News and Thoughts

Breaking the mould: how toys are changing the cultural meaning of play

With Christmas been and gone, toy retailers are taking stock of the big sellers and reckoning the state of play for the coming year. But 2016 may well prove to have been a tipping point in the evolution of toys for reasons not obvious at first glance. From the unveiling of Lego’s first ever wheel-chair using figure last January, to the social media buzz around pictures of Harper Beckham clutching her ‘disability doll’ this summer, conventional wisdom about the aesthetic, political and psychological meanings of child’s play seem more up for debate than ever, first stoked by campaigns such as #ToyLikeMe and Let Toys Be Toys but now making waves among manufacturers themselves.

3rd February 2017
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Semiotics of Fundraising

From jumble sales to rock concerts to moustache-growing, raising money for charity has long intersected with many aspects of British culture. The causes we give to – and the ways we give – tell the world about our self-image, our tastes and our knowledge.

So what does fundraising mean for UK donors today – and how is its meaning changing? Answering this question, it turns out, takes in cannabis clubs, 1Direction fans and the snooze button on your alarm clock.

Our latest Canopy View report explores some of these emergent narratives in fundraising – pointing to a few of the most culturally-relevant territories for innovation and campaign development in the charity sector.

To hear more, or to request a copy of the report, contact or

14th October 2016
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Video Games & Spiritual Transcendence

‘The old gods are growing old or are dying, and others are not yet born’ – Émile Durkheim

We think of video games as pure entertainment – a big-money industry built on mindless escapism. For themselves, gamers have earned a less than wholesome image at best, and an outright anti-social one at worst. Viewed through a semiotic lens, though, recent developments in gaming can be understood as offering not just more ‘healthy’ experiences, but veritably ritualistic practices, spiritual epiphanies and moral education. Of course, in the West we live in an increasingly secular culture where idolized celebrities and massive shopping centres are supposedly serving the same impulse as religious devotion. But it’s not so much that Assassin’s Creed and Minecraft are simply substitutes for scriptures and prayer. It’s that the signs and symbols, narratives and aesthetics that permeate gaming culture in the 21st Century evoke telling parallels with the religious encounter.


14th October 2016
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