humanities "doll literature" students will also become acquainted with conflicting claims about idealism and materialism as theoretical approaches to understanding culture and social life.

Format: The seminar meets two hours each week for 9 weeks.  Class activities include mini-lectures and discussions of assigned readings, student presentations, short in-class writing assignments and the viewing and analysis of a wide range of .photographs, video tapes and "doll-like" artifacts.  Assigned readings  are drawn from anthropology, sociology, folklore, psychology, education, history, media studies and the arts.

Assignments:  In addition to reading and discussing assigned reading, students will complete three out-of-class assignments, listed below as #1,  #2 (option a, b, c or d), and #3.

#1: Prepare a written list of all the dolls and doll-like objects you can find in any three rooms that you frequent for purposes of living, working, leisure or recreation.

#2a: Prepare a written commentary (300-500 words) that illustrates deep “caring” about dolls: this can be an account of your present or past involvement with dolls OR an account of someone you know quite well.  How does this account correspond or not correspond to related course readings?

#2b: Write a scenario, story, script, drama or fable (300-500 words) for which mannequins in a particular store window display would be appropriate “characters.”  How does this scenario correspond or not correspond to related course readings?

#2c:  Prepare a written description (300-500 words) of (a) one person’s collection of a particular set of objects, OR (b) an array of collections undertaken by one person.  How do these collections correspond or not correspond to related course readings?

#2d:  Compare and contrast two automata (mechanical dolls) in terms of issues examined in the course readings.

#3: Write a commentary and/or critique (1200-1500 words) of one or more dolls or doll-like objects in terms of your own life history and/or issues examined in this course (i.e. dimensions such as. caring, ritual, play, commerce, miracles, otherworlds, or gender, race, age, social class, culture, etc.)  Students must post this commentary/critique to other members of the class (via email or a web site) prior to the last class session.  Students can work on this assignment in pairs.

Grading: Final grades will reflect the following weights for each assignment: #1 = 20%;  #2 and #3  = 30% each; classroom participation = 20% (including in-class writing exercises and presentations).

Play & Ritual

Huizinga, J. 1976.  Nature and significance of play as a cultural phenomenon. pp 1-5

Muensterberger, W. 1994 Collecting: An unruly passion, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp 14-24.

Kline, S. 1993 Out of the garden: Toys and children’s culture in the age of TV marketing, London: Verso.  pp 192-207

Quindlan, A.  Barbie at 35.  In McDonough Y. Z.  (Ed.).  The Barbie Chronicles: A living doll turns forty.  New York, Simon and Schuster, Touchstone, pp. 117-120.

Shapiro, S.  My mentor, Barbie.  In McDonough, Y.Z. op. cit., pp. 120-24.

Wollitzer, M.  Barbie as boy toy.  In McDonough, Y.Z.  op. cit., pp. 207-210


Anonymous 1999 ‘The doll I made’.

Cameron, E. L. 1996 Isn't s/he a doll?  Play and ritual in African sculpture, Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.  pp. 18-41

Hook, M.  Material girl.   In McDonough, Y.Z.  op. cit., pp 169-174.

Huizinga, J. 1976.  (see readings for week one) pp 5-18

Miracles & Meaning

Collodi, C. 1966 ‘Pinnochio’, in B. a. L. Untermeyer (ed) The Golden Treasury of Children's Literature, New York: Western, pp. 229-234

Hoskins, J. 1998 Biographical objects: Routledge, pp. 1-9, 190-94

Wagner, J. 1999 ‘Beyond the body in a box: Visualizing contexts of children's action’, Visual Sociology 14(1 & 2), pp. 145-162


Innis, S. A.  Barbie gets a bum rap.   In McDonough, Y.Z.  op. cit., pp 177-181.

Schneider, S. K. 1996 Vital Mummies: Performance art and the store-window mannequin, New Haven: Yale, pp. 69-96.

Seiter, E. 1993 Sold separately: Parents and children in consumer culture, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, pp. 192-226.


Danet, B. and Katriel, T. 1989 ‘No two alike: Play and aesthetics in collecting’, Play & Culture 2, pp. 253-277.

Stewart, S. 1984 On longing: Narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 151-69


Fraser, A. 1973 Dolls, London: Octopus, pp. 64-79.

Stewart, S. 1984 On longing: Narratives of the miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 54-65.


Huizinga, J. 1976.  (see week one) pp 18-27

Levinthal, D. a. and Corey, D. 1996 Small Wonder: Worlds in a Box, Washington, C.C.: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp 6-25

Ravenhill, P. 1998 Dreams and Reverie: Images of Otherworld Mates among the Baule, West Africa, pp ix-x & 82-89.