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Santa's Little Helper and Star of Instagram, Elf on the Shelf: Gendered Labour, Normalising Surveillance and Digitising a Childhood Phenomenon

Archer, Catherine; Leaver, Tama

The Elf on the Shelf (EotS) has become – as well as being a best-selling book and toy of the same name – a cultural phenomenon. As a Christmas tradition, the EotS only dates back to 2005, but has quickly gained hold in homes across the world. For the marketers of EotS, it’s also a huge money-spinner, earning millions worldwide. Originally self-published as a book by a retired teacher in 2005, the EotS book now sells with an EotS toy who sits on the shelf and, according to its story, reports back to Santa any ‘naughty or nice’ behaviour of the resident children. The EotS resides in many homes and schools pre-Christmas, giving parents and teachers leverage in the lead up to Christmas with the ostensible aim of moderating children’s behaviour (making them ‘nice’). EotS can also be viewed as a more sinister societal surveillance tool, normalising the ‘panopticon’ and making parents complicit with the concept of omnipresent spying (Foucault, 1979). While ‘magical’ rather than technological, EotS can nevertheless be seen as normalising and promoting a parentally-endorsed surveillance (and consumer) culture. Simultaneously, the EotS also has become both a chore and a source of fun for parents of Santa believers globally, as parents (mostly mothers) each night change the Elf’s location and position.

This is a preprint of the chapter Archer, C., & Leaver, T. (2021). Santa's Little Helper and Star of Instagram, Elf on the Shelf: Gendered Labour, Normalising Surveillance and Digitis-ing a Childhood Phenomenon. In D. Holloway, M. Willson, K. Murcia, C. Archer, & F. Stoc-co (Eds.), Young Children's Rights in a Digital World: Play, Design and Practice (pp. 299–312). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65916-5_22
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