LEGO bricks are one of the world’s most popular toys, part of a class of postwar playthings that addressed middle-class ideals of childhood creativity and educative play. As the company adapted to a globalized consumer culture in the second half of the twentieth century, however, it also relied on longstanding tropes of gender, history, and cultural others that put pressure on its claims as a provider of wholesome, “universal” play. This article unpacks how LEGO’s product designs, marketing, and theme park operations have commodified historical inequities, giving tangible form to stereotypes of a racially unmarked European past, colonial encounters with the “uncivilized,” and the gendering of domestic space and construction play.
Constructed Pasts: Narratives of Home, History, and Otherness in LEGO
Colin Fanning is a PhD candidate in the history of design at Bard Graduate Center in New York. His research encompasses a range of European and American architecture, design, and craft from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, with current emphases in the history of design education in the United States, the material culture of childhood, the intersections of postwar craft and counterculture, and the visual and material cultures of spaceflight. Fanning has previously held curatorial positions at the Museum of Arts and Design, the American Federation of Arts, and most recently the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where his work focused on contemporary design and architecture.
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Colin Fanning; Constructed Pasts: Narratives of Home, History, and Otherness in LEGO. The Public Historian 1 February 2021; 43 (1): 39–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2021.43.1.39
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