Loom Bands – A Social Anthropology

As is widely known by anybody who works in any primary school, or even anybody who has attended one, primary schools are social spaces which are prone to life-consuming fads. I am not speaking her about Mindfulness or Learning Styles theory but about playground crazes. In my hazy memories of concrete joy, play time was a time to swap Pogs, to swap wrestling cards, football cards and the most prevalent craze among them all, Pokemon Cards. 

There is an interesting uniformity to the way in which these crazes operate, which I think – from my overly academic point of view – hold a lot of social significance. 

Today, we talk about Loom Bands, those annoying things the children fiddle with under the desk whilst I am trying to teach them how to read. Loom Bands are fairly cute, which is possibly why teachers have allowed them to proliferate more than with garish items like a Shiny Charizard or a lethal metallic pog. Kids sit there making wristbands out of rubber bands; it is the Daisy Chain for the children of the 21st century.

But there are similarities among the playground crazes, and the loom bands is a particularly good lens through which to study it.

First of all, it is accessible. Loom Bands are literally just little mass-produced colourful rubber bands and are (for now at least) dirt cheap. This means that almost all kids can get hold of them, and kids can give some away to friends without it being a massive sacrifice. 

Second, Loom Bands are a social exercise more than a craft exercise. Making the loom band is not the purpose and the end product, the production of a loom band is a self-invitation into discussion and interaction. Upon seeing me wearing a loom band, children’s first question is always…

“OH MY DAYYYYYYYYS SIR WHO MADE YOU THAT?”

When I say that I am wearing a loom band made by (invent a child’s name …) Khadijah, what I have done is acknowledged that I have a social relationship with her. The loom bands act as markers of identity and social grouping, for the most part, and only those with excellent crafting skills are able to confer privlege on themselves solely by the virtue of the band itself.

In this way, Loom Bands become markers of social standing, status and popularity. This is not necessarily a negative thing – it is only reflecting a social reality that already exists – but what loom bands do is they make the implicit explicit. There was a tiff between kids in my class a week or so ago, with one person falling out with another, and the group siding with (let’s say…) Mariam. Nothing signalled that more clearly than when Mariam made loom bands for everyone except the discarded social outcast.

Go into school on Monday (Tuesday for us, thanks Tour de France/Newham) and observe the loom band situation on the wrists of your kids. Those with a data inclination might find interest in exploring the correlation between social popularity and number of Loom Bands. 

To really push this into overly academic language, it is reminiscent of the Kula Exchange first explored by Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands of the Pacific. On these disconnected islands, there were rituals of exchange of highly valued (but ultimately impractical) shell jewellery, with armbands and necklaces being transported across the ocean between the islands. Why put such effort into symbolic exchange?

Malinowski’s conclusions are interesting when applied to the craze of loom bands.

 

  • They establish friendly relations among the inhabitants of different islands and maintain a pattern of peaceful contact and communication,
  • They provide the occasion for the inter-island exchange of utilitarian items, which are shipped back and forth in the course of kula expeditions,
  • They reinforce status and authority distinctions, since the hereditary chiefs own the most important shell valuables and assume the responsibility for organizing and directing ocean voyages.

 In the mean time, let’s ride out this craze and see where it takes us.

 

 

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