Classifications with a social anthropological orientation

Here toys are seen as part of a social or cultural tradition, developed and produced on the background of many different factors which are preconditions for living conditions and lifestyle. One example is from UNESCO (1984) which I have edited.

Toys can be illustrated within four groups:

  1. Most characteristic of the first group is that they reflect reality. Some of the recognisable beings or things from the adult world are reproduced in miniature. This group includes dolls, figures, masks, animals, vehicles, etc.
  2. The second group includes elements which are mainly used to train skills or to learn rules. This section includes spinning tops, kites, jigsaw puzzles, tools, board gamesand musical instruments.
  3. The third group of toys are linked to tradition, legends and religion. They can reflect realityand can be based on learning skills but they also have a clear connection to traditional customs, beliefs or activities.
  4. The fourth group seems to reflect or involve themes from everyday modern life. These toys can also reflect realityor are based on learning.

And we can add a fifth group:

  1. The fifth group - which isn’t tangible - is understood as “invisible mental toys”: Dreams, imaginary pictures, fantasies, etc. about all kinds of things, actions and events.

Concerning such existential viewpoints on toys, Sutton-Smith says:

“each individual toy is unique and unrivalled for the person who plays with it.”

It is the “encounter” with the toy or with a good instrument and the personal satisfaction and enjoyment which using it can bring which gives this unrivalled quality, regardless of whether the toy is hand-made, mass-produced, old/new, inherited or bought.

Judith Levin (1966) classifies toys as ethnographic objects, each having its own special attributes which are significant. The objects are classified and presented in two ways:

  • a systematic presentation
  • an atmospheric presentation

The systematic presentation splits toys into eight categories, all of which have a number of sub-groups. Distribution and presentation focuses on the function of the toys individually and on the relationship between different toy groups.

The eight categories are:

  • dolls
  • dolls’ houses
  • toys intended to encourage child to copy parents
  • books and drawing/writing materials
  • movement toys
  • auditory and visual toys
  • table-top and indoor games
  • outdoor games.

An atmospheric presentation illustrates the special significance of the toy when seen together with other things/objects. This could be via a museum’s exhibition in a teaching situation where a child’s room from a specific era is exhibited showing toys together with contemporary furniture, children’s clothing, household implements.

In this way the toys are seen as part of an historic, social and cultural unit and therefore serve a pedagogical aim and are included as part of a functional (play and teaching) environment.



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