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Looking good and taking care :
b consumer culture, identity, and poor, minority, urban tweens
h [electronic resource] /
by Elizabeth Edgecomb.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
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Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
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ABSTRACT: Looking Good and Taking Care: Consumer Culture, Identity, and Poor, Minority, Urban Tweens is an ethnographic examination of how poor, minority, urban tweens (age 7-14) use consumer culture to create and perform their personal and social identities. Although portrayed in mass media as selfish and hedonistic, this work finds tweens creating profoundly social, giving, and caring identities and relationships through consumption. Their use of consumer culture is also a form of political resistance that subverts their place in the age, class, and race hierarchy. These tweens use "looking good" (attention to grooming, style, and behaving respectably), and not name brand goods, to show they have respect for themselves, that their families care about them, and that, by extension, society in general should care for and about them. Far from seeking status through consuming, the tweens largely seek belonging and care. They also utilize both consumption and denial of their consumer desires to show care for their families. Furthermore, the tweens use consumer culture to enact resistance against the most tangible form of social control in their lives-school-by employing products and consumer knowledge to subvert the rules of uniforms and structured school time.
Advisor: Stacy Holman Jones, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Looking Good and Taking Care: Consumer Cultu re, Identity and Poor, Minority, Urban Tweens by Elizabeth Edgecomb A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Communication College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Stacy Holman Jones, Ph.D. Carolyn Ellis, Ph.D. Janna Jones, Ph.D. Laurel Graham, Ph.D. Date of Approval: January 15, 2010 Keywords: buying, care, communication, minority, class Copyright 2010, Elizabeth Edgecomb
Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to the student s of Scholastic Middle who allowed me to write it and made me laugh. Thank you.
Acknowledgements Thank you Stacy Holman Jones for sticki ng with me through this process. You are the best advisor, friend, me ntor, and editor a girl could as k for. I must also thank my glorious committee members who have been so supportive in both their praise and criticism. Carolyn Ellis, Janna Jones, and Laurel Graham, thank you so much for your emotional and scholarly support. Thank you to the faculty and staff at Schol astic Middle. You did not balk at the idea of a researcher at your school but inst ead welcomed me and aided me in my work. You treat your work more like a calling th an a vocation, and I, the students, and community are fortunate to have you. As I try and complete these acknowledgement s I nearly give up the task due to its immensity. I canÂ’t think of th is dissertation without thinking of the years, classes, conversations, and support that got me here There are so many people who have helped me reach this point. I realize with great chag rin that I will not, cannot, possibly list them all. Therefore, I give in to the incompletene ss of this record and list names, rather than detail my appreciation, not simply because that would require pages and pages to be added to this dissertation, but because they deserve to be told why in person. Gene Jarvis Velma Dippold Amber Kinser Deb Walker Jay Baglia Angie Day Marcy Chvasta Loyd Pettegrew Jillian Tullis Eric Eisenberg Steve Phalen Emily Ryalls Jill Langer Meagan Araujo Rachel Silverman Sara Dykins Callahan Allison Weidhaas Dave Steinweg Lori Roscoe Amanda Hargen Linda Levitt
Table of Contents List of Tables vi Abstract vii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Green Socks 1 Determining the Questions 2 Consumer Culture 4 Why Poor, Minority, Urban Tweens? 5 Ethnography as a Complex Assessment 10 Making the Connection: Pr eview of Chapters 11 Chapter 2: Middle School Redux 14 Wedding Rings 14 Getting to the Research 15 Research Questions 15 Field Location 16 Ethnography 20 Ethnography as Method 21 Ethnography and Children 25 Critical Ethnography 26 Autoethnography 27 Chapter 3: The Old, Rich, White Lady: A 28-Year-Old Graduate Student Does Fieldwork 31 Damn it, Juliet! 31 An Adult Amongst Tweens 31 Formal and Informal Entry 32 Interactions at School 34 Volunteer vs. Friend 34 Universal Â“WeÂ” 35 Liminal Adult 38 Interview Mania 40
Ethics 42 Everyday Me 42 Relational Informed Consent 43 Conclusion 50 Chapter 4: Setting the Theoretical Scene 51 How Much Does it Cost? 51 Foundations of Social Life 52 Radical Modernity 53 Personal Experience 54 The Progress Narrative 54 Construction of Consumerism 56 Structuration Theory 56 Structuration 59 Structure and Agency 59 Agent Knowledges 61 Critiques 64 The Disciplinary Society 68 Docile Bodies 68 Hierarchical Observation 69 Normalizing Judgment 70 Examination 70 Docile Bodies as Structural Agents 71 Habitus and Cultural Capital 72 Disidentifications 74 Consumer Culture and Identity 75 Performing Consumer 78 Youth and Consumer Culture 82 Conclusion 88 Chapter 5: Where We From: Setting the Lived Scene 89 A Coat of Arms 89 Where We Live 90 The Participants 95 Eighth Grade Girls 95 Jacynth 95 Cala 96 Ianna 96 Crystal 97 Elois 98 Dedra 98 Kaia 98 Rashona 99
Kabira 99 Tahira 100 Chantoya 100 Eighth Grade Boys 101 Brian 101 Alexander 102 DeAngelo 102 Taite 103 Aaron 103 Demaine 103 Edwyn 103 Eldad 104 Josias 104 More Knowing and Crazy Tweens 104 Cynthia 105 Norrence 105 Reed 105 Macella 106 Damien 106 Shawntea 107 Taisha 107 Latoya 108 Ty 108 Malik 109 Devon and Demarco 109 Conclusion 109 Chapter 6: Looking Good: The Performance of an Ethic of Care 111 Getting Respect 111 Self-Respect, Self-Car e, and Consumption 112 Hedonism, Anti-Consumers, and Combat Consumers 114 Looking Good 119 The Limited Role of Brands 120 Brands as Short Cut 122 Brands as Personal Signifier 123 Tenets of Looking Good 126 Performance of Care 131 An Ethic of Care 131 Performance of a Cared-For Identity 133 Care for Self and Care from Others 135 Conclusion 138 Chapter 7: Taking Care: Consuming and Not Consuming for Others 139
Christmas Realities 139 Other Care 141 Care for Family 142 Proving Home Training 143 Giving Gifts 146 Denying Desire 148 Teamwork as Family Metaphor 153 Contributing Emotionally to the Team 156 Care for Friends 156 Sharing 157 Soliciting Consumption for Friends 158 Reserving Judgment 160 Care for Strangers 162 Unknown Financial Circumstances 162 Unknown Home Training 163 Conclusion 164 Chapter 8: Playing the Rules: The Po litics of Consumption and Care 166 The Sock Revolution 166 Punishment to Pleasure 167 School Discipline of the P oor, Minority, Tween Body 167 Subversions 171 Code Switching 171 Playing with and without Consumption 179 Play in Theory 179 Entrainment and the Alteration of Time and Space 180 Our CDÂ—Our Connection 182 Opinions and Popular Culture 183 Limitations of Subversion 186 Storage of Change 186 Internalized Oppression 187 Subversive Care 189 Conclusion 190 Chapter 9: So What: A Closing Picture 191 Shopping without Skills 191 Personal and Political Tween Knowledge 192 Performing the Other to Know the Self 194 Benefits of Scholastic Middle 196 Future Research 196 Conclusion 197 Epilogue: Living up to Tween Expectations 199
References 202 Appendices 216 Appendix A Interview Questions 217
List of Tables Table 1 Interviewee Breakdown by Grade and Gender 23
Looking Good and Taking Care: Consumer Cultu re, Identity, and Poor, Minority, Urban Tweens Elizabeth Edgecomb ABSTRACT Looking Good and Taking Care: Consumer Culture, Identity, and Poor, Minority, Urban Tweens is an ethnographic examination of how poor, minority, urban tweens (age 7-14) use consumer culture to create and perform their personal an d social identities. Although portrayed in mass media as selfish and hedonistic, this work finds tweens creating profoundly social, giving, and caring identiti es and relationships through consumption. Their use of consumer culture is also a form of political resistance that subverts their place in the age, class, and race hierarchy. These tweens use Â“looking goodÂ” (attention to grooming, style, and behaving respectably), and not name brand goods, to show they have respect for themselves, that their fam ilies care about them, and that, by extension, society in general should care for and a bout them. Far from seeking status through consuming, the tweens largely seek bel onging and care. They also utilize both consumption and denial of their consumer desires to show care for their families. Furthermore, the tweens use consumer cult ure to enact resistance against the most tangible form of social control in their livesÂ—schoolÂ—by employing products and consumer knowledge to subvert the rules of uniforms and structured school time.
1 Chapter 1 Introduction Green Socks I sat in our assigned area of the bleachers, the furthest from the entry doors, at the corner of two outside walls near the glass-paned emergenc y exit door. I sat in my normal spot, three rows from the bottom, in the mi ddle of the fourth grad e section. We talked. The bleachers shook each time someone walked up them or emphatically readjusted their position. We waited this morningÂ—as we di d every school morningÂ—for the daily announcements and release to our classrooms. The teachers sat in their metal folding chairs on the far side of the gym, chatting, and watching us. As always, they remained largely oblivious to us, their attention caught only occasionally by the too-loud cuss word, the crash of someone falling or havi ng been pushed, or crying from one of the younger kids. We talked and joked about the serious topics of our 10-year-old livesÂ—video games, baseball, clothes, the math test, TV, and basketball and cheerleading tryoutsÂ—all the essentials. IÂ’m not sure what happened exactly; the moments that led into the exchange are blurry. What stands out is Lynn. He was small for his age and had curly, blond hair. Like a lot of small kids, he f ound class clown a good role. I donÂ’t remember what I said to him. I may have made a smart-assed or mean comment (I may be the protagonist of my own story, but I am certainly not a sainted one). Whether an initial attack or retaliation, Lynn focused in on my gr een socks and made sure that everyone else noticed them, too. Â“Yeah, well the rest of us donÂ’t wear the same socks every day.Â” My chest seized up and my vision blurred as anxi ety and fear rose up within me. He pointed out what I had so hoped no one would noticeÂ— I wore the same pair of emerald green socks every day. He hit me where I was most vulnerableÂ—my often second-hand and always too-limited wardrobe.
2 In first grade, I wore mismatched socks to school. One was a tall Strawberry Shortcake sock depicting blue sky and fl uffy white clouds, along with a picture of Strawberry Shortcake, her name printed prett ily above her. The other sock was a short, white bobby sock with lace ar ound the top. A kid on the bus ma de fun of me for wearing mismatched socks. After that day, I swore I would never wear them again. From that point on, I spent as much time as it took the night before to find socks that matched. By fourth grade, I had not forgotten that lesson and still worked to make sure my socks matched. This wasnÂ’t easy given the messy state of my familyÂ’s house and our perpetual lack of money. Every night I washed my green socks in the bathroom sink with bar soap and hung them on the shower rod to dr y. I engaged in this ritual soon after I came home from school so the socks would be dry the next morning. Every morning I took them off the shower rod and tried to no avail to shake the stiffness out of them before pulling the scratchy green fabric over my feet. LynnÂ’s announcement created terror in me My throat and chest tightened as if theyÂ’d been immediately petrified like the rock forest in the West IÂ’d once visited with my grandparents. I grappled with what to sa y. I was trapped. What could make this go away? I heard a derisive laugh. I didnÂ’t thin k it was my laugh until I heard my own announcement following it. Â“Obviously, I have several pairs of these socks; I bought a pack of them because green is my favorite color.Â” I told this lie with conviction and intensity. Although Lynn rolled his eyes, he let the subject drop. Eventually my heart began to beat normally. When the bell rang, I got up and walked into the hall with the others. I had survived the humiliation of my poverty once again. Determining the Questions Although by no means my first humiliation, this childhood experience and others like it have been most formative in determin ing my personal and professional life goals. In school, I realized the s tigma involved with poverty and consumption. Not buying the things that oneÂ’s peers deem necessary for enacting a Â“normalÂ” identity in a consumer culture means being shunned, left out, and humiliated. Not participating adequately in a consumer culture means lacking an unstig matized, worthwhile, or normal identity.
3 Until I left for college, I spent a great deal of my time and energy trying to appear middle-class and avoid the public shame of poverty. I tried to be seen as worthy and normal, despite a lack of means and understa nding as to what normal meant or how to create it. I whined and wheedled to get more than my fair share of family resources in order to buy clothes, makeup, hair products, a nd jewelry. I got a job at 16 and worked as many hours as the manager would allowÂ—ofte n 30 hours or more a week. I used my paychecks to buy everything from shampoo, to soda s at lunch, to clothes. I lied to friends, bosses, and school administrators about why I did not have a home phone. Â“My mom hates the technology; she thinks itÂ’s an invasion of privac y.Â” Too bad I knew nothing of Thoreau, the simplicity movement, or dow nshifting; my lies would have been spectacular. I aspired to pass as middle-class (or at least my interpretation of it) to avoid any outward indication of th e poverty in which I lived. My memories of growing up poor are not those of the good hearted, clean, and moral but down on their luck poor (see A llison, 1994, 1996). My memories are of fear, shame, and a struggle for resources. As I became a tween1 and then a teen, my fears did not cluster around the electricity being turned off (I had lived through that several times) or the threats of foreclosure (lived through that as well). I feared being judged unworthy and abnormal by my peers and teachers. Unwo rthy of what? Positive attention, interest, being All the things I imagined came with bei ng seen as normal. What I see now as the failings of meritocracy and the value placed on conspicuous consumption in a consumer culture I saw then as personal failings. My story is not unique. It is one story of being poor in a consumer culture. As I type on my laptop computer in my office in an institution of higher learning while doing my white-collar work in business casual attire one could read my story as a simple and simplistic bootstrap narrative. I wonder how othersÂ—specifically those going through adolescent turmoil now with the burden of poverty in a consumer culture of luxury 1Tween is a term used to denote individua ls roughly ages 7-14 who are in the developmental stages between childhood and adolescence (Cook, 2004).
4 expectations that far outstrip s my own nearly 20 years ago2Â—negotiate their own identities, self-image, a nd relations with others.3 I wonder whether and how urban, minority youthÂ—those whose consumption prac tices get them labeled Â“a nation of thievesÂ” (Austin, 1994a, 1994b) and Â“combat consumersÂ” (Chin, 2001)Â—reconcile their identities and consumption. The expectation of consumption is key to identity in a consumer culture and thus has mate rial effects on individuals. Consumer Culture Consumer culture and its attendant l uxury and brand-name goods have expanded and become more intricately linked with th e everyday lives of Americans than ever before (Bauman, 2005; Pugh, 2005, 2009; Schor 1998, 2004). But beyond the created desires for the name brand, the very act of consuming is tied to identity and even citizenship in a consumer culture. To consume, and be seen consuming, is the basis for identification by others and th e self. Bauman (2005) says, The way present-day society shapes up its members is dictated first and foremost by the need to play the role of consumer and the norm our society holds up to its members is that of the ability and willingness to play it. (p. 24) For Bauman (2005), being Â“normalÂ” means be ing able and willing to consume. To prove this normalcy, one must consume cons picuously. Veblen (1994) finds conspicuous consumption necessary to the positive reputatio ns of Â“gentleman of leisure,Â” or those who can afford to consume beyond basic needs. Conspicuous consumption, combined with a meritocratic morality, means that the poor ar e looked down upon for their lack of means (see Allison, 1994, 1996; hooks, 2000), and expl ains how those unable to consume conspicuously are not Â“normalÂ” citi zens in BaumanÂ’s (2005) terms. The Â“new consumerismÂ” (Schor, 1998) ex tends and complicates the consumption needed for normal status. According to Sc hor (1998), new consumerism is fueled by three factors: the expansion of reference groups, the creation of new products, and the 2 Current consumer culture targets children earlier and in more direct ways through television, school, and the internet than ev er before and previews a more decadent standard of living (Schor, 2004, p. 17). 3 Although the current economic collapse has stunted much luxury spending, there is no way to predict if this downward trend will continue once the economy stabilizes or if the luxury boom will reassert itself.
5 upgrading of old products. Using SchorÂ’s clas sification we can see how individuals and communities are pushed to keep up with th eir neighborsÂ’ consumption and that of characters and celebrities seen on TV. This c onsumption increases in cost and quantity as new products are created in the market (for example, bottled water and cell phones) and old products are upgraded to luxur y versions (for example, gr anite countertops). We live in a society where our identities and social pl aces are revealed to others and ourselves through consumption (Bauman, 2005; Schor, 19 98; Veblen, 1994). Â“Normal life,Â” the life of the conspicuous consumer, is flaunted in the marketing and consumption of consumer goods. These constructed depictions of Â“norma lÂ” are intended to create a desire to consume, because consuming is citizenship a nd worthwhile status in society. The rules and resources of the structure of consum ption, in the forms of buying, altering, and displaying of goods, offer a known system of identity construction and estimations of self-worth. Despite the importance of consumer culture to identity and citizenship in society, there are still gaps in the litera ture addressing the subject. Most notable according to Chin (2001) is the lack of information from minority, urban youth in moderately poor (as opp osed to ur-ghetto)4 areas about their consumption. Perhaps in reaction to the expansion of consumer culture itself noted above, consumer research has grown extensively over the past decade. New publications like the Journal of Consumer Culture have been created Marketing researchers are particularly interested in the consump tion habits of children and teens (see Schor, 2004), though teenagers, tweens, and children in general ha ve less often been the focus of scholarly inquiry in other fields including communi cation and sociology. TeensÂ’ and tweensÂ’ consumer choices are understudied and have rarely been examined using ethnographic methods to explore the meaning-making system s of youth themselves. In addition, little work has been done to inves tigate the consumption of thos e without the ab ility to buy (see Chin, 1993, 2001; Pugh, 2004, 2005, 2009). Why Poor, Minority, Urban Tweens? Chin (2001) calls for consumer research outside of the middle-class. Cook (2005) advises studying the everyday moments of child renÂ’s and teens' lives for cues to their 4 Chin (2001) defines Â“ur-ghettosÂ” as inne r-city areas at the extreme end of poverty. These are not Â“typicalÂ” inner-city communities (p. 59).
6 consumption behavior. Martens, Southert on, and Scott (2004) believe childrenÂ’s consumption should be understood as practic e and investigated in the moments of everyday life. Warde (2005) appeals to consumer culture researchers to focus on theories of practice5 such as GiddensÂ’s structuration theory (1986). Critical ethnographers (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Conquergood, 1991) focus on populations and contexts that illuminate issues in the population at la rge. Following these theorists and their suggestions, I am engaging in an ethnographic study of poor,6 minority, urban tweens that explores the ways they create and manage th eir consumer desires and identities and how these desires and identities impact their rela tionships with others. Low-income, minority, urban tweens offer a depth of understanding a bout their own lives and identity formation as well as tensions in consumption-meaning and decision-making for other groups in U.S. consumer culture. The role of consumption in the creation of the identities of poor, minority, urban tweens is important for at least two reasons. First, the identity construction process is continuous and complex especially du ring adolescence (Erikson & Erikson, 1997). Adolescence is a time of in tense identity construction a nd role confusion. Tweens and teens, no longer under the complete control of family or guardians, explore the world independently (although still in highly disciplined ways) for the first time. Also important to the identity formation process is the advancement of moral reasoning to include concerns about the social or der and contract (Frydenberg, 1997). Adolescents begin to understand the Â“implicit reciprocal contract be tween the individual and societyÂ” (p. 10), or the ways that agency and structure work together, and therefore begin to weigh their options regarding conformity and original ity and understand these decisions to have 5 Warde (2005) writes, Â“Pr actice theories comprehend non-instrumentalist notions of conduct, both observing the ro le of routine on the one hand, and emotion, embodiment and desire on the otherÂ” (p. 136) They are theories that atte nd to both larger structural issues and the actions of i ndividuals as these two compone nts influence each other. 6 All research participants qualified for free or reduced lunch according to the standards of the National School Lunch Program. To qua lify for reduced lunch, a family of four must have a gross income not exceed ing $38,203 (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 2007, p. 8687). For free lunch, gross income may not exceed $26,845. However, according to the administration of the school most children that attended lived below the federal poverty line of $20,650 for a family of four (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, p. 8687). These typical standards are used to define Â“poorÂ” in this study.
7 moral consequences. These new more complex understandings of the self and society, along with other identity work, can cause c onflict, and Â“the more a culture gives free choices and decisions as to who one is going to be, the more open conflict is arousedÂ” (Evans, 1967). In a consumer culture, those choices are endless for those with means and can cause great strife for those without. The identity formation process that takes place during adolescence is, like the rest of the life cycle in a consumer society, highly enmeshed with consumer goods. TweensÂ’ attempts at identity construction are intimately tied to marketing. However, unlike other aspects of the life cycle, Â“tweenÂ” is a time in life directly founded in the marketplace. The very term Â“tweenÂ” is one create d by marketers (Cook & Kaiser, 2004; Myers, 2004; Quart, 2003).7 Tweens become important to marketers around age ten when the necessary Â“marketing awarene ss and savvy-nessÂ” develops (Myers, 2004). In modern culture, children become desiring consumers at younger and younger ages (through television, interacting w ith peer groups earlier such as in day care, and parents and others purchasing more goods), which leaves virtually no aspect of the life cycle free from marketing and consumer culture (Schor, 2004). We learn from a young age the connections between identity and buying, even if that knowledge remains in practical consciousness8. Tweens explore this culture with the goal of creating an individual yet socially acceptable identityÂ—an identity that will transition into what they may feel are their permanent, adult identities. These identitie s are both personal and social, denoting an inner idea of the various dimensions of who one is and various incarnations of an outer self. For instance, I may feel that at my co re I am a caring person. However, my various outer identities (scholar, fr iend, daughter, and yoga student ) may show this inner self more or less depending on the situation. Within all of these identities is a component of a 7 Â“TweenÂ” was created by marketers and is more focused on girls than boys (Cook & Kaiser, 2004; see Mitchel & Reid-Walsh, 2005) and is traced by Cook and Kaiser (2004) to a 1987 article in Marketing and Media Decisions The term tween indicated a more sexualized girl age 9-15 than the previous pre-teen or sub-teen terms (Cook and Kaiser, 2004). 8 Practical consciousness houses the knowledge that we have to maneuver through social life but that we do not Â“know we knowÂ” and therefore cannot articulate or interrogate (Giddens, 1986). This concept is further discussed in Chapter 4.
8 Â“material selfÂ” connected to material goods (W James, 2007). This material self consists of the aspects of material exis tence over which we feel a sense of ownership such as our bodies, families, and possessions. An individualÂ’s need to create identity in the constant flux of mass culture intimately fits the agendas of marketing and consumer culture. The market is ever ready to create and provide products to build pers onal and social identity. Galbraith (2000) calls this instance of stru cturation (Giddens, 1986) the Â“depe ndence effectÂ”: marketers both create and satisfy consumer wants, creating a mutually determining and reflexive process. One uses consumer goods to create a Â“bette rÂ” self by furthering the progress narrative that helps create our identities, both indivi dually and collectively. The constant tension between the desire for uni queness and maintaining social connection via recognizable consumer display complicates the process. Zukin and Macquire (2004) say consumption Â“has assumed overwhelming significance in modern lifeÂ” (p. 173). One must consume as an acceptable and adequate member of a consumer culture (Bauman, 2005). Crawford (1992) states, Â“personal identity depends on oneÂ’s ability to compose a coherent self image through the selection of a distinct personal set of commoditiesÂ” (p. 12). A second impetus for study: poor tweensÂ’ id entity constr uctions are pa rticularly illuminating because of the tension between fi nancial means and desired or needed goods and services. This tension is exacerbated when Â“needsÂ” are consistently expanding (Schor, 1998). Additional exploration of this group will help us further understand how consumption, class, and race factor together to influence identity construction. OneÂ’s foremost identity, according to Bauman (2005) is one of consumer. Race and class significantly factor into this c onsumer identity. For instance, black9 culture and stereotypes regarding Black pe ople factor into choices made about what to consume and 9 Following Carter (2003), I use Â“BlackÂ” to refer to a person or group of persons while using Â“blackÂ” to reference an abstraction, idea, or thing. In addition, I have chosen to use the terms Black/black rather than African-American for tw o reasons. First, and most important, Black is the term used by the students I worked with when referencing themselves. Second, according to Sigelman, Tu ch, and Martin (2005), preference for the terms African-American or Black are split virtually evenly amongst Americans of African descent. Therefore, Black has the most resonance for my par ticipants and is an acceptable term for American s of African descent.
9 the meanings attributed to that consumpti on. In addition, the inability to buy things deemed necessary for a Â“normalÂ” identi ty may generate focused and conscious engagement in attaining these things. This conscious engagement might otherwise be bypassed by the immediate gra tification of thes e desires (Pugh, 2004) For instance, I donÂ’t think a great deal about buying a cup of coffee because the expense is nominal for me. However, buying a car affords a great deal of introspection, as it is a purchase I cannot often make. For the tweens in this study, seemingly small purchases require a great deal of thought. The necessity of making do with less and with substitutes for desired goods can lead to creativity that mi ght not otherwise be ut ilized in consumer decision-making and commodity use (see Chi n, 1999). The tension between desire and fulfillment may also offer greater insight into the ways that other U.S. citizens use consumer goods and consumer cu lture to create identities. Growing up, I often felt shamed and misunderstood by those I believe were judging me by my class, something largel y indicated by both my limited ability to participate in consumer culture and my choices when I could participate. My identity is shaped by having grown up poor in a consumer society and my current participation as a member of what I call the Â“staged middle-clas sÂ” of graduate school, a place where one is fully accepted into and expected to appropria tely engage with a middle-class setting despite a lack of financial resources. I am an individual who felt, and sometimes still feels, monofaceted, limited, and controlled by a consumer culture that stigmatizes me for being unable to fully participate. This culture critiques the tastes of the lower classes in order to maintain the class hi erarchy (Bourdieu 1984). The tast es of the upper classes are further understood as normative, intelligent, and right. It is a culture that critiques me and others in the lower classes for our consumer choices and desires. There are many differences in the ways th at the tweens I worked with and I are viewed. I grew up in a rural area where bei ng white among a majority of whites, I was not forced to bear the stigma of being a pers on of color in a racist society. Despite these differences, there are similarities among us. My memories of consuming in my youthÂ— elating moments when I was free to buy what I desired, unsure moments when it was unclear what I was expected to consume or how to go about it, moments of simultaneous
10 desire and denial when faced with things I wanted and could not have, and devastating moments when others found my choices lackin gÂ—are experienced by those who desire to participate with limited financial means in a consumer culture. Looking back on these experiences, I realize that my desires and choi ces were the result of complex interactions and thought processes influenced by mass culture, family, friends, and my own personality. Despite class stigma I, and othe rs, were and are maki ng intelligent, caring, and informed decisions despite the structural limitations of financial and social means. The consumption and tastes of poor, minor ity, urban tweens are most often seen not as their response to a system that cons trains them in significant ways, but as a manifestation of bad values, including superf iciality and selfishness. Their consumption is stigmatized as hedonistic and irrational by the media, upper classes, and whites (Chin, 2001; Kotlowitz, 1999, 2000; Nightingale, 1993). They are stigmatized for their inability to consume and for the consumer choices th ey make. Their choices are interpreted as valuing consumption, leisure, and immediat e gratification over long-term goals like social stability, connection, and self-sufficiency. As Chin ( 2001) says, Â“In a society that criminalizes the consumption of urban minor ity youth, what is needed is not just a questioning of that assumption, but a realistic asse ssment of what that consumption isÂ” (p. 28). This demonizing view of consump tion is an unfair, homogenous image of a diverse group. This view does not take into account the constraints on consumption, the hedonistic consumption of other groups, or the actual consumption practices. In an attempt to correct this demonizing percep tion, in-depth explorations of how poor, minority, urban tweens are making their cons umer decisions are necessary. In other words, to learn more about how poor, mi nority, urban tweens view and engage in consumption, an ethnographic study is most appropriate. Ethnography as a Complex Assessment This work attempts to at least partia lly rectify unfair, r acist, and classist representations by offering an in-depth exam ination of how poor, minority, urban tweens consume and how they talk about their consumer desires, buying habits, and relationships. Focusing on what poor, minorit y, urban tweens are seen to do (their
11 consumption) as well as the ways they make sense of consumer culture and their own consumption offers insight into their mo tives for and understanding of consumption. Ethnography allows me to enter into th e everyday moments of the tweenÂ’s lives and ask them directly about consumption a nd consumer culture. In ethnography, the lived experiences of the participants Â’ lives are more fully documen ted and provide the basis for questions asked in both formal and informal interviews. Although still controlled by my (the res earcherÂ’s) interests and interpretations, ethnography offers a fuller, more nuanced, a nd participant-driven project than other methods. Through over 400 hours of participan t observation in a middle school with a 100 percent low-income, minority student popul ation and 25 in-depth interviews with students, I have tried to unders tand the ways these tweens make sense of their identities through consumer culture. The ability to consider and particip ate in complex phenomena afforded by ethnographic study is important to this proj ect. As Chin (1993), who conducted an indepth ethnographic study with poor, minority, urban children states, Â“Unlike the objects consumed . the everyday practices of consumption are neither mass-produced nor prefabricated. They cannot be conceptualized ea sily as hedonic, resist ant, nor hegemonicÂ” (p. 104). Ethnography helps me (and you, the r eader) to experience these individuals as individuals, as they navigate the larger soci al structures that constitute their lives. Making the Connection: Preview of Chapters What I have learned from my ethnographi c observations and interviews is not only that the students at Schol astic Middle are fascinating, in telligent, fun, and generous, but that they also understand their identities and relationships with others in profoundly social, giving, caring, and po litically savvy ways. How the tweens understand themselves is intimately tied to who they are for others and how their desires and needs affect others. In the following chapters of this disserta tion, I outline my research with poor, urban, minority tweens and explicate three main th emes found in how the tweens understand their consumer identities. Chapter 2, Â“Middle School Redux,Â” focu ses on how I conducted my fieldwork and interviews. I discuss the middle school where the students and I were and my
12 entrance into the school as a researcher and volunteer. I also discuss tenets of ethnography and autoethnography that inform the method and writing of this work. Chapter 3, Â“Â‘The Old, Rich, White LadyÂ’: A 28-year-old Graduate Student Does Fieldwork,Â” is commentary on my position as a researcher and how it was both hindered and helped by some of my own shortcomings dealing with children. I also discuss the importance of the role of the Â“liminal adultÂ”10 and the necessity of understanding informed consent as a relational process. In Chapter 4, Â“Setting the Theoretical S cene,Â” I situate this work academically. I begin with an argument for understanding our contemporary condition as a modern one and move into a discussion of GiddensÂ’s st ructuration theory (1986) and FoucaultÂ’s disciplinary society (1977) in order to create a framework for structural and agential tensions inherent in our curre nt consumer system. I also address BourdieuÂ’s (1984) work on taste, MunozÂ’s (1999) diside ntification theory, and Goff manÂ’s theory of impression management (1959, 1963) to further explain how individuals negotiate these tensions. Having outlined the theoretical background for the work, I turn to a description of the individual tweens who made this work po ssible. Chapter 5, Â“Where We From: Setting the Lived SceneÂ” details my greatest source of insightÂ—the tweens who allowed me to follow them around and question them incessantl y. This section gives a bit of background on their city and neighborhoods and provides character sketches of the 25 students who allowed me to interview them for this project. In Chapter 6, Â“Looking Good: The Performa nce of the Ethic of Care,Â” I detail how the tweens talk about performing care for themselves through consumption. This section is key to understanding the ways th e tweens do ego work through consuming. It shows how the tweens relate Â“looking good,Â” a state only sometimes achieved through the use of brand name clothing, to a sens e of care and respect for themselves. By Â“looking good,Â” the tweens show they care for themselves as well as that their families care about them. In turn, this sense of self-care encourages others (strangers, teachers, and others they meet in passing) to care about them as well. In other words, the logic of an ethic of care is: because I have respect for myself and my family has respect for me, as 10 Based on V. TurnerÂ’s (1969, 1987, 2001) concept of the liminal space.
13 evidenced by my Â“looking good,Â” you should have respect for me as well. In addition to looking good and showing and receiving self-c are in doing so, the tw eens are interested in showing care for others. Chapter 7, Â“Taking Care: Consuming a nd Not Consuming for Others,Â” moves from seeing the work that the tweens put into creating an identity via an ethic of care toward explicating the perfor mances of care they offer to others. The tweens work hard to create egalitarian relationships between them selves and others. They work to remove focus from what others donÂ’t have and try to help their families negotiate financial tensions. Their attitudes toward s those with more or less reso urces involve strict codes of self-control and nonjudgment. Phrases like, Â“You donÂ’t know their circumstances,Â” and Â“ThatÂ’s their businessÂ” are used to descri be those who do not Â“look good.Â” In addition, words like Â“teamwork,Â” Â“helping,Â” and Â“respectÂ” infuse their talk about families, particularly mothers. They emphasize that care for others is one of their responsibilitiesÂ— in behavior and consumption. Care for themselves and others is also played out in political ways at school. In Chapter 8, Â“Playing the Rules: The Po litics of Consumption and Care,Â” I focus on the ways the tweens use creativity, code switching, and play to redefine rules and create a sense of self, others, and society that tests the constraints placed on them by age, race, gender, and class. Through discipline (Foucault, 1977) and structuration (Giddens, 1986), I show how the tweens manipulate aspects of the school system to suit their own needs. Here I argue that the tweens are ma king savvy political and subversive personal and social identity moves including, but going beyond, care. In the final chapter, Â“So What?: A Closi ng Picture,Â” I offer a closing analysis of the implications of this research for the rese archer, the participants, and understandings of U.S. consumer culture.
14 Chapter 2 Middle School Redux Wedding Rings Â“Miss Edgecomb, Miss Edgecomb, come ove r here,Â” I hear a disembodied female voice calling from behind me. I turn to survey the students at the outside picnic tables. Some are still eating lunch while others ha ve moved on to play and homework. As I look, I see eighth grader Kaia11 waving her hand to flag me over to the table where she is in intense conversation with two of the sixth gr ade girls, Ezola and Ma cella. Before I even sit down, I begin to get the basics of their conversation. ItÂ’s about wedding rings. As soon as my butt hits the bench, I get rapid fire que stions from all three: Â“It goes on the right hand, right?Â” asks Ezola with less confidence than KaiaÂ’s, Â“N o, I know itÂ’s the left hand,Â” while Macella characteristically look s interested but makes no comment. I feel my face scrunch up in concentr ation as I try to remember if this is knowledge I possess. I donÂ’t think IÂ’ve ever known. ItÂ’s never come up. I work with a bunch of hippie academics who donÂ’t really ta lk about marriage. After a second, I can stall no longer and sheepishly answer, Â“I donÂ’t really know whic h hand, but it always goes on the ring finger.Â” This weak respons e garners the exasperated looks I knew it would. I see Mr. Mason; a teacher I know is married. Trying to redeem myself by getting them an answer, I ask him. Â“Mr. Mason, which hand do you wear your wedding ring on?Â” Without missing a step, he replies, Â“The le ft ring finger,Â” as he continues past the table. Unlike me, Mr. Mason expects the questioning of middle schoolers. I, however, have just shown myself void of useful knowledge yet again and realize that I need to think better on my feet. 11 All individuals who appear in this study are identified by pseudonyms. Following Carter (2003), I Â“attempted to retain the distinctiveness of the respondentÂ’s real name, thereby illuminating the difference between the naming styles generally employed by African-Americans and those employed by whitesÂ” (p. 46).
15 Getting to the Research When your goal is to understand the sens e making and identity formation of a group from their own perspective, you must gain access to the lives and sense making moments of that group. To find out how poor urban, minority tweens see themselves using consumer culture to construct their identities, I use auto/ethnographic methods, including interviewing and participant obs ervation, in a research environment wellknown to the tweens I wish to studyÂ—school. To examine as fully as possible how I came to understand this research project, I wi ll discuss the questions I had coming into the work, the research si te, and auto/ethnography. Research Questions I engaged this work in order to answer a very important question for the citizens of consumer culture generally. How does consum er culture factor into understandings of identity for both self and others? I consider these que stions by working with poor, minority, urban tweens because they are the mo st demonized consumer group in the U.S. (see Chin, 2001; Kotlowitz, 1999, 2000; Nigh tingale, 1993), and therefore a group on the margins, or a Â“strategically situated cu ltureÂ” (Marcus & Fischer, 1986; Van Maanen, 1988). These demonized images create a sense of alienation and desp air in those they target (Chin 1993, 2001; Kotlowitz 1999, 2000; MacLeod 1987; Nightingale, 1993). Attending to poor, urban, minor ity tweens own perceptions and meaning making systems allows the perpetuation of a fuller and mo re positive popular image among U.S. popular culture and major decision makers. By exploring the identity constructions of this consumer group, we gain insight into the ways U.S. consumers utilize and understand the roles of consumer goods and culture. Through the creation of a hedonistic ot her, the Â“mainstreamÂ” may continue their consumer behaviors with little, if any, self -reflection or critique. As Neumann (1996) notes when discussing hi storical trends in ethnography that create an exotic other, Â“The Other, as symbol of elsewhere, of exo ticism, has been a mediating vehicle that continually provided an inverse image of home, place, self, and powerÂ” (p. 175). By creating an image of poor, mi nority, urban tweens as an exo tic and dangerous other, the
16 larger structures of consum er culture need not be questioned and neither must the behavior of those who hold more power in society. Neumann (1996) writes, Â“The particular experiences of indi viduals in tension with dominant expressions of discursive power Â” lead to deeper unde rstandings of those systems of power. This on-the-ground, in-the-self approach offers a chance to remove the other from the realm of the exotic and see them as a part of the larger culture. A field site where consumer life is happening and m eaning is negotiated and made for poor, minority, urban tweens (a group ofte n exoticized rather than seen as a part of the larger society) is imperative to this project. Field Location Finding a site where tweens interact, are comfortable, and live out a significant aspect of their lives is essential to cr eating a fuller picture of their consumer understandings and makes an extended-day sc hool an ideal choice. I initially thought schools were out of the question given the difficulty in gaining access. Also, as with much of the country, Florida school system s have slashed extracu rriculars and recess time due to budget cuts and a focus on standard ized testing. Given these constraints, I wasnÂ’t convinced that, even if I could gain physical access, a school setting would offer the opportunity to talk to and observe ch ildren. Private schools didnÂ’t occur to me because I wanted to speak w ith those without the financia l resources I assumed were necessary to attend a school that requires tuition. Also, despite the positive aspects of interacting with children in a school environm ent, it also constrains ethnographic inquiry by engaging participants in a hierarchically situated, age-se gregated institution (James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998). Although such constraint s donÂ’t prohibit resear ch, they must be considered as an important influence on the observations. Despite the potential drawbacks of a school and my f ear I would not be able to access an institutional setting which would meet my needs, I happened upon Scholastic Middle,12 when searching a volunteer website. Access to tweens in an atmosphere where they were living their daily lives without being research subjects was not my only concern. I entered this process knowing 12 The name of the school has been changed to protect the anonymity of the organization, its staff, and students.
17 that I wanted to give back to the comm unity I studied. By volunteering, I would be helping not only the organization that gave me access, but also the tweens I observed and interviewed. I did not want to interact, or not interact as the case may be, in the field primarily as a researcher. First and foremost, I wanted to be a useful part of a community. As I read about Scholastic Middle, I hope d I had found an ideal research site. Along with basic informati on regarding the schoolÂ’s mi ssion to give financially disadvantaged students the opportunity to receive a fully funded college prepatory education, I learned that the school was one of several sites where undergraduate federal work-study students can complete their hours. The schoolÂ’s participation in the federal work-study program let me know that they had the ability (and desire ) to train those who work part-time and who were not othe rwise trained to work in education.13 This information led me to believe they might be interested in volunteers as well. I sent the Scholastic Middle volunteer c oordinator an email asking ab out the availability of volunteer opportunities. Her re sponse was welcoming and we set an appointment for me to tour the school and fill out a volunteer application. Scholastic Middle is based on three p illars of educati onÂ—summer programs, middle school education, and graduate support. Following this model,14 Scholastic Middle provides extended day, extended year education for middl e school students and graduate support through high school and coll ege. Students attend school for up to eleven hours a day, six days a week, throughout the sc hool year. They also attend a four-week summer session. All students who graduate from the eighth grade at Scholastic Middle are given help from the graduate support sta ff in applying to and f unding applications to elite high schools and later co lleges around the country. Th e staff is committed to procuring scholarships and ot her funding for students. For high school, students attend some of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, and those who stay in the area attend both private institutions and magnet programs. In addition to help in applying to programs, students receive funds and assistan ce to travel to and from school (both high schools and colleges) on semester breaks. For instance, the graduate coordinator drove 13 Federal work study offers students part-tim e positions (Federal Work Study Program, 2008). 14 There are several schools in the U.S. that use this same model of education.
18 two students who graduated in 2007 and went to boarding high schools in Tennessee and Virginia to their schools. The graduate coordina tor also frequently vi sits local students at school and home and keeps in touch via phone and email with those out of the area. Scholastic Middle is the second of its kind in the region and the second school funded by the Scholastic Middle Founda tion, Inc., which was founded in 1996.15 A local couple established the Foundati on. After having trouble findi ng qualified employees for their various companies, they began to look into the local school system and found that dropout rates for black youth, especially bl ack, male youth were staggering. In 1995, less than 37 percent of students in the neighborhood where the fi rst Scholastic Middle Center is located graduated from high school. During th is time, they read about the three-pillars of education model and decided to create a scho ol based on this process. The first campus opened in 1997, with a second opening in 2003. The mission of Scholastic Middle is to take students who demonstrate academic poten tial and determination and provide them the education and support to meet that potential. In neighbor hoods with high school graduation rates of less than 50 percent, Schol astic Middle boasts th at 95 percent of its graduates are participating in high school, college, and careers. The school is funded through private donor s and PRIDE, the Florida school voucher program. Yearly tuition for each st udent is $13,500. Corporate sponsors, private donors, and the $3000 state-spon sored PRIDE scholarships (f or those who qualify) fund student scholarships. Students buy their ow n uniforms and pay $15 in monthly activity fees; otherwise, their education is free. The school requires studentsÂ’ families to volunteer up to 50 hours annually to the school. Family members volunteer to monitor study hall, assist in classrooms and extracurriculars, serve lunch, do office work, and offer support at events like family picnics, plays, graduation, and field trips. Driving to events and field trips and donating food for social gatherings also earns voluntee r hours. Any family member can contribute to the volunteer hours for a student. Volunteer hours and activity fees are set per family, not per student. Between family and comm unity volunteers, Scholas tic Middle utilizes 15 Background information on Scholastic Middle and the Scholastic Mi ddle Foundation is taken from the schoolÂ’s website and has not been cited to protect the anonymity and confidentiality of Scholastic MiddleÂ’s students, staff, and administrators.
19 over 7,000 hours per year of volunteer serv ice. Although volunteers supplement the schoolÂ’s staff, they are not invol ved in delivering instruction. Scholastic MiddleÂ’s student population is currently 100 percent minority, although financial status, not ra ce or ethnicity, is the requ irement for admission. It is a unique atmosphere in that not only are students admitted based on their scholarly aptitudes and attitudes (based on entran ce tests and interviews) and financial disadvantages (determined by eligibility fo r the National School Lunch Program), but they also attend school for up to eleven hours e ach school day, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. This time covers breakfast, morning convocation, academic classes, recess, extracurricular activities, and study hall. Class size ra nges from nine to seventeen students. Scholastic Middle is much smaller than other schools in the county with an enrollment of approximately 115 students. Th e average for middle schools in the county (this includes schools in wealthy suburb an areas) ranges from 332 students to 493 students (Hillsborough County Public Schools, 2009) The student-to-teacher ratio is 8: 1 at Scholastic Middle and between 13-36 stude nts per teacher at Hillsborough County middle schools16 (Public School Review, 2009). Students attend their academic classes and study hall in a single-sex environment. However, the boys and girls attend lunch, rece ss, extracurriculars, and some field trips together. Each grade attends at least one mandatory Saturday field trip per month. In addition to the regular school year, students attend a four-week summer session consisting of both academic classes and extracu rricular activities. This summer session supplements the school year for all students and serves as the final step of the admissions process for fifth and sixth grade students. For the summer session, the school invites up to 30 fifth graders and 30 sixth graders into each boys and girls cl ass; only 15-17 of these students are admitted per class for the followi ng school year. Students in the seventh and eighth grades must be continuing students. Becau se of this system, the school has time to develop studentsÂ’ academic abilities and abil ities developed through extracurriculars like 16 These are numbers for schools not designate d as alternative or special education institutions. The student-to-teacher ratios fo r special education schools were generally lower while the some alternative schools we re lower and others had student-to-teacher ratios as high as 99 students to one teacher.
20 chess and karate. Because new students are not admitted past the sixth grade, the seventh and eighth grade classes are very small. Ev en if students leave the school, incoming students do not fill their places. Although only the best students who apply in fifth and sixth grades are admitted, these students are often below grade level and usually have little if any experience with extracurricular school activities such as band, karate, chess, intramural sports, dance, drama, art, yoga, fitness and health, girl scouts, gardening, a nd sewing, among others. According to the schoolÂ’s website, by the time students leave Scholastic Middle following eighth grade, they are often at an 11th to 12th grade level in their work and have experienced and excelled in seve ral interest-based activities. The environment at Scholastic Middle offered a wonderful field location for study. It presented an intelligent and viv acious group of tweens to work with and a supportive environment in which to do re search. I was allowed to set my own volunteering schedule and was often sent to more interact ive classes (such as writing and drama where more open interactions take place) because the volunteer coordinator thought I might like a certain group or project. Through my volunteer work, I was able to help students with their homework, assist in staging plays, te ach a week-long creative drama course during a summer session, assist in various classroom s (English, history, writing, and drama), teach yoga during the extr acurricular period, and attend field trips. This extensive participation in school activitie s allowed me to build relationships with the students that were personally fulf illing and professionally promising. As I had fun and felt as if I was giving back to the school and tweens, I was also learning about them. Interactions that were at once enjoyable and im mediately useful to the learning outcomes of the stud ents were also the stuff of analysis. These interactions were the basis for the ethnography I completed. For me, autoethnography and ethnography are hopelessly (and hopefully) ta ngled together, but I will attempt to untangle them for the sake of clar ity. I will begin with ethnography. Ethnography Although neat categorizations of what ethnography is or does are hard to come by given the broad and diverse fields that utilize the method (see Atkinson, Coffey,
21 Delamont, Lofland & Lofland, 2001), there ar e a few generally understood suppositions regarding ethnography. The following secti on details the methodological grounding for my research through a brief overview of et hnographic methods, discusses the usefulness of ethnographic methods for studies of child ren, and explains cr itical ethnography. Ethnography as Method Ethnographic methods are qualitative, c ontextual, situated, interpretive, descriptive, holistic, and empirical and ar e utilized in places where people live and interact in their daily lives Ethnography is both the process of closely observing those in the field site and writing up or performing accounts of th is site through the use of descriptive detail (Clifford & Ma rcus, 1986; Conquergood, 1991; Goffman, 1989; Goodall, 2000; MacDonald, 2001; Marcus & Fischer, 1986; Rock, 2001; Van Maanen, 1988). Ethnography allows me to attempt to understand social interaction by observing and participating in it. It requi res a field site where I can operate as Â“stranger and friendÂ” (Powdermaker, 1966 as cited in Rock, 2001, p. 32) Participant observe rs try to engage with people and practices in the field in bot h body and mind. It is through this type of engagement that one can come to an approxi mate understanding of what social actors in the scene are doing and why. As a participant observer, I am bot h a part of the scene, in my case a volunteer at a school, and an observer of the scene. I am always operating with a second agendaÂ—researchÂ—that others in th e field presumably do not share. As a member of the scene, I am constantly negotia ting the role expectations of those in the scene (i.e., administrators, teachers, and st udents) and the needs of my research. In the end, ethnography presents only a sli ce of life, a limited view interpretation of what those in the field know. I engage in the field as a participant in the hopes that I will become empathetic enough (Goffman, 1989) to Â“replicate some of the subjective knowledgeÂ” (Rock, 2001, p. 32) of those with wh om IÂ’m interacting. Ethnography is the Â“living in anotherÂ’s shoesÂ” approach, but one that ethnographers do knowing that the shoes are always borrowed and do not quite fit. This problem of fit occurs even when the ethnographer is a legitimate member of a group, because she is a researcher and, as
22 Goffman said, Â“a finkÂ” (1989, p. 125). In other words, ethnography is partial, perspectival, and always in process. What we can say or know as a result of ethnographic work is always provisional. It is not generalizable but specific, and ther e are limits to what can be known. As Rock (2001) writes, Knowledge is necessarily provisional, bound temporally and contextually, shaped both by the particular purposes and e xperiences of the observer, and by the encounters which he or she had with particul ar others in the field. It can lead to only the most modest extrapolation of fo rms, offered often without the assurance that the Â‘sameÂ’ forms might not be combin ed in quite unexpected ways elsewhere. (p. 31) Further, ethnography is not a Â“repeatableÂ” model of research. According to Tedlock (2000), Â“it combines research design, fiel dwork, and various methods of inquiry to produce historically, politically, and pers onally situated accounts, descriptions, interpretations, and representa tions of human livesÂ” (p. 455). Despite ethnographyÂ’s acknowledged provi sionality, ethnographers do everything ethically permissible to gain a clear perspective on the lives of the social actors they study. To this end, participant observation is often supplemented with other methods including interviewing. Interviews range fr om formal, structured appointments to conversations held during the events of a day in the fiel d. Most often in ethnographic work, interviews happen in conjunction with observation, not as a substitute. Sherman Heyl (2001) asserts that Â“ethnographic interv iewing,Â” can only take place in work where, Researchers have established respectf ul, on-going relationships with their interviewees, including enough rapport for there to be genuine exchange of views and enough time and openness in the intervie ws for the interviewees to explore purposefully with the researcher the m eanings they place on events in their worlds. (p. 369) This study adheres to Sherman HeylÂ’s recommendation. I began interviewing students ten months after my entrance into the field. These interviews happened within
23 and through personal relationshi ps with the participants.17 They were talking to me as someone they knew, not an outside research er, and I was interacting with them as individuals with a known personality and past, not simply as participants. I completed a total of 25 interviews, which broke down by grade and gender as shown in Table 1. Table 1 Interviewee Breakdown by Grade and Gender Sex Grade Totals fifth sixth se venth eighth Girls 3 1 1 9 14 Boys 4 1 2 4 11 Totals 7 2 3 13 25 Interviews with the tweens allowed a ch ance to Â“check upÂ” on my interpretations of the interactions I observed and to gain ne w insights that had not presented themselves in everyday interaction. Also, this was a time to remind stude nts that I was a researcher and allow them to opt out of participating in my study. Through both interviews and observation with these students, I worked to understand thei r views regarding consumer culture as completely as possible. To ensure confidentiality of content, I conducted interviews lasting from 25 to 55 minutes in a private room within the school. I sent informed consent forms to every parent in the school via U.S. mail, and stude nts returned them to the school office. I interviewed all students whose parents consented. In additi on, students were also asked for verbal assent18 at the beginning of each interview. 17 As Sherman Heyl (2001) suggests, in terviews were open enough to explore the research content, rather than fully dictate it, with the participan t and therefore did not follow a strict set of questions. However, A ppendix A lists the questions most commonly asked. 18 Minors are not legally capable of giving cons ent, only assent, to research procedures. This assent, either verbal or written, confirms that they are willing participants in the research. I asked for assent in conjunc tion with requesting written consent from guardians. Assent in this st udy was verbal as written asse nt would have been the only document directly linking th e tween with the research.
24 However specific and provisional the natu re of the knowledge claims generated through ethnography, this method also affords a deep view of the intricac ies of social life and how such intricacies are enacted and unde rstood by actors. A deep view is possible because ethnographers pay attention to the s ituated knowledge of actor s in the scene. In other words, the job of the ethnographer is to learn about and attempt to understand the everyday lives of the actors, not just their actions but their reasons and understandings of how and why they act. As Rock (2001) says Â“The ethnographer will seek to understand and reproduce the logic-in-use of the subjects on the social scene because that is the material of social life and of sociology, the motive power that drives social actionÂ” (p. 31). Ethnography can be used reflexively and flexibly, enabling a deeper view of social life. For Eder and Corsaro (1999) the Â“dialectical or feedb ackÂ” (p. 524) nature of ethnography is inherent to its entire process, from question formulation to data collection to data analysis and theory generation. Ethnography is a method that allows for, and demands willingness toward, change and negotia tion throughout the process. One enters the field, as best she can, wit hout expectations of findings. Th is allows the researcher to reflect on what has been found or not f ound and alter the research methods and interpretations accordingly. As the research progresses, the researcher can change strategies depending on what is called for by pa rticipants or situations. This flexibility comes about from both a lack of presuppositions (so much as is possible) on the part of the researcher and a understanding that par ticipants have knowle dge and understanding of their own lives that the researchers does not. Ethnography requires researchers make a commitment to attending to life in the places where it is lived with a minimum of presupposition, be open to learn from participants and to participat e in their lives, and cultivate the ability to respond to new information with flexibility and reflexivit y. These qualities are su ited not only to the study of social life but also offer particul ar relevance and insight into the lives of children.
25 Ethnography and Children19 Although any method might be applied to th e study of youth, the works that gain the most insight into their meaning-maki ng systems, both for marketers and other researchers, focus on engaging children in their own homes, recreational, and school environments (see Chin, 2001; Eder & Corsaro, 1999; Nightingale, 1993; Pugh, 2004; Schor, 2004; Stack, 2001; Wells, 2002). Understanda bly, market research with children of all ages is extensive gi ven the significant amount of money spent by and for themÂ— $20 billion spent by those 8 to 12-years-old and $150 billion of thei r parents spending being influenced by them (Lagorio, 2007; see Schor, 2004). Ethnography affords insight into childrenÂ’s lives by situating children as knowing social actors, something for which more positivist methods, by their nature as researcher-determined, cannot adequately account. A. James (2001) states, Ethnography allows children to be seen as competent informants about and interpreters of their own liv es and of the lives of othe rs and is an approach to childhood research that can employ childre nÂ’s own accounts centrally within the analysis. Thus it is that contemporary so cial scientific accounts of childrenÂ’s social worlds are able to shed new light on many different aspects of childrenÂ’s lives through the presentation of those lives from the ch ildrenÂ’s own perspectives. (p. 250) Seeing children as socially active partic ipants is essential to trying to understand how they make decisions and come to fo rm understandings of themselves (Eder & Corsaro, 1999). For Eder and Corsaro, ethnogr aphy offers three features that are especially important for the study of children: it is sustained and engaged, microscopic and holistic, and flexible and self-correctiv e. First, only by observing and attending to childrenÂ’s lives over an extended time and in a way that asks the researcher to engage the children (in action and/or through empathetic observation) are children understood as social actors and attended to as such. Ethnograp hy is both microscopic and holistic in that it attends to tiny moments of life in great detail while contextualizing those moments in larger systems. Third, ethnography is flexible and self-corrective. On e works to enter the 19 The classification of Â“childrenÂ” for resear ch purposes can indicate any person or group under the age of 18.
26 field with few preconceptions, and no prec onception held so tightly that one cannot disregard or alter it based on what is learned in the field. No one can enter a realm of social life without some ideological fram ework; however the ethnographic researcher looks for Â“a balance between structure, disciplined by the research problem, and flexibility, disciplined by the goal of understa nding the informants point of viewÂ” (Miller & Sperry, 1987, p. 4 as cited in Eder & Corsaro, 1999, p. 525). So in addition to its usefulness in st udying social life in general, ethnography is perhaps the only method that allo ws Â“a view of children as co mpetent interpreters of the social worldÂ” (A. James, 2001, p. 246), whic h is key to understanding how they use consumer culture to formulate their identi ties. Ethnographic work with poor, minority, urban tweens also offers the oppor tunity for gaining critical in sight into consumer culture at large, and therefore offers the oppor tunity to pursue a critical ethnography. Critical Ethnography Critical ethnography fuses a description of a social scene and actors with an interrogation of systems of pow er and oppression. It is conc erned with Â“the construction of consent and the naturalization of inequiti esÂ” (Lather, 2001, p. 479). I am interested in exploring the ways that poor, minority, urban tweens construct their identities in relation to consumer culture. The dominant culture s ees these tweensÂ’ motives for consumption as shallow, self-serving, and hedonistic. There is a Â“naturalization of inequitiesÂ” (Lather, 2001, p. 479) in this understanding in that it portrays these tweens in ways that do not account for issues of access, cultural value systems, or a history of race-based economic oppression. These portrayals provide the underlyi ng justifications for the continuation of the denial of equality. These portrayal s are not based on liv ed realities and understandings of poor, minority, urban tweens. Because of this, they are sensationalized and unfairly critiqued and ridicu led in mainstream media and society. They are viewed as brand-obsessed, Â“combat consumersÂ” (Chin, 200 1), who are willing to trade away their futures (and those of others) through violence and reliance on the welfare system to fulfill their consumerist desires. These perspectives are in conflict with th e realities of their lives as severely constrained by age, r ace, and class. Understanding both how these tweens create identity and social connecti on with such limited means and how they
27 operate in a larger culture that judges them so harshly can offer insight, and perhaps alternatives, to all those who negotiate identity in a consum er culture. Further, creating a more accurate, nuanced, critical, and fair unde rstanding of this groupÂ’s use of consumer culture is important for the lives of poor, minority, urban tweens because it allows for more positive and less psychologically and materially damaging images. More accurate portrayals of this group ar e also important for other U.S. consumer groups. As Marcus and Fischer ( 1986) put it, Â“The challenge of serious cultural criticism is to bring the insights gained on the periphery back to the center to raise havoc with our settled ways of thinking and conceptualizationÂ” (138). My hope is th at this work may be used as an impetus for the white middle and up per classes to take in to account hedonistic, selfish, and superficial aspect s of their own consumption. In addition to the choice of a research site and group, an understanding of the position of the researcher is essentia l to critical ethnography. The Â“crisis of representationÂ” (see Adams & Holman J ones, 2008; Conquergood, 1991; Denzin, 1997; Marcus & Fischer, 1986) has played its part in forming the criti cal ethnographic genre. The researcher is not an unbiased observer of cultural Others. She is a real person in history with a past and age nda. This understanding of the researcher as a real person situated in the world Â“requires the cultural crit ic to be self-critical of the origins of his own ideas and arguments, while de livering interpretations of lif e in a society of which he, like his subjects, is a full memberÂ” (Mar cus & Fischer, 1986, p.115). One way to situate myself, to be, in short, reflexive, or Â“sel f-criticalÂ” (Marcus and Fischer, 1986, p. 115), is to use autoethnographic elements in th e research and wr iting processes. Autoethnography The need for critical ethnography came about partially from of the crisis of representation. Ethnography had to ask: Who ha s the ability or right to speak and for whom? Or, at the very least, who is th e person speaking? Any critical ethnography requires reflexive elements to help answer these questions. Autoethnography is one way to address issues of reflexivity. However, even as scholars call for intersubjective work (Adams & Holman Jones, 2008; Anderson, 2006; Conquergood, 1991; Ellis & Bochner,
28 2000; Marcus & Fischer, 1986; Neumann, 1996) they donÂ’t necessarily use the term autoethnography. For Anderson (2006), Conquergood (1991), a nd Marcus and Fischer (1986), the self-critical and reflexive researcher is necessa ry, both in the field and in the text, to any well-rounded ethnographic work. Spry (2001) ca lls autoethnography Â“a se lf-narrative that critiques the situatedness of self with others in social contextsÂ” (p. 710). Others utilize autoethnography as the ethnography of self where the researcher is both researcher and researched and becomes oneÂ’s own subject (Ellis, 2004; Ellis and Bochner, 2000). Autoethnography utilizes many of th e same descriptive methods and contextualizing tools of ethnogr aphy but with oneÂ’s self as an integral part of the research, one of the research participants, rather than sole ly on an outside subject or group of subjects. Holman Jones (2005) uti lizes autoethnography, part icularly through a performance lens, as a Â“critical intervention in social, political, a nd cultural lifeÂ” (p. 763) that addresses the Â“triple crisisÂ” (p. 766) of representation, legitimation, and praxis that faces the human disciplines (see also Denzin, 1997). For my study, autoethnography allows me to interrogate my own role in th e research setting and agenda while allowing the reader to do the same. For many autoethnography is a way to make not only oneÂ’s voice and perspective heard, but also to make the voices and perspe ctives of the groups that one belongs to heard more holistically and intimately, rath er than as filtered through the voices and interests of outside resear chers. For Neumann (1996), Â“One value of autoethnographic texts is that they democratize the repres entational sphere of culture by locating the particular experiences of indi viduals in a tension with domin ant expressions of discursive powerÂ” (p. 189). I use autoethnography in both ways listed aboveÂ—to position the researcher in the field and offer a context for study. First, it locates the res earcher in the field with participants. Through the use of autoethnographi c reflection regarding my experiences of poverty and time in the field, my work w ill remain clearly one interpretation, one construction, my situated understanding of myse lf and participants in interaction, rather
29 than a claim to some ultimate truth. I am not those I have studied and cannot claim this work as any such truth. My power position(s) (adult, highly edu cated, white, seemingly middle-class) all factor into my experience of these individualsÂ’ lives. Fo r Eder and Corsaro (1999), the transparency of the investigatorÂ’s role in the scene is especially important with work involving youth: Regardless of oneÂ’s position on the de gree and nature of participation, documentation of entry, acceptance, and participation is imperative in ethnographic studies of children and youth for several reasons. Most obviously, such documentation allows for estimates of possible disruptive effects of the research process on the normal flow of cultural routines a nd practices. Second (and more subtly but just as importa nt), because entry, acceptance, and participation are processes with devel opmental histories, their documentation provides insights to produc tive and reproductive proce sses in childrenÂ’s worlds. (Eder & Corsaro, 1999, p. 523) When the researcher removes herself from th e writing, there is a fals e sense of objectivity and an important lens by which readers can in terpret is omitted. It is likely that those who read my work will be more similar to me than to those I study. By not showing my struggles in understanding these tweens, my readers will not have access to how these moments, events, and places felt to me. This work is filtered through my researcher identity, and it is filtered through my larger sense of self, my larger consumer identity. It is in this sense that this work is self critically autoethnographic in th e second, researcher as subject, sense mentioned above. It is a story of Â“strategically-s ituatedÂ” (Van Maanen, 1988) othe rs, but as a personal story, it also serves as Â“one path through a shif ting, transforming, and disappearing cultural landscapeÂ” (Neumann, 1996, p. 183). I come to this work because I feel camaraderie with these tweens. I try to learn their stories a nd interpretations because I see them being discounted in much the same ways I felt (a nd feel) my own experiences discounted. We have a common experience of being poor in a consumption-driven cu lture. I was a tween of a different generation, of a different race, and in a rura l rather than urban setting,
30 however, there are interesting parallels (and st ark differences) between these adolescentsÂ’ stories and my own. I am shocked, elated, saddened, confused, amused, and immensely pleased by their interactions and answers to my questions. I am not neutral and I donÂ’t have all the answers. I am not the omniscient narrator of their storie s. I hope to offer a Â“secondary, mediated knowledge that may be usefulÂ” (Rock, 2001, p. 31). Through reflexive, auto/ethnographic pract ice, I hope to guide you through my interpretations of the scene and participants while allowing access to the moments in my life and factors of my identity that initially drew me to this work and offer some of the lenses by which I interpret wh at I see. However, what a nd how I see and understand the scene arenÂ’t the only factors influencing this research. My identity as a participant in the field, both as a volunteer at the school and as someone the tweens were willing to talk to, is central to my interpretations of the consumer identities of these participants. This identity will be taken up in Chapter 3, Â“Â‘The Old, Rich, White LadyÂ’: A 28-Year-Old Graduate Student Does Fieldwork.Â”
31 Chapter 3 Â“The Old, Rich, White LadyÂ”: A 28-Year-O ld Graduate Student Does Fieldwork Damn it, Juliet! Â“Grab him!Â” I yell out to the student pl aying Juliet. Â“You are thinking, Â‘Just kiss me, damn it!Â’Â” As soon as the words come out of my mouth, we all fr eeze. In this split second, I hope against hope they didnÂ’t notice, even as I know thatÂ’s insane. At the same time, they replay the word Â“damnÂ” over and ove r in their heads to make sure I really said it. The students crack up with the joy that comes about only when someone in authority completely messes up. Juliet falls to the floor with glee. Romeo and the set crew are forced to lean on each other for support as they laugh. After several seconds of fro zen horror, all I can do is laugh with them. I ignore the visions of parents calling the school the ne xt morning to complain about the foulmouthed volunteer in play rehear sal. I toy with the idea of swearing them to secrecy, but there is no better way to make sure they tell this story at home. I give up and laugh until tears escape from the corners of my eyes. I confess my sin to the drama teacher, who put me in charge of the rehearsal for the Shakespeare spoof Â“Drop Dead, Juliet.Â” She laughs it off. It becomes another incident in the Â“I didnÂ’t read about that in my methods courseÂ” category of my research. An Adult Amongst Tweens Like most adults, I imagine myself younger and cooler than I actually am, something especially questionable when cons idered in relationship to urban, minority tweens. Middle schoolers will not let you ha rbor this illusion for long. I was quickly forced to leave behind visions of myself as a young, vivacious, edgy, unique member of a transitional working/middle-class as I becam e the rich, old, white lady who wouldnÂ’t tell on you. I was granted entry into the lives of the tweens as this person. In this chapter, IÂ’ll first discuss my entry into the school. Second, IÂ’ll detail aspects of how I interacted with
32 different groups of tweens at school. Finally, IÂ’ll offer some reflections on my researcher positionality and the ethical implications of beco ming what I refer to as a Â“liminal adult.Â” Formal and Informal Entry I entered Scholastic Middle in various o fficial and unofficial ways. I had certain expectations about the most fruitful appro aches to go about doing my research. As the work unfolded, my researcher status was rare ly formally disclosed and there were many more groups to informally tell about my researcher status than I had anticipated. I volunteered for the Spring 2007 semester be fore officially requesting permission to do my research, although I had disclosed my desire to eventually do research when I initially met with the volunteer coordinator. My official ac ceptance into the school as a researcher came in a formal letter submitte d to the Institutional Review Board by the head of school in the Summer of 2007. Howe ver, unofficial acceptance as a researcher came in sporadic moments throughout my te nure with various groups in the school. Informally, I disclosed my research st atus on the first day I visited the campus until more than a year after my fieldwork was completed when I had become simply another volunteer. These informal disclosure s came in many different forms with the different groups at the school. Once Mr. Tejera, the head of school, officia lly sanctioned my role as a researcher, it was simply accepted by everyone else. The t eachers talked to me about my research only in passing. Once I proved myself valuable as a volunteer; that was the role I was assigned in the school. The first extensive conversation I had with students about being a researcher came when monitoring study hall with the eighth grade girls. They asked me why I was volunteering and if I was in college. The st udents were used to volunteers either coming from the community (and often being retired or semi-retired) or being high school or college age. Luckily for my self-esteem, they identified me as the latter. The girls wanted to know if I was volunteering Â“for hours.Â” I took this to mean that they thought I might be required to volunteer a certain number of hour s for a class or as a requirement for my degree. They have had other volunteers ta king service-learning courses and education majors required to spend a certain amount of time at schools to complete their degrees.
33 The conversation progressed. Â“Well, I am in school, but IÂ’m a graduate student.Â” Puzzled looks all around. Â“Basically, IÂ’ve been in college for nine years.Â” Appalled looks all around. Â“When you first go to school you ge t one degree and then you can get more after that.Â” Jacynth replies with eyebrows raised, th is act questioning my sanity, Â“You crazy. I canÂ’t be in school that long. One degree is enough.Â” The other girls nod along with her, and I laugh saying, Â“It is a little nuts, but I donÂ’t have to volunteer to get my degree. IÂ’ m volunteering so I can learn about you.Â” I can tell theyÂ’re interested, so I continue. Â“I came here because I want to know how you feel about consumer culture.Â” This time Ianna jumps in, Â“You mean what we buy?Â” Â“Yeah, but not just what you buy. What you li ke is also important. Like, what kind of music, what celebrities what you do in your free time.Â” Cala interrupts, Â“So, our personal styles?Â” I nod, excited that she gets it, and Cala comments with a smile, Â“ThatÂ’s cool, I like that.Â” Cala is cut off by a snort from the other side of the room. Tahira says, Â“Well, you canÂ’t study that here, because they donÂ’t le t us do anything.Â” She pulls on her shirt to indicate her uniform.Â” I say, Â“It seems like yaÂ’ll do a pretty good job showing that youÂ’re unique, that youÂ’re individuals. You all have diffe rent hairstyles, jewelry, and shoes.20 I think you all look very different from one another.Â” They agree, proud that I noticed thei r attempts at making a personal style statement despite the uniform constraints. Howe ver, theyÂ’re reticent to give up their stand on the limitations on personal styl e at Scholastic Middle, Tahira insists, Â“WeÂ’re kept from doing what we want.Â” This tension between creativity and control is a theme that came up often at Scholastic Middle. The students hated their uniforms and considered them a cruel form of control over their bodies and se lf-expression. This tension offe red a key source of insight 20 There are strict dress code rules regarding shoes and jewelr y (discussed in Chapter 8). However, the students are very creative in their bending and breaking of those rules.
34 into political resistance as enacted through consumer culture, which I discuss in Chapter 8. The most fruitful spaces for interacti ng with the tweens regarding my research were moments stolen away from structured time in their school day. For example, while they were playing chess, drawing, or comple ting other class projects that allowed for talking, or once class tasks were complete d. These were liminal spaces (Turner, 1969, 1987, 2001) in which students were not fully c onstrained by the rules of the classroom or able to take advantage of the level of fr eedom allowed by recess, lunch, or after-school time. This liminality was important to the type s of conversations I had with the tweens not only because it gave me a chance to be welcomed into the conversation, but also because it was a time when they enjoyed the opp ortunity to talk about my research topic. Often they were already talki ng about aspects of consumer culture. Having three or four students at a table together was the perfect incentive for them to begin a conversation about music or what they might wear to an upcoming event. These are not moments that I anticipated being integral to the research process when I de signed the study. I had instead thought that lunch and recess w ould be more fruitful, howev er during these times they were more interested in each other than me. When to talk to the tweens was not my only miscalculation. Interacting at the school was another realm where my reading about fieldwork wasnÂ’t predicti ve of what would happen. Interactions at School Interacting at the school turned out different than I envisioned. First, role conflicts between my value to the faculty and administrators and gaini ng the trust and interest of the students abounded. Second, there were se veral unexpected ways to bond with the students. Finally, the tweens desire to be interviewed was unexp ected and helpful. Volunteer vs. Friend When designing my research, I underestima ted the role conflicts I would feel when dealing with the school staff and stude nts. I also miscalculated the number of publics I would interact with (and perform for) over the course of my time at Scholastic Middle. On a daily basis, I interacted with administrators and teachers, AmeriCorps
35 teachers,21 parents, other volunteers, cleaning st aff, community groups, board members, and other funding contributors. Many of these role conflicts came about because of my narrow, yet ambiguous, role of volunteer. Much of my work as a volunteer was to help enforce school rules. Unfortunately, as one might expect, enforcing the rules is no t the best way to get students to open up to you. Not only did I need the tweens willing to ha ve me around, but I also needed them to want to participate in interviews. None of these things were possible without their goodwill and generosity of time and space. Theref ore, while it was necessary for me to enforce the 20 rules of study hall if I wanted to the administration to continue to assign me there (where I had opportunity to talk wi th the students), I also needed to bend the rules if I wanted the students to engage with me. As a researcher, I worked to be a friend, while as a volunteer (and to maintain my access to the site as a researcher) I was compelled to enforce the rules. I often fe lt guilty for letting them talk (being a good researcher) or trying to keep them on track (being a good volunteer). Negotiating these conflicting roles led to some interes ting and unexpected ways to bond with the students. Given th at there was no tension-free ro le in the structure of the school for me to inhabit, I wa s creative in my dealings w ith both the students and the faculty. I did my best to perform volunteer to their expectations, while subtly communicating my alignment with the students to diminish my authority role. Two ways that I did this were through the use of the universal Â“weÂ” and the cr eation of the Â“liminalÂ” adult. Universal Â“WeÂ” The use of the universal Â“weÂ” was my mo st important tool in staying on the good side of faculty and students. I kept the students somewhat quiet and on task as I supervised them during classes, extracurric ular activities, and study hall, saying things like, Â“WeÂ’d better get moving,Â” or Â“Come on yaÂ’ ll, weÂ’ll get in trouble if we donÂ’t get to work.Â” I repeatedly asked them to please be quiet, or get in line, or stop rough housing, or put away the magazines, or open up their books or finish their assignments, or focus on 21 AmeriCorps teachers were distinct from the other faculty in their youth and attitudes, and were generally the only people required to attend the entire eleven-hour school day besides the students.
36 their work so that Â“we donÂ’t a ll get in trouble.Â” I was moderate ly to mostly effective with this tactic. However Kaia, one of the eighth gr ade girls, once asked me in a sarcastic tone, Â“What trouble you gonna get in?Â” I told her the administration wouldnÂ’t let me work with her class anymore. She didnÂ’t seem fully convinced by my answer, so it was fortunate that just a couple of days late r I got called into the head of schoolÂ’s office (actually the volunteer coordinatorÂ’s o ffice) for misbehaving. It happened in the eighth gr ade girlsÂ’ chess class. Mr. Shah (an AmeriCorps teacher who had long ago lost all semblance of discipline in his classroom) was teaching. In this particular class, he had set the girl s up into teams of two, with two teams at each table. He then moved from group to group to play against them. This left a lot of downtime, since he had to play six different t eams. It didnÂ’t take the girls long to choose a move because they were quite proficient at chess. They talked while he moved around the room, and as this particular group of girl s very much likes to do, they also got quite loud. Mr. Shah tried to calm them down severa l times with varying le vels of success. For my part, I encouraged the four girls at my table to keep their voices down with my customary, Â“WeÂ’d better be quiet.Â” Also, because I was in the process of learning to play chess during my time at Scholastic Middle, I tried to keep them focused by asking them questions about the game. However, when the topic of shopping came up I couldnÂ’t help but engage them in further conversation. We began to discuss shopping at Wal-mart. Ianna mentioned going to Wal-mart and buying something. She then turned to me and sa id, Â“But you donÂ’t shop at Wal-mart, right?Â” which is something we Â’d spoken about in a study hall session a couple of weeks before. Cala, who hadnÂ’t been a part of these earlier conversations, was shocked, Â“What!?Â” she said incredulously. Â“Well, Wal-mart just makes me angry. ItÂ’s crowded, huge, and often a mess. I canÂ’t find anything, and there isnÂ’t usually anyone around to help you.Â” Ianna and Cala nod along with this. Â“It is hard when you want to find something specific,Â” Cala acknowledges. Â“And on Saturdays it is hard to get around,Â” a dds Ianna. Â“But is that really that big a deal?Â” she asks me, Â“Aft er all, itÂ’s cheaper.Â”
37 Â“I know itÂ’s cheaper, and if I had a lot of people to buy for, I might shop there,Â” I acknowledge. Â“However, itÂ’s not just the inconvenience. I th ink a lot of their practices arenÂ’t very good for society as a whole. Th ey wonÂ’t allow their employees to unionize, they have some bad environmental practices . .Â” Cala interrupts, Â“Yeah, we read somethi ng about that in science class. Them building on a wetland or something.Â” I nod. Â“Yeah, they do some bad stuff, but I donÂ’ t think IÂ’ll stop shopping there,Â” Ianna interjects. Â“Me neither,Â” says Cala. Â“ItÂ’s really c onvenient, especially for my mom. And saving money is important to us.Â” Â“And, I like shopping there Â‘ cause I can go look around while my mom grocery shops. I find a lot of cute stuff that way,Â” Ianna says with a sense of finality. I nod, showing that I see the lo gic of their arguments. From Wal-mart, the conversation turns to the show Â“Gossip Girl,Â” a television show about rich Manhattan teens on the CW network. In this weekÂ’s show, one of the male leads, Chuck Bass, bought a Burlesque Club where one of the female leads, Blair Waldorf, winds up dancing on a dare. Three of the girls at the table had seen the show and followed the series faithfully (as had I). After they recapped the episode, Ianna asked me what burlesque was. Although I realized the difficulties in answering this question given the sexuality inherent in burlesque, I forged ahead and tried to explain my limited understanding to them. Â“I donÂ’t know a lot about it, bu t it has French roots. ItÂ’s sensuous and often done in lingerie or topless. ItÂ’s sexua l, but not exactly stripping.Â” Â“But, what about . .Â” as Ianna began to form her question am idst a flurry of exited chatter from Cala and Elois, Mr. Shah loudly says from the ne xt table, Â“Be quiet now or the entire class will lose recess to morrow.Â” This reprimand quiets the girls momentarily, and class is soon over. This class was the last of the day and is followed by a break, during which students go to their homerooms to have a qui ck snack before beginning their chosen extracurricular activities. During this time I us ually head to the office to wait and find out
38 where I am needed for the activities. I typically talk with students who come to the office to use the bathroom or whose parents might be picking them up early. I also talk with community members and groups who come in to lead ex tracurriculars. During this time, Mr. Shah must have gone to speak to Sheila, the volunteer coordinator, about the incident in chess class. A few minutes into the break Sheila called me into her office. She kindly but firmly told me that my job in classes was to help the teacher keep order, and sheÂ’d heard there we re some problems keeping the girls quiet in chess. There was no mention of what we were talking about so I assumed the only problem was the amount of talking. I agreed and apologized, knowi ng that despite the obvious flaw in the class planni ng that left the girls with so much free time, I had not done my best to keep things on track. I late r apologized to Mr. Shah and all was well. I attempted to avoid Mr. ShahÂ’s classes af ter this incident. If I didnÂ’t reprimand the students, Mr. Shah wasnÂ’t happy. If I reprimanded them, the students werenÂ’t happy. Working in this particular class dynamic did not allow for me to create a status different from the other adults and volunteers in the sc hool, which was essential to my research. Liminal Adult My status as a researcher, not just a vo lunteer, also helped me to gain the studentsÂ’ trust. The commonly held ethnographic wisdom that blending into the research site is the best way to access information wa snÂ’t the case at Scholastic Middle. Because I came to the school with an interest in the st udents and framed my role as volunteer as a means to being with them, the students genera lly welcomed my presence. I was not there in any traditional adult role. In their minds, adults are larg ely there to control them, not engage them as compatriots and knowledgeable actors. I was a differe nt kind of adult, a liminal adult. In using the term liminal adult, I am playing on Victor TurnerÂ’s (1969, 1987, 2001) concept of the liminal space. Liminal sp ace, as I mentioned earlier, is space in which otherwise inappropriate societal perf ormances may occur because they are in a liminal, neither here nor there and socially unor less defined, space or time. My performance of being an adult was a limina l one. I was neither an adult within the traditional role boundaries of the school, nor was I a non-adult. To use Richard
39 SchechnerÂ’s (1985) construction for performance, I was not me but not, not me. I stood in a different place in the us versus them dichot omy of students and adults. I was not faculty or administration; I was a volunt eer, which holds a less powerfu l status in and of itself. However, I was further separa ted from administrators and fa culty through my role as a researcher. To the students, I was there as a re searcher interested in them, not primarily in their educations. This liminal adult is sim ilar to CorsaroÂ’s (1997) Â“power, non participant status,Â” MayallÂ’s (2000) Â“atypical adult,Â” and MandellÂ’s (1991) Â“least adu ltÂ” (all as cited in A. James, 2001) in that all take on a less power-oriented adult stat us to gain access to childrenÂ’s lives and talk. One way I enacted the role of liminal adult was through treating the tweens like adults. A second way was to treat them like ki ds. These contradictory approaches meshed well in my role as a liminal adult. In both ways I treated them th e opposite of how other adults in the school treated them. First, a discussion of the ways I treated th em as adults. I believe that one of my personal limitations for this type of work allowe d me to gain their trust. As an adult, I know little about children and adolescents since IÂ’ve not spent significant time around them since I was their age. Therefore, I did not know what their emotional and intellectual developmental level Â“shouldÂ” be, and based on this, how I Â“shouldÂ” be talking to them and treating them. Therefor e, I treated them as adults. I took their explanations at face value and assumed that th ey knew what they needed to do in terms of their work and whether they needed to shar pen their pencils or go to the bathroomÂ—all things many other adults in the school often questioned. I also answ ered their questions as fully and honestly as I could, even when th ey addressed subjects I wasnÂ’t sure how to discuss with them, like sex. My lack of ca nned answers and my willingness to tell them when I didnÂ’t know an answer helped with our rapport because we interacted as equals. Second, I also treated the tweens like kids in instances in which the school administrators and teachers of ten demanded they behave like adults. When I felt I was able (i.e., when no other adults were around to expect me to control them more fully), I allowed them to behave immaturely. Adult expe ctations are set for th e tweens in terms of a rigorous school day and in tense academic and extracurricular requirements. I
40 acknowledged their immaturity by allowing th em to talk and goof around in ways not considered appropriate by teachers and admini strators. By treating them like kids (when others demanded they be adults) and treating them like adults (when others related to them as children), I was able to become a di fferent kind of adult in their eyesÂ—a liminal adult. The tactics of oscillating between treati ng them as children and adults in an unexpected manner and the use of Â“weÂ” when asking them to behave more appropriately allowed me to distance myself from the author ity role of an adult volunteer. According to Eder and Corsaro (1999), this distancing is a key move toward gaining trust with children. They find the benefits of this pr actice are twofold: it reduces the power imbalance between the researcher and teenag er, and it helps to gain access to less censored information. However, maintaining ad ult qualities can also facilitate childrenÂ’s disclosure. Fine and Sandstrom (1988), argue ad ult qualities help the re searcher to behave in Â“non-kidÂ” ways such as asking uniformed or ignorant questions. I consistently took advantage of this perceived ignorance and as ked questions for which they would have declared their peers profoundly stupid. At no point was I not an adult, but thr ough the use of Â“weÂ” in reprimanding them, allowing them to break some minor rules, tr ying to treat them like adults and kids in unexpected ways, and framing my presence at the school as a means of being with them, I was able to find my way into a space and role that was not like any of the other adults in the school. Although the le vels of disclosure on the part of the students did lead to some ethical dilemmas which will be discussed in the next section, the studentsÂ’ willingness to disclose led to more interesting and nuanced research without ma king them feel overly exposed, particularly during interviews. Many of the students were interested in being interviewed. Most became more excited when they realized they w ould get to leave class to participate in them. Interview Mania In addition to the surprises in trying to negotiate volunteer and friend roles and unexpected avenues of bonding, the studentsÂ’ desi re to participate in interviews was a pleasant surprise to me. Some students lobbi ed their parents to sign the consent forms
41 because they wanted to be interviewed. This de sire also led to conversations struck up for my benefit or me being called over to hear something someone said. For example, as I walked into drama class one afternoon, Brian asked me to come over to the table where he and Demaine were working. Brandon said, Â“Now, tell Miss Edgecomb,Â” after which Demaine retold his story about shopping w ith his mom at the mall. Like Nieuwenhuys (1994), I found that, They did not think it awkward that I shoul d show some interest in what they did. The thought that I was interviewing them to write down what they said excited them. Some became spontaneously my informants, reporting to me all the news that used to go from mouth to mouth. (p. 5-6 in A. James, 2001) Other interesting interactions were the re sult of the interviews. At one point, I was taking a fifth grade girl out of her library class to do an in terview, and another of the girls, Tina, also wanted to be interv iewed. She let me know this by knocking on the window where I was interviewing Latoya in dicating her chest w ith her thumb and mouthing next. I put up a finge r to signal IÂ’d talk to her in a minute and went on interviewing Latoya. When LatoyaÂ’s intervie w was over and we re-e ntered the library, the AmeriCorps teacher, Anne, informed me that Tina had been telli ng the other girls that I was Â“only interviewing the smart kids.Â” Luckily, Anne allowed me to take a few moments at the end of class to explain the reason that I wasnÂ’t in terviewing everyone: I needed consent forms from their parents. I explained that if they returned a signed consent form, IÂ’d love to interview them. I then took forms from my bag and gave two copies to every fifth grade girl for whom I did not have a signed form. However, none of the forms were returned. One seventh grad e boy updated me daily on the progress of his consent form in his motherÂ’s pile of things to do, constantly pr edicting when I might receive it. Unfortunately, I never did. I sent out nearly 275 consent forms to 105 students. I received 25 completed forms and interviewed those students. This response rate provided ample interviews for my study, althoug h I would have liked to hear what more of the students had to say. Ultimately, the relationships I built with the tweens through my liminal adult status were incredibly fruitf ul, interesting, and personally fulfilling. The relationships
42 provided great insights into ente ring and interacting in the research site. However, like all relationships they also came with unexpected considerations. Some of these were ethical in nature. Ethics I had very few worries about entering th e field other than how I would deal with the tweens on an interpersonal level. I thought these personal limitations would be difficult to deal with and to some extent they were. However, it was unexpected ethical issues that made me rush back to my met hods books and curse their uselessness. Here I discuss personal factors that make this research project an interesting choice for me and issues of informed consent as a relational activity. Everyday Me I wrote earlier about the camaraderie I fe lt with the tweens because of our similar class backgrounds and struggles in a consumer society. However, just as important to the research are my everyday ways of goi ng about the worldÂ—my personalityÂ—and the limitations it creates. In addition to balancing the roles expected of me by the administrators and faculty with those of the students, I had to balance my identities as a researcher and a person. My personality is not suited to working with children. I like quietÂ—ki ds are loud, loud, loud. I like an adult style of efficiency and logi cÂ—kids donÂ’t generally operate on these same principles. When they do try to access the reas oning of the world, it is to question the Â“deep whysÂ” for which I donÂ’t have reasonable answers. IÂ’m also particularÂ—some might even say bossy. I donÂ’t see myself, nor do most who know me, as having the patience or temperament to deal with kids. One clea r limitation, my love and free use of bad language, is aptly demonstrated in the opening story of this chapter. I donÂ’t just like swearing; I relish it. Despite these limitations, I also remember the tr ials of being a kid, tween, and teen, and I empathize with the Scho lastic Middle tweens. Ultimately, my lack of familiarity with kids allowed me to take on the role of a liminal adult. This role allowed me to deal with the ethical issues I now realize were inev itable and some of the most educational moments of the research.
43 Relational Informed Consent There are ethical dilemmas that pr esent themselves for any ethnographic researcher. There are also concerns for any adult interacting with children. Taking on a liminal adult role as a researcher means car eful evaluation of situ ations for potential harm. I knew it wouldnÂ’t be advisable or po ssible to remove myself from all adult decision making responsibility in my research. As such, I followed all Institutional Review Board requirements regarding written informed consent by parents and verbal asse nt by students. I pr ovided copies of the informed consent documents for the parents to keep. Each time I sent out consent forms I included a letter explaining that one of the two forms provided was for the parent to keep. Parents often returned both forms. In these cases, I either mailed the forms back through the postal service or included them in the Â“Fri day foldersÂ” each child was required to give to their parents every week. I explained the te rm confidentiality to the students when I asked them for interviews, when I began the interviews, and sometimes during particularly disclosive sections of the interview. In the e nd, what defined clearly ethical behavior was attending to the relationships between the tweens and me. I found that the tweens often considered confid entiality to extend beyond the interview and my research topic, and, conversely, that c onfidentiality regarding interv iew content was not always expected. On several occasions students disclosed personal information to me that I do not believe they would have given to most adults at Scholastic Middle. This was evidenced in my conversations with the eighth grade girl s, among whom I interviewed nine out of eleven students. Weeks after I had finished their interviews, I wa s in their study hall when they were talking about the romantic re lationships of two of the girls (who were not in study hall during this conve rsation) with two of the ei ghth grade boys. The girls spoke quite adamantly and colorfully about the ways in which th eir classmates were behaving inappropriately by lying to meet their boyfriends and Â“doing thi ngs they donÂ’t need to be doing.Â” As this conversation went on, I was shocked. Although I had heard sex spoken about somewhat openly between the students an d at least two teacher s, I canÂ’t imagine
44 that this particular conversati on is one they would have in front of many adults. Not only would they get their classmates into trouble with both the school a nd their parents, but their language and manner would also not have been considered a ppropriate. As one of them said, Â“She wants to be a ho, IÂ’m not gonna stop her.Â” I unintentionally jerked my head up out of shock. While a couple of the girls momentarily looke d worried, like they might have just gone too fa r, Tahira just laughed. She said, Â“ItÂ’s just Miss Edgecomb. SheÂ’ s not gonna tell.Â” I was struck by the possibility that they were still speaking under the umbrella of confidentiality. As a volunteer at the school, admini strators expect me to report these things. However, the girls were right. I saw no immediate danger fo r any of them and so I did not tell anyone. Given my own memories of eighth grade, I know that being told they could not see these boys would make them all the more likely to continue. I also considered asking the girls to confirm my suspicions a bout their openness being related to previous promises of confidentiality, but I was distr acted by their next comment. Jacynth turns to me and says, Â“Well, what do you think about Ianna and Kabira? They doing bad?Â” I paused, clearly thinking about the be st answer, and then said, Â“You know you canÂ’t tell people how to go about things. TheyÂ’ll do what they want.Â” Jacynth and Tahira nod their heads sagely, and I continue doing my best not to sound like an after-school special. Â“I think that most wo men who regret having sex regret it because they think they had sex for the wrong reasons.Â” Along with her vigorous head nodding, J acynth says, Â“You know thatÂ’s right. Like just to get some boy to like you,Â” and al l heads in the room nod along. At this point, the girls take over the convers ation and the moment for me to ask whether confidentiality in the interviews is expanded to this space and conversation has passed. However, just as the moment for me to questi on confidentiality has evaporat ed, the girls also let the moment pass where they could confirm with me that I wonÂ’t tell anyone about our conversation. They are confident th at I will not tell, and I wonÂ’t. However, unlike the conversat ion with the eighth grade girls, when interviewing Reed, a seventh grade boy, I did feel the need to break confidentiality. Prior to
45 interviewing Reed, I had been lulled into a fa lse sense of security regarding the types of narratives I would hear in the interviews. Initially, I imagin ed I might hear stories of abuse or just that students werenÂ’t very happy. However, in only two interviews did students seem genuinely unhappy with their live s. One of these students was Reed. Reed spoke about not getting enough positive attenti on from his aunt (his custodial guardian), either affection or buying him things. Reed ha s lived with his aunt for several years while his mother is in prison. He never mentioned his father. Most of our interview cent ered on the things he likes to buy, how he spends his time, and why people buy things. It was sim ilar to interviews I conducted with other students. He said he liked name brands, but could name very few that he liked and even fewer that he owned. His favorite way to sp end time was talking on the phone to his girlfriend, friends, and sisters. This made a lot of sense give n how lonely he seemed. The turn in the interview came near what I ha d thought would be the end when I asked him what question he would ask if he were doi ng the same research. He said, Â“Do you love your life?Â” This was a more gene ral question than I usually rece ived as a response, but as was my practice, I pose his question to him. He responds, Â“Not all the time.Â” Â“Why do you think you donÂ’t always love your life?Â” I ask. He says, Â“I donÂ’t know. I just be getti ng mad, so sometimes I think about doing stuff. But, I donÂ’t want to do it, so I just be thinking about it.Â” Â“Like what do you mean?Â” I ask. Â“Sometimes I think about running away, like hurting myself, stuff like that.Â” Trying not to show any type of judgmen t in voice or gesture, I respond, Â“But you donÂ’t do it. Why donÂ’t you do it?Â” Reed says, Â“Cause if I do it I could die or something.Â” His mention of hurting himself, even though he immediately followed this up with a statement that he wouldnÂ’t ever do either of these th ings, worries me. I ask, Â“But itÂ’s not worth that?Â” to clarify that hurting himself or dying is too dire a consequence to get attention. He nods his agreement. I wait to see if he wants to say anything else. When he doesnÂ’t, I break the s ilence. Â“I know the feeling of being upset
46 about things. When I was a kid, I used to get into a lot of trouble.Â”22 He nods again in response, this time a sheepish smile cr eeping in on the side of his mouth. Â“Anyway, how old are you?Â” I ask. Â“Fourteen.Â” Â“See, so you only have four more year s until youÂ’re out and gone to college.Â” Knowing he plans to apply to boarding schools next year, I add, Â“Onl y one more to move out if you go to boarding school.Â” Reed grins, Â“Umm hmm. My birthday was yesterday.Â” I respond enthusiastically, Â“Happy Birthday, Reed!Â” He smiles again and says, Â“Thank you.Â” I donÂ’t really want to end the interview, but it is time for classes to change. Thankfully ReedÂ’s attitude and demeanor ha s improved. Â“I think itÂ’s hard to love your life sometimes, especially when you think things are unfair.Â” Reed nods in agreement, but is still smiling. Â“Reed, thank you so much fo r all of your time and doing this interview with me.Â” Smiling, he says, Â“YouÂ’re welcome,Â” as he stands up. As we exited the room together, I felt confident that he was in no immediate danger; however, I was still unsure about wh at to do about our c onversation. I weighed promises of confidentiality and the sense of well bei ng these provide against the possibility of harm in not telling someone else in his life. These deliberations left me with no clear path of action. I turned back to the research I thought would prepare me for this endeavor in the first place. According to Fisher, Higgins-DÂ’Alessa ndro, Rau, Kuther, and Belanger (1996), there are three possible options when confront ed with this type of information from a minor: take no action, report suspected risks to an appropriate adult, or help the adolescent to self-refer to agencies to help him independently seek services. They found that urban adolescents believe d that researchers should brea k confidentiality in cases where an adolescent was likely to hurt hims elf or others. In addition, the youngest group 22 Although Reed has not talked about being in trouble in this secti on of the interview, getting in trouble with his aunt and losing pr ivileges was a recurri ng theme earlier in the interview.
47 in the study, seventh graders, al so believed less severe risks we re appropriate to report to adults (p. 2096). Although reporting a teenag er to an outside authority does break agreements of research conf identiality, oversteps guidelines set up with participants, and causes potential harm (should th e tween be punished by parents or authorities), not reporting may lead to physical or psychological harm, making these ethical questions more than methodological ones. Eder and Corsaro (1999) poi nt out that nonintervention on the part researchers can Â“decrease young peopleÂ’s perceptions of adults as responsible advoc ates on their behalfÂ” (p. 527). Similarly Fisher et al. (1996) say, Even under traditional informed consen t procedures, in which participant confidentiality is assured, adolescents, especially middle schoolers, may expect to be helped when they tell an adult inve stigator they are a victim of abuse or involved in high risk behavior s. An investigatorÂ’s failure to help a teenager who has disclosed such problems may uninten tionally send messages that the problem is unimportant, that no serv ices are available, or th at knowledgeable adults can not be depended upon to help children in need. (p. 2096) In ReedÂ’s situation, I tried to determin e the depth of his feelings of unhappiness and assured him afterward that I was there if he wanted to talk. I also asked enough questions throughout the interview to determine (to the best of my ability) that his sense of unhappiness was not the result of physical or mental abuse. His unhappiness appeared to stem from the amount of things and type of attention that his cousins (his auntÂ’s grandchildren) received in c ontrast to himself. However, I felt unprepared to assess the situation and had minimal ability to he lp alleviate his sense of unhappiness and loneliness. Also, given his ag e (fourteen) it was unlikely th at he would independently seek help, even if I knew where to refer him. In this instan ce, I chose to break confidentiality and te ll the head of school. This decision did not come easily and was based on several factors. First, I consulted two profe ssors familiar with ethnogra phy to seek their advice in the matter. Upon my recounting the event, both ag reed that his telling me (an adult, albeit a special kind of adult) was an important fact or in gauging the seriou sness of the risk. He
48 clearly told an adult, not a peer or friend, a nd as an adult I am understood to have some sort of power and responsibility. However, I worked very hard to become a liminal adult who was seen as less of an authority figure. Had he wanted immediate action he could easily have accessed the school counselor, head of school, or any teacher. This signaled to me that he did not want his di sclosure to become a Â“schoolÂ” matter.23 He also told an adult who had promised confidentiality. Second, I consulted the IRB regulations, wh ich as Fisher et al. (1996) found in their investigation, were ambiguous regarding such confession. Reed did not disclose abuse or make a clear threat to himself or others. He made a statement to me that I remember making many times as an adolescent and that I imagine many feel at some point during their adolescence. Therefore, I did not contact the IRB. Not only did this event not fit into their regulati ons, but I also believe that Scholastic Middle has a support system that is capable and willing to addre ss this matter appropriately. I believed that contacting the IRB would lead to it, and ot her government bureaucracies such as the Florida Department of Children and Fam ilies, becoming involved and these actions would not ultimately be in ReedÂ’s best interest. Finally, based on advice from professors a lack of direction from the IRB documents, and my own knowledge of the school, I made an appointment with the head of school, Mr. Tejera. I decided to speak with Mr. Tejera be cause of both his relationship to the students and the staff. He is highly re spected and trusted by the faculty and staff. His relationship with the students would be the envy of any school administrator. He knows every child by name, reviews their gr ades individually every grading period, meets with them frequently for both disciplin e and rewards, and often informally speaks with them. During most lunch and recess periods, he is among the students. I knew that once I told Mr. Tejera about my conversation with Reed, the decisions regarding how to proceed would be out of my hands. I trusted that he would both listen to my suggestions and ultimately make a deci sion based on ReedÂ’s welfare. Trying to 23 Prior to this interview, I had been pri vy to two student convers ations regarding the desire not to speak to certain teachers or th e guidance counselor because he or she would Â“tell everyone.Â” Therefore, sp eaking with certain school offici als is viewed as tantamount to notifying all adults, an d as such, is a risk.
49 preserve some degree of confidentiality between Reed and me, I told Mr. Tejera I was concerned that Reed was unhappy to an extent that might not be heal thy. After asking me several questions regarding whether I had reas on to believe he was being abused or was an immediate danger to himself, Mr. Tejera determined that he would follow up with Reed without disclosing our c onversation. He mentioned that grades had just come out and Reed had done well, indicati ng that would be a topic of conversation the next time he saw him. He determined he would make an e ffort to pay Reed extra attention and ask him how things were going without involving other members of the staff. Upon leaving his office, I felt confident that I had made the ri ght decision in disclosi ng the incident to Mr. Tejera. I felt comfortable in Mr. TejeraÂ’s ab ility both to make an accurate judgment of ReedÂ’s state of mind given our interaction in his interview and to act on that judgment in ways that would provide the most benefit to Reed. I made this choice based on the relationshi p that I saw the head of school having with the students at Scholastic Middle a nd the one that I believed Reed saw himself having with me. He did not confuse me with a peer; in telling me he told an adult. However, in my liminal role, he was telli ng an adult whom he saw as someone who was okay chat with, not a counselor or Â“officialÂ” person. Given our relationship, one in which I was an adult with adult res ponsibilities but not someone o fficially responsible for his welfare, I believed that breaking confidenti ality was the appropriate response. As I interacted with Reed in the months after our interview (I, like Mr. Tejera, trying to pay him special attention without seeming to), he was happier and even mentioned the head of school congratulating him on his high grades. I reflect on this interaction frequently and am grateful to Mr. Tejera and the other members of Scholastic Middle for providing a supportive and profe ssional atmosphere where Reed was helped without large bureaucrat ic institutions becoming involved. It also makes me reflect on IRB procedures and how th ey are both useful and useless in defining ethical research. Working through numerous questions and definitions regarding confidentiality and risk gave me a framewor k for thinking about this interaction with Reed. I knew that as a person I felt for him a nd wanted to help, but also that it was my responsibility as a researcher to do so. However, the rules of the IRB gave me no footing
50 for acting in ReedÂ’s best inte rest. To consider this an a dverse event, itself not well defined when placed against the wide range of possibilities in hu man interaction, would have placed ReedÂ’s life in further upheaval as various government institutions may have become involved. I donÂ’t believe this was the mo st ethical course of action. Most of all, it makes me grateful for having my own Â“revie w system,Â” friends and scholars, who take these issues seriously and helped me make the best decision. Conclusion I came into this project well versed in qualitative methods and committed to the idea of an ethnographic project. Following the tenets of cri tical ethnography, my research questions inform from the perspectives of marginal populations. In the case of U.S. consumer society, the condemnation placed on the consumption of poor, minority, urban tweens and teens makes them ideal participants in such a study. An ideal research site and population, Scholastic Middle a nd its students were open, critically minded, and willing to sp eak and interact wi th me. Although our interactions didnÂ’t always unfol d as I expected, I learned a lot about the students, about critical auto/ethnography, and about my own ab ilities. My relationships with participants led to interesting and unfores een ethical considerations. At various points in the research I was referred to as old and rich. My ge nder and race were never questioned. Although being an Â“old, rich, white ladyÂ” isnÂ’t how I s ee myself, maintaining my status as a liminal adult made the most important aspect of my identity: someone who Â“wouldnÂ’t tell on you.Â” This chapter elucidates how I interacted in the physical scene and with the participants with which this work took place. Chapter 4 sets the theoretical scene for this work.
51 Chapter 4 Setting the Theoretical Scene How Much Does it Cost? Â“DonÂ’t you know itÂ’s rude to ask people how much things cost?Â” my cousin, Ginny, spits out and exchanges a l ook with her boyfriend, Sam. Shocked, my 9-year-old body tenses up. I st ep back, moving slightly away from her, and turn my back. I refocus my gaze on the gray, scuffed toes of my white Puma tennis shoes purchased at the di scount store Big Lots. They ar enÂ’t the brand I wanted, but I love the three metallic lil ac stripes that run down the sides. I study the grooves in the rubber patch over the toe (which adds to their durability and retro look) and blink as hard and as fast as I can. I donÂ’t know if blinking re ally stops me from crying, but itÂ’s all I can think to do. My shoes blur a bit as the tear s win over my rapidly fluttering eyelids. Â“Please donÂ’t let them see me cry,Â” I think. I donÂ’t know if IÂ’m maki ng this plea to God, myself, or my cousin and her boyfriend. I face the busy street, pretending to be fascinated by the traffic streaming by. My abrupt movement doesnÂ’t seem to register with them; or maybe theyÂ’re just so sick of me and my tactlessness they donÂ’t notice or care. I hope itÂ’s that they donÂ’t notice. I continue to study the traffic as it streams through the once stately and now slightly run-down residential neighborhood. Large, one-hundred-y ear-old houses line th e street. Directly across the street is a brown house with large scalloped shingle siding and thick wooden trim. The trim could use a little paint and the la wn is littered with beer cans, bottles, and other party debris courtesy of the university st udents who rent it fr om one of the Â“absentÂ” landlords who so irritate my grandparents. I focus on the details around me to try and block out what just happened. I know my face is red and splotchy, but after counting the 37th car moving toward Syracuse University, IÂ’m pret ty sure the tears have stoppe d. I move further away from Ginny and Sam to the large maple positioned dire ctly in front of my grandparentsÂ’ house
52 in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. I move around the tree on the pretense of picking weeds. I kneel down and dash my hands across my face to wipe away the tear streaks. I think about what just happened, as I pull the small green shoots from between the pink and red flowers surrounding the tree. I replay it in my mind, and it doesnÂ’t add up. Somehow I offended her by complimenting her ring, but I guess it wasnÂ’t just her ring. This entire week had been different than any IÂ’d ever spent at my grandparents. For the first time ever I had met Ginny, my second cousin, and her boyfriend, Sam. They were in Syracuse for my grandparents' 30th anniversary and my great-grandmotherÂ’s 80th birthday. The family had used these landmark ev ents as an excuse for an extended family reunion. Although many other relatives came, I donÂ’t remember them now. Ginny and Sam were in college and Sam was cute. To my nine-year-old mind they signified what I could be one day. They were like exciting, beau tiful aliens from the planet University. I had never been around anyone who was in college and in love. I needed to know how to be them and about how to become an in-l ove college student my self. Growing up in a household under constant financial stress, my chosen tool of measurement was cost. I kept telling Ginny how much I liked her things and asking how much they cost. I was gathering important information! She hadnÂ’t said anything about it until now. I didnÂ’t know it was rude. I didnÂ’t know I was rude. Foundations of Social Life This project takes for granted that r ace, class, and unavoi dable status as a consumer create complicated performances and understandings of selfÂ—of identityÂ—in a consumer culture. It is an attempt to unde rstand social life and human communication in the realm of consumer culture. This chapter situates my work a nd, in many ways, my understandings of my identi tyÂ—and the identitie s of the tweensÂ—theoretically and empirically in larger knowledge systems. First, I move through a brief overview of contemporary social life and its implications for consumer culture. Next, I apply GiddensÂ’s (1986) structuration theory and FoucaultÂ’s (1977) disciplina ry society to the overall stru ctural and agential tensions
53 inherent in our current consumer system. I also utilize BourdieuÂ’s (1984) concepts of cultural capital, reconversion strategies, and habitus and Mu nozÂ’s (1999) disi dentification theory to further explain how these structur al and agential tens ions are lived through. Third, I discuss identity formation and c onsumer culture from the perspective of impression management (Goffman, 1959), with a particular focus on consumer cultureÂ’s influence on the identity construc tions of poor, minority, urban youth. Radical Modernity Claims about how the world works declare how we see the world as a whole, its components, and the opportunities for d ecision-making and soci al change on an individual and societal level. Ultimately, what we want to know, and at least partially answer, when we declare a label for contem porary life is whether we have any control over what Giddens (1990) calls the Â“jugge rnautÂ” of modern society (p. 139). The modern world has been defined in the last two to three centuries by industrialization. Giddens (1990) sees a Â“r adicalized modernityÂ” in the recent manifestations of globalization and feelings of fragmentation. He claims this is not a postmodern era but Â“modernity coming to understand itselfÂ” (Giddens, 1990, p. 48). As we make the plethora of decisions of everyday life, we look toward the future rather than the past. These decisions are highly influen ced by revisions to enlightenment thinking coupled with human reflexiv ity. Giddens (1990) states, The break with providentia l views of history, the di ssolution of foundationalism, together with the emergence of counter factual future-orien ted thought and the Â“emptying outÂ” of progress by continuous chan ge, are so different from the core perspectives of the Enlightenment as to warrant the view that far-reaching transitions have occurred. Yet referring to these as post-modernity is a mistake that hampers an accurate understanding of their nature and implications. The disjunctions that have taken place should ra ther be seen as resulting from the selfclarification of modern thought, as the remnants of tradit ion and providential outlooks are cleared away. We have not moved beyond modernity but are living precisely through a phase of its radicalization. (p. 51)
54 As modernity has matured and the reflexivity of human agents has entered into everyday decisions, a sense of dislocation and lack of foundation of self and society has become a defining feature of day-to-day life. I find my own call to la te or radicalized modernity through personal experience, an understand ing of the progress narrative, and the construction of consumerism. Personal Experience The first reason I continue to situate our contemporary culture and myself in modernity, rather than postmodernity, is becau se I feel modern. I do not feel disconnected and discombobulated in my everyday life. I have choices to make; I reflect on those choices and am challenged by the many ways of being they represent. At times these choices do lead to feelings of fragmentation. However, I am also, and desire to be, consistently me It is always Liz looking back at he rself in the mirror. It is always she who makes the decisions, no matte r how many choices or what the constraints. I attempt to overcome any fragmentation I feel with a coherent narrative that both guides my life forward and is revised in light of new events and circumstan ces. It is my experience of the everyday that first and foremost suggest s a radically modern life. The opening story of this chapter exemplifies the influence of the progress narrative in my life. My goal in asking Ginny about her ring was to become a better, more Â“in the knowÂ” person, to become like her and achieve that kind of identityÂ—a university student. As I recount the story now, it is as a lived educational experience that has indeed informed and constructed my current u nderstanding of self. It is in this world that I and the tw eens with whom I worked liveÂ—one where a coherent sense of self is sought, even as it is simultaneously created, altered, and limited through innumerable choices, actions, and cons traints. We make choices to progress toward ideal, or at least acceptable, future selves. The Progress Narrative A second feature of modernity that proliferates my life and, therefore, recommends a modern understanding of it is th at the coherent narrat ive I seek, is best understood as a progress narrative. A progress narrative is a historical account that sees humanity as evolving and becoming more humane, intelligent, su ccessful, and so forth.
55 Despite the failure of a teleological historical narrative (one that is destined for a final result or inherent purpose), the progress narrative exists as an achievable future-oriented story for both individuals and society. Even though I can look to history and see that human beings have not always evolved for the better but instead have often meandered and severely regressed, I still seek a progress narrative for my self and use it to critique decisions made on individual, interpersonal, community, national, and international levels. Whatever the past holds, the goal for the future is progress. Throughout my daily life, I make innumerable choices. At the end of the day, week, month, year, and decade, I work to make these choices fit within a na rrative of progress, of positive change and growth regarding achievements in education, financial security, moral behavior, and so forth. Gaddis (2002) says that hi storians Â“interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the futureÂ” (p. 10). Hi storians may construct narratives of entire peoples, nations, and civilizations, but we are a ll historians of our ow n lives, the lives of those we are intimately connected to, and our communities, and we use the same or similar narrative moves to create identity. IÂ’m not the only one engaging in this type of narrative cons truction. The tweens I worked with do as well. They spoke of n eeding to Â“look goodÂ” outside of their homes and the effort they and their parents pu t toward looking good. The tweens Â“looked goodÂ” for both the immediate moment and the futu re. When I asked why it was important to look good even when running errands, they often mentioned that looking good now would benefit them in their future careers. The tweens learned how to dress and groom themselves for the mall, and in so doing they were building skills for the future. Therefore they will be better at a future interv iew or job moment, which will, in turn, take its own place in their progressive life narrative.24 In addition, progress is the goal of Scholastic Middle, which is work ing to build Â“idealÂ” adults. The progress narrative is also the basis for critique of events on a grander scale. National and international changes, choices and movements are critiqued against the goal of progress. Depending on the perspec tive, global warming, genocide, war, and world hunger are all seen as ei ther affronts to the goals of progress or a means for 24 This need to Â“look goodÂ” is instilled in th em by both their parents and peers and is an issue more fully addressed in chapter 6.
56 reaching them. Corporate profits and the standa rd of living of countries are expected to rise, to progress from their current levels. We use the pr ogress narrative as a tool for imagining how current decisions will create a future in which we have evolved and become better. The students of Scholastic Middle expect to become smarter as they progress through school. They believe hard work will get them into good high schools and colleges from which they will emerge with the skills to get good jobs and become more financially secure than their families are now.25 However, they also know it is not just school that will get them where they need to go. They believe the pride they take in dressing themselves will also aid them in this quest. The tweens desire to Â“look goodÂ” shows that, whether on a global or personal scale, we look to consumer goods to aid us in our progress. Construction of Consumerism Advertising, the backbone of a consumer culture, also operates as a narrative of progress. Advertisers tell us we need new pr oducts in order to be betterÂ—more attractive; more feminine or more masculine; more pow erful; more likeable; more organized; more successful; more enlightened; more fit; more in teresting; better pare nts, lovers, spouses, students, and teachers (see Dittmar, 2008). Ou r desire to consume would be greatly diminished without a clear connection betw een consumer goods and personal betterment and progress. Society would be forced to adapt an altered basis for culture and capitalism26 without the desire to consistently buy. Structuration theory offers a vocabulary to better understand the effects of modern ideals and consumer culture on the experience of social life. Structuration Theory GiddensÂ’s (1986) structuration theory offe rs a complex view of late modern life by addressing the relationship of structur e and agencyÂ—both micro and macro, subjective 25 Although meritocracy has little foundation in actual life and upward class mobility is more myth than experience, this does not ch ange the hope these tw eens have regarding their futures. 26 Cohen (1998) traces the move from a producer economy to a consumer economy to RooseveltÂ’s New Deal. Through two strate giesÂ—empowering citizen consumers and utilizing their aggregate purch asing power to pull the nati on out of the depressionÂ—the roles of citizen and consumer became one. Ther efore, our identities as U.S. citizens are tied to consumption.
57 and objective, individual and society, everyda y and grand social theoryÂ—as a Â“dualityÂ” that works to create social life and human interaction (p. xx-xxi). Giddens intentionally moves away from language that separates agen cy and structure as detached processes. Structure is both the medium and outcome of agentsÂ’ conduct. As Richter (2000) states, Â“Structuration theory is concerned with the relationship of structure and agency and the persistence of social systems across time and spaceÂ” (p. 362). The basic premise of structuration theory is that agents determin e structure through thei r actions, as structure simultaneously enables and constrains those actions and gives them meaning. They are mutually reinforcing. The interrogation of the interaction be tween agent and structure is key to understanding consumer culture and consum ption practices. Consumers act at the junctures of personal identity, relationshi ps, advertising, cons umer culture, and capitalism, among other systems. Consumer cu lture acts as a structuring force that socializes individuals to s eek to create, supplement, a nd alter their identities through consumption. Our agency is achieved in the creation, supplementati on, and alteration of our identities through consumpti on. In other words, consumers are in a constant state of influencing and being influenced by the structures involved in consumption. Structuration theory has been used in va rying disciplines, within several contexts, and with differing goals (see Bryant & Ja rey, 2001). In communi cation, it has largely been used by those studying organizations (Banks and Riley, 1993; Bastien, McPhee, & Bolton, 1995; Contractor & Eisenberg, 1990; Howard & Geist, 1995; Poole, & McPhee, 1983; Scott, Corman, & Cheney, 1998; Whitmer, 1997). It is useful for analysis of organizations because it takes into account the simultaneous influence of both employee agency and organizational constraints, such as work content, rules, hierarchy, and architecture on communication and unders tanding. Communication is key to both expressions of agency and stru cture. Banks and Riley (1993) hail structuration theory as an opportunity for a unifying overarching th eory for communicat ion researchers. Conversely, Conrad (see also Richter, 2000) proposes that communication has a great deal to offer structuration theory.
58 The use of structuration theory in communication currently outstrips its use in studies of consumer culture. In consumer culture studies, Mois io, Arnould, and Price (2004) use structuration theory to discuss the construction of family identity through food, and Gauntlett (2002) uses it to e xplain identity formation through television. Drawing on Reckwitz (2002) and Schatz ki, Knorr Cetina, and von Savigny (2001), Warde (2005) calls for the use of Â“theories of practice,Â” which are ne ither individualistic nor holistic but explain soci al life from both aspects of consumption. Warde cites GiddensÂ’s structuration theory as a key th eoretical framework for understanding both the micro and macro aspects of consumpti on and avoiding Â“methodol ogical individualist accounts of Â‘the consumerÂ’Â” while creating wo rk Â“concerned as much with what people do and feel as what they mean Â” (p. 132). Although not referenc ing structuration theory in particular, Chin (2001) likewise states, Despite the importance of individual choices poverty is struct urally determined by such elements as an increasingly globalized economy, institutionalized racism, unequal provision of goods and services, policymaking, social geography, and a host of other factors not in control of a ny given individual, an d least of all a poor one living in an urban ghetto. This is not to say that individual decisions can have no impact on either life traj ectories or structural factor s, but rather to make the point that any framework that gives undue weight to either agency or structure is fundamentally flawed. (p. 44) Therefore attending to the leve ls of both structure and ag ency in the lives of the tweens in this study is essent ial to building a useful unders tanding of the ways they engage consumer culture. To set a foundati on for a holistic and yet nuanced study, I will lay out a brief synopsis of structuration theo ry, paying special attent ion to structuration, structure, agency, discursive consciousness, practical c onsciousness, the unconscious, reflexivity, and ontological security. I begi n my explanation with the concept of structuration. I then move on to its two ove rarching concepts: struct ure and agency. Next, I enter into a discussion of th e various types of knowledge in fluencing the agency enacted by individuals. After addressi ng two key critiques made agai nst structuration theory, I will connect it to the theories of Foucault, Bourdieu, and Munoz in order to further flesh
59 out the theoretical basis for this study. Finall y, I will address identity as enacted through impression management (Goffman, 1959) and st udies that attend to this poor, urban, minority youth consumption. Structuration In a slightly more understandable defini tion than GiddensÂ’s own, J. H. Turner (1991) says, Â“Structuration is, therefore, the dual processes [structure and agency] in which rules and resources are used to orga nize interaction across time and in space and, by virtue of this use, to re produce or transform these rule s and resourcesÂ” (p. 526-527). Specifically, structuration is the process wher eby social relations and individual actions create structures that remain relatively stable across time and space. Structures are neither solidified nor stable; instead, structures are perpetuated to appear so by the continued taking of action (Giddens & Pierson, 1998). Structure is created, maintained, and tran sformed through the actions of agents or the agency of human actors. Without structur e, agents would have no meaningful context for actions, and without actions structure would not be form ed and perpetuated. This is the Â“duality of structure,Â” th e core of how structuration comes about. Agents act and these actions affect social systems, while social systems allow and constrain agentsÂ’ actions. This process of mutual influence be tween structure and agen cy is continuous and simultaneous. Structure and Agency Giddens defines structure as Â“the rules a nd resources recursively implicated in the reproduction of social systemsÂ” (Giddens, 1986, p. 377). Rules are the patterns of social life. Resources are the means through whic h power is exercised in these patterns. Structure enables and constrains social action, but structure is something created and used by actors, not an external reality, a Â“t hing,Â” used on, for, or against actors. Structure can be transformed or reaffirmed as actors use its rules and resources in real, concrete social situa tions. It is transformative a nd flexible and depends upon the Â“regularities of social reproductionÂ” (Giddens & Pierson, 1998, p. 77). Although structures exist only through hu man action and can, therefore, be changed by that action, they remain relatively stable because people co ntinue to reproduce them and thus have a
60 self-preserving bias. For example, as citizens in a consumer culture, we continue to place value on material goods beyond their use valu e, we continue to buy and reproduce the structure that determines that we need new things (better things, more things) than are necessary for survival or even a modest le vel of comfort. As agents/consumers we buy and perpetuate the structure of consumer culture. The compliance of agents is necessary for structures to be produced, reproduced, and transformed. However, agents are not aware that their actions aff ect structures due to the resources agents have access to and th e rules they are bound by in everyday life situations. Giddens and Pierson (1998) state, The apparent objectivity of the social wo rld, the ways that it appears, from the point of view of any individual, ordere d and rule-governed, are in reality an unintended consequenceÂ—an outcome ne ither premeditated nor designed by any one person or groupÂ—of the routinized pract ices that all individuals must employ in order to conduct their daily affairs. (p. 12) Giddens defines agency as the events or actions an agent perpetuates, not their intentions, meant ends, motivations, and so forth. Agency is enacted in the visible consequences of a personÂ’s actions (Gidde ns 1986; Giddens and Pierson, 1998; J. H. Turner, 1991). An important quest ion to ask is how is power created or wielded in this action-central relationship between agency and structure. Giddens criticizes notions of power that favor the capability of actors to freely act or the bi as built into institutions, and again calls for understanding agency and struct ure as related expres sions of power and a feature of the duality of st ructure. He goes on to say, Power within social systems, which enjoy some continuity over time and space, presumes regularized relations of aut onomy and dependence between actors or collectivities in contexts of social interaction. But al l forms of dependence offer some resources whereby those who are subor dinate can influenc e the activities of their superiors. (Giddens, 1986, p. 16) Structures encourage some actions more th an others but often cannot fully deny other actions. Similar actions taken over time beco me regionalized and r outinized, which leads to the creation and recr eation of structures.
61 GiddensÂ’s use of the term Â“regionaliza tionÂ” is largely borrowed from Goffman (1959), who states that locales differ in terms of their modes (boundariesÂ—physical and symbolic, duration across time, span in physical space, and character), disclosure of self, and extent of understanding of front stage ( public) and back stage (private) performance aspects (Goffman, 1959; J. H. Turner, 1991). R outinization is achieved when interaction is relegated in an orderly and predictabl e mannerÂ—when participants understand the basic composition of what will happen in a given situation. Routines extend social structures across time and space through the techniques of opening and closing rituals, turn taking, tact, positioni ng, and framing (Goffman, 1959; J. H. Turner, 1991). For example, in the region of the classroom, the routines of teacher and students are established in ways that a student or teacher can enter most classrooms or lecture halls and have a relatively precise idea of how to act and how and where events will unfold.27 Regionalization creates routines, which further create social institutions that are relatively stable and remain intact over time and space. Ag ents know what the structure expects in terms of their actio ns; therefore, they act in accordance with the region and routine. Thus, they reproduce its structur e. Actors ground institutions in time and space by orienting Â“their bodies and self in regionalized and rout inized situations of copresenceÂ” (J. H. Turner, 1991, p. 536-537), while these actions and stages are simultaneously shaped by structure. The regi onalized and routinized behaviors of agents are enabled by the possessi on of certain knowledges. Agent Knowledges In order to understand the regionalization and routini zation of action, as well as the ability to participate in so cial life, agents must have certain knowledge and reflexivity regarding information. Social life would cease to function without th e reflexive use of discursive and practical knowledges and social actorsÂ’ unconscious knowledge. Reflexivity can be understood as self-cons ciousness and Â“the monitored character of the ongoing flow of social lifeÂ” (Giddens, 1986, p. 3). Reflexiv ity is the ability to make sense of social life by finding, recognizing, a nd using patterns and rules. Reflexivity is how we come to know others and structure. It is the capability to see oneÂ’s self and social 27 Of course, routines will vary by culture and other circumstances.
62 processes. Reflexivity is enabled by both the co ntinuity of social pr actices and the various knowledges that agents hold. People, whether they consciously real ize it or not, carry with them extensive knowledge about how social life works. Giddens (1986) identifies three areas of knowledge that all agents possess: discursive practical, and unconscious. Social actors are aware of each of these knowledges at different levels. Discursive knowledge is explicit knowl edge. It is the know ledge that Â“we know what we knowÂ” and can articulate and explain it to others. For instance, getting dressed is a complex practice that has many rules, as we ll as many instances where the rules morph into new ones or are broken. There are appr opriate outfits for di fferent audiences and occasions. Often stores are even organized according to these different events, for instance, casual, work, working out, and formal events. This is a form of discursive consciousness, because I not only understand it, but I can also eas ily articulate it to others. Interestingly, my ability to articulate it is partly becau se it is clearly differentiated in the consumer system. Discur sive or explicit knowledge is only one relatively small part of our knowledge base. A greater degree of our knowledge about soci al life lies not in discursive but in practical consciousness. Practi cal consciousness is what is known in the doing, but not necessarily available for articulation by actor s. In regards to practical consciousness, Bernstein (1986) states, We are not Â“cultural dopesÂ” nor are we agen ts who are self-trans parently aware of what we are doing. We are always in the process of making history in circumstances that are not of our choos ing, and we are not (and cannot be) fully aware of what we are doing and making. (p. 241) An example of practical consciousness is knowledge about gender and attention to clothing. Growing up I know th at girls were supposed to ha ve more clothes. And care more about those clothes than boys.28 I did not know why and my (and my brotherÂ’s) 28 Although an arguably generalized assumption in mainstream U.S. culture the weight of these assumptions is based in the particul ar circumstances of my upbringing. Growing up 20 years ago, in the rural South, and under th e influence of religious conservatism, the distinctions between what was appropriate for boys and girl s/ men and women were more distinct than they are currently for many groups. Obviously, the tweens in this study do not have the same understandings.
63 successful functioning in our world was not dependent upon our abilities to articulate these differences, only to follow them. As I began to reflect on norms regarding gender and attention to clothing, I moved this knowledge from practical to discursive consciousness where I can articulate and interroga te it. Below the levels of discursive and practical consciousness is the unconscious. The unconscious is repressed and unknown yet motivates us to find ontological security (i.e. the nature of the Â“realÂ”). We move through the world with a feeling of relative safety because ontological security al lows us to achieve trust with others and reduce anxiety. The ability to predict what is likely to happen and to know what is appropriate through the unconsci ous understanding of regionaliz ation and routinization is both necessary to achieve ontological security and an unconscious incentive to perpetuate structures. A great deal of motivation for action comes from the unconscious. Often this knowledge can be seen as instinctual and is separated from practical and discursive consciousness. Insurance operates on this le vel. Taglines like Â“YouÂ’re in good hands,Â” and Â“WeÂ’ve got you covered,Â” are intended to soothe our anxi ety about the unknown. Even if the unpredictable happens, a company is there to make the c onsequences of that event predictableÂ—we will be returned to our present and known state through financial compensation. Along with unintended consequen ces, which will be discussed later, the unconscious serves as a key boundary upon knowledge. Structuration theory offers a rich basi s for an analysis of the influence of consumer culture on the identity constructi ons of poor, minority, urban, tweens because it intertwines agency and structure. An individu alÂ’s agency is not free from the constraints of structure. These constraints are more severe for those in marginalized populations (see Chin, 2001). The students of Scholastic Middle have severe limitations placed on their thoughts, actions, and understandings of th e systems that constrain them. Consumer culture is one of those constraining (and enabling) systems. It fills some of the need for ontological security, which lies in the unconscious, and certainly operates at the levels of the practical more often than the discursive However, the students are also working consciously to make consumer decisions carefu lly and with the strategic goals of care and belonging in mind. The students ut ilize the resources of the consumer system, even as
64 they are constrained by it and the hierarchies of class, race, and age. Although structuration theory is a useful tool for fr aming these tweensÂ’ identity work, it is heavily critiqued regarding agen cy and social change. Critiques Structuration theory is not without its critics (see Archer, 1982, 1995, 1996; Willmott, 1999). The critiques of most concern for this project are t hose dealing with the limits of agency and the ability for st ructural change a nd transformation. Many, myself included, are wary of placi ng the entire fate and functioning of social systems and human society within agency. Purely agential arguments allow societal institutions free rei gn in terms of how they/we attempt to control human lives. Many who have studied the urban poor (s ee Bourgois, 1995; Chi n, 2001; Macleod, 1987; Nightingale, 1993) problematize overemphasizing individual agency without attending to structural constraints. The unref lexive rhetoric of the indivi dual perpetuates the system by ignoring systemic ramifications on peopleÂ’s liv es. Structuration theory has been accused of inadequately critiquing structures by focu sing too heavily on the level of the individual (e.g., Archer, 1982, 1995, 1996; Willmott, 1999). Archer (1982, 1995, 1996) and Willmott (1999) argue for the use of analytical dualism (a separation of agency and structure) rather than duality of structure (seeing agency a nd structure as dependent parts of the same process) believing that it reduces structure to agency (because structure is only reproduced through human action). However, at no point does Giddens cl aim complete freedom to choose among infinite possible actions. Actions are always constrained; however, there is always some degree of choice among actions. In addition, th e disagreement regarding the definitions and differentiations between socialization and agency means that the ability to act is confused with the desire to act. Giddens and Pierson (1998) warn against confusing agency with socialization. One mustnÂ’t confuse the logi cal notion of agency with the sociological notion of socialization. One is part of an explanati on of what it is to be a human being in the first place, while the ot her is much more an account of what actually happens
65 to certain kinds of person in certain kinds of setting as a result of social influences around them. Â‘Social influences Â’ arenÂ’t like causal connect ions in nature. (p. 79) Although agents are constrained by motivations (the desire to be successful, belong, survive, etc.) and limitations (around race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and resources available, etc.) of the system, individua ls still make choice s, and choices are manifestations of agency. For Giddens and Pi erson, agency is the ability to have acted otherwise. Â“All social constrai nts are only constraints in te rms of motives or interests actors haveÂ” (1998, p. 85). Social constraints do not prohibit the ability to act; they make actions detrimental, unattractive, even unknown, but not impossible. Use of agency does not mean that individua ls necessarily reali ze, at any level of consciousness, the ramifications of their actio ns and therefore inte ntionally perpetuate structures. Actors may not know (and often certainly do not know), even in practical consciousness, the entire set of ramifications and breadth of a single structure they rebuild through action. Structures are in some respects external processes for individual actors. As Giddens and Pierson (1998) write Â“The individual doesnÂ’t carry within himself or herself the whole ga mut of social lifeÂ” (p. 87). Giddens does not paint for us an entirely volitional subject, but one who acts both to maintain and change the social system a nd therefore perpetuates the structure. Given concerns about Â“blamingÂ” human actors for soci al systems and my particular goal in this work to bring complexity to accusations of hedonism, selfishness, and irrationality leveled at poor, urban, minority tweens for their choices in consuming, a theory which says structure is recursively created by agents may seem an odd choice. However, although the agents I am working with are se verely constrained by the systems of race, class, and age, among others, and I am work ing with them in the highly structured environment of Scholastic Middle, they ar e also agents in the terms set forth by structuration theoryÂ—they are individuals who act in the world. The tweens have choices, albeit limited choices, about how to act a nd how to make sense (knowledge) of their actions. Structuration theory accounts for the constraints placed on them by multiple structures, as well as the consequences of and sensemaking around their actions.
66 Another, and seemingly opposite, critique leve led at structuration theory is that it does not adequately account for social change For Giddens, change is incremental and focused on the individual, as she is in the process of creating and upholding the structure. Although it is always initially harder to change to move against momentum and bias, it is possible. Giddens sees social change as co ming about through human reflexivity and the movement of knowledge from practical c onsciousness to discursive consciousness.29 How structuration theory accounts for social ch ange is an especia lly pertinent question when studying consumer culture, a system that is dependent upon change (although not social change)30 for its survival. Consumer culture thrives on planned obsolescence. If a large portion of the population bought one set of furniture, on e car, one wardrobe, or one home and was satisfied at least until that object had lost all use value (i.e., until the furniture breaks, the car no longer works, the clothes no longer fit or are torn, the house falls apart), the consumer system would cease to operate. Constant change is the rule of this system. The ability to consume is the resource both for achieving this change and being a full member of the system. Understanding change as a constant is not as disjointed a concept as it may first appear, and it offers the basis for explanat ion of consumer class immobility. Bourdieu (1984) found that in Â“reconversion strategiesÂ” change is the only constant in the ways that those in the lower realms of the class hier archy try to catch up with and emulate the higher realms. One group cannot catch up to another through th e purchase of goods previously used by that class (for instance education or a particul ar designer brand), because the class above will simply move on to another symbol of status, thereby cancelling out any status that might have b een gained. As Bourdieu (1984) states, The actions whereby each class (or class fraction) works to win new advantages, i.e., to gain an advantage over the other classes and so, objectively, to reshape the structure of objective relations between th e classes (the relations revealed by the 29 The movement of knowledge from the uncons cious to practical conscious is rare because of its often repressed nature. 30 Consumer culture does not depend upon soci al change, but does incorporate social change into the system. For instance, a more mobile society creates a need for cell phones and laptop computers. It could also be argued that a mo re mobile society was enabled by mobile technology.
67 statistical distributions of properties), are compensated for (and so cancelled out ordinarily) by the reactions of the other classes, directed toward the same objective. In this particular (though very common) case, the outcome of these opposing actions, which cancel each other out by the very counter movements that they generate, is an overall displacem ent of the assets of the distribution. (p. 157) It is the distance between the classes, rather than individual status symbols, which is maintained by a constant changing of what constitutes a class In a close approximation of Bourdieu Â’s reconversion strategies, Poole and McPhee (1983), in their applic ation of structuration theory to organizational climate, state, Â“Members use rules and resources to main tain their places or to attempt to rise in the hierarchy; the structure of rules and resources thus produces the status systemÂ” (p. 210). Here the authors are re ferring to organizational hi erarchy, but the moves that produce the status system are the same movements Bourdieu (1984) documents for class status. The use of the rules and resources inherent in the structure reproduce the same hierarchies and structures. For instance, the purchasing of Louis Vuitton bags and purses became popular in the middle and lower classe s in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and, as such, the market for fake versions explode d. As purchasing these copycat bags became a popular reconversion strategy among the lower cl asses, it became necessary for those in the upper class to be adept at pointing out the distinctions be tween fake and real versions as well as to move on to other styles. This counter-action cancels out any movement by the lower classes in the hierarchy. The rules of status consumpti on demand that one is always consuming the new status ite m and changing their consumption. The need for constant change is the case not only for the consumer system but also, some argue, for the continuance of late modern life (Senne tt, 1998; Taylor, 1991). To change is to take a chance on something ne w. The need to constantly change is the need to constantly be at risk. These human needs in the late modern era of seemingly infinite choices fit the agenda of consumer culture. Late mode rnity is full of choices, and it demands that we engage with them to function in social life and seek out our Â“authenticÂ” future and selves (Taylor, 1991). Th e progress narrative is still in force in our
68 late modern time. Progress is achieved thr ough change, and one way change is achieved is in the consumer system. Structuration th eory, reconversion stra tegies, and a futureoriented progress narrative help explain how individuals create and make sense of their identities in late modernity vi a participation as consumers. Many of those who critique GiddensÂ’s st ructuration theory for its emphasis on agency adhere to a more Foucauldian id ea of disciplined agency (Foucault, 1977). Discipline is essential to the perpetuation of the consum er system. Thus FoucaultÂ’s concept deserves note here. However, I do not see these theories as mutually exclusive; as such, I link structuration to discipline in order to draw a clearer picture of consumer culture as it operates in the lives of poor, minority, urban youth. The Disciplinary Society FoucaultÂ’s Discipline and Punish (1977) details the modern system of disciplinary power. He begins his analysis with the pr ison system and expands considerations of disciplinary power to a model of control of society. Disciplina ry power pervades societal institutions, including prisons, hospitals, schoo ls, corporate organizati ons, social services, and families. The primary function of disciplinary power is to prohibit and correct deviant behaviors. It is a power as much concerned with what has not been done (nonobservance) as with what has (meeting so cietal standards); therefore, agency is firmly controlled by societal pressures. Disciplinary power shapes a docile b ody and punishes those bodies that are undisciplined by training the body and theref ore society. Disciplinary power trains through three main tools of control: hierarch ical observation, normalizing judgment, and examination. I will define the docile body and then explain how it is created through the use of these three tools. Docile Bodies Docile bodies are supremely efficient and act with minimum disruption and objection to societal norm s. Foucault (1977) writes, In short, it disassociates power from the body; on the one hand, it turns it into an Â‘aptitudeÂ’, a Â‘capacityÂ’, wh ich it seeks to increase; on the other hand, it reverses
69 the course of the energy, the power that might result from it, and turns it into a relation of strict subjection. (p. 138) At Scholastic Middle, like most schools, the docile body of the student is one who sits quietly, focuses on work, and participat es appropriately (i.e raising oneÂ’s hand, answering questions directly, not challe nging the teacher in ways considered inappropriate). This ubiquitous training is naturalized, so the beha vior of a good student is not seen as a system of rules imposed on a body that are not natu ral to it and perhaps even antithetical to how a child, tween, or teenÂ’s body shoul d be expected to behave. Through discipline, routinized bodily behavior s and actions (being qui et and still) come to be seen as what the body does naturally when an individual behaves. In contrast to the docile body, the undisciplined body is one that refuses to do these things. This body is punished, but it must fi rst be identified. Hierarchical Observation Discipline is enabled only when th e undisciplined body is identified through observation, normalization, and examination. In a disciplinary society one is always under the impression one is being observed. Â“T he exercise of discipline presupposes a mechanism that coerces by means of obs ervationÂ” (p. 170). General visibility (theoretically addressed through the exampl e of Jeremy BenthamÂ’s Panopticon prison) makes the individual known. The Panopticon opera tes Â“to transform i ndividuals; to act on those it shelters, to provide a hold on their c onduct, to carry the eff ects of power right to them, to make it possible to know them to alter themÂ” (Foucault, 1977, p. 172). Bodies living in a state of permanent yet unverifiable visibility brings about the ultimate control of the disciplinary societyÂ—self-discipline. The automatic functioning of power is assured because docility has been internalized. The indi vidualÂ’s docility and utility are maximized with minimum effort through the assumptive fear of constant surveillance. The students of Scholastic Middle are observed throughout the school day. What they say, how they say it, how they stand or si t, their facial expressions, how they wear their uniformsÂ—all are aspects of their behavior that are surveilled (and presumed to be surveilled) by school officials. Students are disciplined not just to encourage attendance
70 to course tasks, but also to be acceptabl e citizens according to middle-class, white standards. The students realize they ar e under surveillance by school and society in general. The efforts they make to Â“look goodÂ” are exampl es of self-surveillanc e in order to avoid punishment and gain reward from strangers They attempt to look like acceptable members of consumer culture to garner care and respect. Discipline is internalized to the extent that they feel more respect for them selves when they follow the norms of looking good. This self-surveillance is an effect of normalizing judgment. Normalizing Judgment Disciplinary power relies on observa tion as well as normalizing judgment. Normalizing judgment acts as both penalty and reward. A high ranking is a reward for good behavior and successful exercise, while lowering of rank is a punishment for not performing appropriately. Exercise is key to this punishment, and discipline favors punishments that are exercise, that can be used to reform (Foucault, 1977, p. 179). Students at Scholastic Middle are both punished and exercised for bad grades by being given extra study hall periods in place of extr acurricular activities. Th is punishment also serves to normalize good grades. Normalizing is a mechanism of value; it establishes a good ve rsus bad dichotomy (Foucault, 1977, p. 181). Foucault says, Â“The perp etual penality that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the discipli nary institutions compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes Â” (1977, p. 183). We are encouraged to behave appropr iately out of a desire for reward. Rewards are just as powerful, if not more powerful, than a desi re not to be punished (p. 180). The motivation for normalcyÂ—achieving reward and avoiding punishmentÂ—can be held at any level (discursive, practical, or unc onscious) of consciousness. Rewards and gaining rank are treated as normal. Often these rewards and puni shments are the result of an examination of some sort. Examination Bringing together hierarchical observati on and normalizing judgment is the most ritualized aspect of training the disciplined bodyÂ—examination vi a a dialectic of visibility
71 of the subject and invisibility of pow er (Foucault, 1977, p. 184). Examinations are frequent at Scholastic Middle, and not just as course tests. The st udentsÂ’ behaviors are examined and marked passable (docile) or flawed (undisciplined) Docile bodies are rewarded with praise or a lack of discipli ne. When flawed, students are given exercises (like extra study hall periods) to improve thei r behavior. These exercises vary, but all have the same goalÂ—reform. FoucaultÂ’s (1977) disciplinar y power is enacted through the training of the docile body. This body is limited and coerced through its training into behaving as the structure demands. For Foucault, operating outside of th e discourse created by discipline is largely impossible. Power restricts and alters will, making an individual want to behave according to the rules of the system at pr actical and unconscious levels (Giddens, 1986). Agency is altered in such subtle and ubiquit ous ways as to make agency or will itself altered. Foucault and Giddens see the concept of altered will versus agency differently. Although their theories utilize different terminology and ideology, they are not incompatible. In fact, as the next section details, they are complimentary when it comes to consumer culture, identity, and the ma rginalized group of poor, minority, urban tweens. Docile Bodies as Structural Agents Where FoucaultÂ’s views on agency ar e limited and perhaps limiting, GiddensÂ’s structuration theory (1986) has been accused of granting too much power to individuals (Archer, 1982, 1995, 1997; Willmott, 1999). Bo th theories recognize, although to different extents, that human beings are both actors and acted upon. For Giddens, agency is the ability to have done otherwise, nothing more or le ss. FoucaultÂ’s techniques of discipline make doing otherwise highly regula ted and undesirable, though not impossible. Also, both theorists point out the limitations of individual knowledge. These limitations are especially detrimental for those outside of the dominant group and discourse, because they can be used as the basis for puni shment for veering from the status quo. Like GiddensÂ’s practical consciousness (1986), Foucau lt says the docile body is created Â“not simply at the le vel of consciousness, of repr esentations and in what one
72 thinks one knows, but at the level of what makes possible the knowledge that is transferred into political investmentÂ” (Foucault, 1977, p. 185). This level of knowledge largely exists in practical and discursive knowledge. Although pract ical knowledge can be reflected upon and challenged at the discursive level, the barrier between practical and unconscious knowledge makes these motivatio ns toward docility difficult, if not impossible, to question. Thus, both theori sts acknowledge the difficulty of reasoned resistance to societal structur es. Not only do structures have a self-preserving bias, but we are also often unaware of all the structures by which we are confined. We are likely to act in ways that perpetuate current power struct ures because of a combination of a lack of awareness of the structures that enable, conf ine, and define us; our need for ontological security; and the intertwined activities of se lf-surveillance, normalizing judgment, and examination, all of which make rout inization and regulation preferable. The tweens at Scholastic Middle use the re sources of consumer culture to deal with FoucaultÂ’s (1977) tr ap of visibility in order to create Â“normalÂ” identities. They cannot completely or consistently access th eir positions in the various systems that confine them, however, because of the limitati ons of invisibility of power (Foucault, 1977) and discursive consciousness (Giddens 1986). Their decisions perpetuate their individuality and delinquency (in Foucault Â’s terminology) when they buy, and buy into, stereotypical name brands and fashion c hoices and when they do not. Given these constraints and limitations how do poor, minor ity, urban tweens, or anyone for that matter, learn to navigate the structur es and disciplines that surround them? Habitus and Cultural Capital BourdieuÂ’s (1984) concepts of Â“habitus Â” and Â“cultural capital Â” directly address these knowledges and lack thereof in the real m of class and consumption. We learn about the structures of society from our families and communities. Our families and communities provide us with our habitus, our dispositions toward things (food, clothing, relaxation, etc.) that lead us to make part icular choices (Bourdi eu, 1984). The tweens at Scholastic Middle make choices about how to look or behave based on what they have learned from their families and communities, learning they refer to as Â“home training.Â”31 31 Further discussed in chapter 7.
73 The knowledge gained from the tweensÂ’ partic ular habitus is their cultural capital. However, their decisions are based on Â“faultyÂ” information from the point of view of the dominant classes. From the perspective of the dominant classes, the tweens cannot perform appropriately because they do not have the know ledgeÂ—the cultural capitalÂ— with which to make Â“betterÂ” decisions. Those with dominant, and therefore more powerful, cultural capital do not respect the tweens' non-domi nant cultural capital (see Carter, 2003). The tweensÂ’ consumption deci sions mark them as undisciplined bodies identified for either further training or de linquent, hedonistic status Similarly GramsciÂ’s concept of hegemony shows: All social relations involve power. One cons equence of this is the fact that how subalterns see the world is in part a product of their subordinate and dominated position. Their world-view necessarily come s into being in the context of lives lived in conditions of subordination and of hegemonic accounts reflecting how the world appears from the perspective of societyÂ’s dominant groups. (Crehan, 2002, p. 116) Like everyoneÂ’s, the twee nsÂ’ worldview is limited.32 However, unlike those in power, the limitations of their worldview can be used to punish them for falling away from the hegemonic status quo. It is par tially this lack of a habitus imbued with dominant cultural capital that leads to what can be called delinquent or abnormal (Foucault, 1977) or spoiled or stigmatized (Go ffman, 1963) identities. Although they are unfounded, th ese critiques have materi al consequences and are the basis that dominant culture provides young Black children for the formation of identity. They are some of the most indi vidual, and therefore delinquent, members of society in FoucaultÂ’s terminology. As such, they are closely observed by members of society (such as store security) and are re presented in the media as undisciplined identities. Although they have a great d eal of knowledge and non-dominant cultural capital provided by their families and comm unities, this knowledge does not translate 32 Though a limited view and one not respec ted in many settings where the dominant discourse reigns, their non-dom inant cultural capital should not be understood as having no cultural capital (Carter, 2003).
74 into docile bodies and identities. Instead, they are seen as delinquent and must find ways to navigate this stigma (Goffman, 1963). Disidentifications Individuals whose identities are seen as delinquent because of their race, class, and taste engage in various strategies to co mbat both negative images and the material consequences of punishment by the majority. Many, if not all, of these strategies are learned through the non-dominant habitus, wh ich models ways to promote not only group identification and therefore so cial support but also ego pr otection (Carter, 2003). Munoz (1999) calls these strategies Â“dis identifications,Â” and writes, Disidentification is meant to be descriptive of the surv ival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majorita rian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the exis tence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship. (p. 4) Disidentification allows minor ity subjects to enact identitie s that Â“work with/resist the conditions of (impossibility) that dominant cultu re generatesÂ” (p. 6). Disidentification can be understood as remembering and seeing what we need for our own self-formation, even when that reading does not match that of domi nant culture. For example, the students of Scholastic Middle work to Â“look goodÂ” to coun teract assumptions about themselves and their families as delinquent (Foucault, 1977) a nd spoiled (Goffman, 1963) identities. This is a mode of disidentific ationÂ—neither identifying nor counteridentifying with the dominant culture. Munoz (1999) adds disidentification to identification and counteridentification as a third mode of subject construction by ideolo gical practices. In disi dentification, neither assimilation nor strict opposition takes place: Disidentification is a strategy that works on and agains t dominant ideology. Instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification, utopianism), this Â“w orking on and againstÂ” is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact
75 permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local or everyday structures of resistance. (Munoz, 1999, p.11-12) The tweens operate within this complex sp ace between the dominant and non-dominant cultures they inhabit. To enact disidentifica tion people must use their agency to interact with the rules and resources of the systems that surround th em, in ways that challenge and destabilize this structure. Munoz (1999) is primarily talking ab out individuals who are negotiating more than one minority identity at a time (particula rly queers of color), bu t the idea is useful for looking at the ways the st udents of Scholastic Middle resi st rules and categories. The tweens are very much caught within and betw een the stereotypes th at all but mythologize them, their families, friends, and neighbors. They are caught between family, peer, and community cultures; the expectations of c onsumer culture; and their own aspirations molded partly by differing horizons, as they inhabit the white, mi ddle-class space of school and the opportunities (and limitations) it presents. Structuration (Giddens, 1986) and discip line (Foucault, 1977) are both theories that attempt to explain the gra nd structures that organize soci al life and their effects on individuals. Bourdieu (1984) and Munoz (1999) offer clarific ation in their concepts of habitus, cultural capital, and disidentification to flesh out th e ways that agents are enabled and constrained in society. Key to the ways i ndividuals operate in th e world is identity. Although identity has been addressed in various ways thus far, it is now necessary to focus on its particular relationship to consum er culture and poor, minority, urban tweens. Consumer Culture and Identity This section addresses how contemporary ways of being affect the creation of identity in a consumer culture. Identity ha s both personal and social dimensions (see Dittmar, 2008; Erikson & Erikson, 1997; Jenki ns, 1996), meaning that it is both a subjective evaluation of how a person feels a bout or views herself as well as how she believes others see and feel about her. Like structure and agency, the personal and social are in constant interplay, one always affec ting the other. Identity is multifaceted and includes various and diverse qualities, even material objects, (see Dittmar, 2008; Erikson & Erikson, 1997; W. James, 2007; Jenkins, 1996). Although most commonly thought of
76 as an aspect of agency, identity is directly connected to the stru ctures and disciplines surrounding an individual. This discussion addr esses the plurality of identity in late modern social life; how consumer culture c ontributes to this plurality; and the ways performance theory informs understandings of public and privat e identity display, especially as it concerns stigma and poor, minority, urban youth. Financial resources broaden the range of so cial identities available to us. Many, if not most, consumer choices are class-based be cause of the wide gap in resources between the rich and poor. Products are marketed a nd bought based on class affiliation and identity. Consumers are formed in a class hi erarchy based on the set of expectations and products of their class (Adorno & Horkheimer, 2000). Wealthy people have a wider array of consumer options available through which to define themselves including: homes, lawns, education, travel, exclusive restaurants, cars, and personal appearance enhancements such as designer clothing, grooming, and more advanced beautification technologies. Be cause the poor have limited or no access to many of these status symbols, they focus on more attainable desi res like clothing and body modification (Chin, 2001; Kotl owitz, 1999, 2000; Quart, 2003). Clothing is a key component of personal appearance and identity display. Crane (2000) writes that as the firs t widely available consumer ite m, clothes have often served as an indulgence for all class levels. Garments comprise a sy mbolic system that indicate to us the personal, social, political, and ec onomic identity of the wearer (Calfeto, 2004; Chin, 2001). Chin (2001) details the histor y of slavery and clothing, showing that historically clothing had speci al importance for African-Ameri cans. It was one of the few consumer items slaves could afford to buy when allowed to work for wages (only a percentage of which they were allowed to keep). Also, given the prevalent practice of white owners raping slaves, skin color was often not a clear i ndicator of race. Therefore, the shabbiness and inadequacy of slave clothi ng sometimes served as a clearer indication of slave status than skin color. Through cl othing, many aspects of identity and status are communicated, and so if one already had lig hter skin buying nicer clothing helped remove another marker of slave status (Chin, 2001).
77 Clothing is one item inexpensive enough for the poor to consume. However, they cannot consume all forms of clothing, nor can they necessarily consume enough at a time or often enough, or from the Â“r ightÂ” retailers to build adequa te wardrobes in terms of the norms created by consumerism (Quart, 2003; Turner-Bowker, 2001). In addition, grooming standards (hair cuts, coloring, enha ncements, and replacement; teeth whitening & orthodontia; laser or waxi ng hair removal), body modificat ions through diets, gym memberships, anti-wrinkle creams, all manne r of plastic surgery, and use of technology (lap tops, MP3 players, cell phones)33 are increasingly used by the middle-classes. A lack of these goods may lead to a class designation of poor or working class (see Quart, 2003). The effects of the outward signs of consumer identity are not limited to othersÂ’ perceptions; they also play a key role in mark ing an individual to herself. The ability and knowledge to consume Â“appropriatelyÂ” indicate the moral and social worthiness of an individual. U.S. consumer society offers many, varie d, and expanding ways for an individual to create her iden tity and demands that she does so. However, as has been hinted at by the visible nature of many goods, personal identity is not the only aspect of self created through consumption. Social connection among individuals and groups is also enabled and constrained through consump tion. The artifacts that help create and maintain consumer identity also help us to forge connections with other people through identification. For example, Chin (2001) f ound that knowledge of toys and TV shows provided kids subjects to talk about a nd bond over in the lunchroom (see also Pugh, 2009). Students unaware of popular shows or toys are less active in these types of social bonding rituals. In summary, consumption helps to form personal and social identities. Commodities form the public, visual aspect s of identity and largely control the performance of that identity. Commodities he lp us to identify one another and to know how to proceed in interactions In a world where we are ofte n in new situations with new individuals, commodities help to signal the rules and provide the resources for different 33 It may seem odd to consider these tec hnologies as marking the body, but given their ubiquitousness and mobility, they mark the body of the carrier or wearer in more and more places and spaces as their use becomes further enabled by technological means such as wireless internet access in public and priv ate venues and the social acceptability of their nearly constant use.
78 routines in various regions (Goffman, 1959). For instance, how I r eact to a well-groomed man dressed in an expensive suit knocking on my window in a parking garage is likely different than a man who appears homele ss based on his clothing and grooming. I can pull from both discursive and practical knowledge based on the commodities on display about the type of person tr ying to get my attention. I am attempting to read the individualÂ’s performance of self for clues as to our social connections and the likely rules of this situation. Performing Consumer Key to consumer culture at large and especi ally to the display of identity to others through consumer goods is performance. One performs his or her identity through appearance and actions within the rules and resources of the stru ctures in any given situation or setting. GoffmanÂ’s (1959) theo ry of impression management finds that identity is created and maintained in front stage public life through tools and strategies that the social actor employs with others. Impression management is a way that agents mark themselves within the resources and c onstraints of consumer structure, thereby reinscribing the system. There is much cons cious and unconscious work that goes into intentionally portrayi ng oneÂ’s self, and thus creating a stable and coherent identity. Identity or persona is developed as a f unction of interaction with others, through an exchange of information that allows fo r more specific definiti ons of identity and behavior. The process of estab lishing social identity, then, be comes closely allied to the concept of Â“front,Â” which is described as Â“t hat part of the individualÂ’s performance which regularly functions in a genera l and fixed fashion to define a vehicle of standardization, allowing for others to understa nd the individual on the basis of projected character traits that have normative meaningsÂ” (Goffman, 1959, p. 27). In order to present a compelling front, the actor is forced to both fill the duties of the social role and communicate the activities and characteristics of the role to other people consistently. The importance of impression management is greater for indi viduals and groups accorded lesser status. The front, or public, is a Â“collective repr esentation,Â” which establishes proper Â“setting,Â” Â“appearance,Â” and Â“mannerÂ” for th e social role assume d by the actor, uniting interactive behavior with th e personal front (Goffman, 1959, p. 27). Attempts are made to
79 present an Â“idealizedÂ” version of the front, one which is c onsistent with the norms and laws of society as opposed to the behavior of the actor when not be fore an audience (p. 35). This behavior is based on both discursive and practical k nowledge of the routines of a particular region. Through routinization actors know how to behave appropriately in the front stage (Goffman, 1959). Information about aberrant behavior and belief is concealed from the audience in a process of Â“mystif ication,Â” which makes prominent socially sanctioned characteristics and legitimates both the social role of the individual and the framework to which the role belongs (p. 67) Moving all actions not appropriate for the audience to the Â“backÂ” region enables mystifi cation. The back region, or back stage, is defined as Â“where the impression fostered by the [front] performance is knowingly contradicted as a matter of courseÂ” (p. 112). In this region, a private space, the individual is free to drop pretense and the team is free to interact with one another on the level deemed fitting for them versus the interaction appropriate for the audience. An individualÂ’s identity can be seen in both the expression that the performer Â“gives,Â” his or her verbalizations a nd intended, conscious communication, and the expression that the performer Â“gives off, Â” all other unconscious communication used by the performer which includes non-verbal signals that may communicate unintended information (Goffman, 1959). Here Goffman cu es us into the possi bilities for the nonverbalÂ—the Â“giving off.Â” Should the verbal message and non-verbal message conflict with one another, an audience member is more likely to believe the latter. This has great ramifications for understanding how individualsÂ’ identities are cons tructed and contested in a consumer society. How a person is ador ned can contradict a nd discount the class identity impression intended by the deliberate ac tions of the individual. The agency of the individual is greatly limited by the structural and disciplin ary components influencing the meanings associated with consumer goods. Th e power of signification given to consumer goods leaves those without the means to appropriately consume, according to the norms of a consumer culture, at a significant disadvantage in their identity performances. However, this disadvantage does not prohibit alternative uses and di splays of consumer culture, disidentification (Munoz 1999) is still possible and something that the tweens in
80 this study work toward through looking good, ta king care, and subvertin g the rules of the system. Successful impression management is ba sed not only on the appropriateness of the goods displayed but also on their use and the context of their display. These knowledges are learned though Â“habitusÂ” (Bour dieu, 1984, 2008). A subset of identity construction, especially important to impr ession management, is stigma formation and management. GoffmanÂ’s work on stigma (1963) is the basis for much of the work on stigma in sociology and communication. Goff manÂ’s discussion of the strategies of passing and covering and indivi dual, social, and group iden tification is useful in understanding the way the stigma of bei ng unable to conspicuously consume is negotiated. As Ellis (1998) notes in her work on minor bodily stigmas, stigma is experienced subjectively rather than objectively. It is both individual and so cial. Sedgwick (2003) writes, Â“ThatÂ’s the double movement shame ma kes: toward painful individuation, toward uncontrollable relationalityÂ” (p. 37). In addition, Sedgwick (20 03) notes that unlike guilt, which is attached to action, sh ame is attached to a sense of self. Shame makes you feel inferior as an individual in relation to the standard you be lieve others are meeting. You are conditioned to feel it as a member of so ciety, yet you are not suppos ed to feel it. One is ashamed of being ashamed, creating me tashame (Ellis, 1998; Goffman, 1963; Scheff, 2003; Sedgwick, 2003). This shame and metashame are the result of not conforming to the rules of being a docile body (Foucault, 1977 ). One is not performing efficiently and appropriately within the structure. The key to effective performances of se lf in a consumer culture is access to consumption and upper class rules or habitus of consumption. Stigma is attached to individuals who do not have the resources to consume or to consume according to models other than those of the middle and upper classes. One cannot ad equately build an identity without access to consumer goods. Whether on e cannot identify herself sufficiently as a docile body or oneÂ’s performances of self ar e flawed by a lack of access to consumer goods or Â“faultyÂ” decision making regardi ng consumption, one cannot identify oneself without access to and an unde rstanding of consumer culture. Without these consumer
81 knowledges provided by the dominant habitus (Bourdieu, 1984; Carter, 2003) or the consumer goods provided by economic means, one runs afoul of normalizing judgment and is deemed delinquent (Foucault, 1977). Cons umption is the constraint and enabler, rule and resource, of the consumer culture sy stem. Although nearly all agents are able to act by consuming at some level of the cons umer system, for those stigmatized by race and/or class, their resources, bot h fiscally and socially, are deeply inadequate (delinquent, spoiled, abnormal) to adhere to proper routines of the system Theirs is a consumerism of desire and denial. The importance of consumption in identi ty formation and social connection in U.S. culture is made most salient through th e combination of consumer culture and late modernism, or a move away from previous, more fixed, models of identity formation. A foremost identity of consumer (Bauman, 2005) places a particular strain on the poor. Bauman says, In a consumer society however, having no access to a happy or merely a normal life means to be consumers manquees or flawed consumers. And so the poor of a consumer society are socially defined, and self-defined, first and foremost as blemished, defective, faulty and defi cientÂ—in other words, inadequateÂ— consumers. (2005, p. 38) To consume adequately is to have a worthy identity and self, to be someone who has merit, character, or value in society.34 In our current consumer culture (Bauman, 2005), new consumption (Schor, 1998), or conspi cuous consumption (Veblen, 1899/1994), we live in a society where our identities and social place are revealed to others and ourselves through consumption. Â“Normal lifeÂ” is fla unted by the marketing and conspicuous consumption of consumer goods. Constructed depictions of Â“normalÂ” and normalizing judgment create a desire to consume. The relatio nship of desire and de nial is cruel for the poor, because as these consumer desires are realized or discovered they are 34 This logic of good people, consumers, and citizens is clear when listening to government rhetoric concerning the economy an d economic crisis. We are asked to spend to save our country and world economies. If our duty is to spend, then one who has no money to spend would logically not be fulfilli ng their civic duty, would not be worthy of the title of good citizen. The gove rnment goes so far as to give us Â“stimulus checksÂ” as tax rebates so we will do our duty and jumpstart the economy with our spending.
82 simultaneously recognized as unreach able (Allison, 1994, 1996; hooks, 2000). This denial can be especially hard on adolescent consumers, as they are both relatively new to these decisions and realizations and are in an especially turbulent time concerning identity formation. Youth and Consumer Culture Poor, minority, urban youth are seeking to create their identities along with everyone else within this consumer cultu re. Chin (2001) notes that much of the consumption literature assumes a middle-class income.35 Often the inability to meet consumer needs, let alone desires (this dichotomy itself a messy and value-laden distinction for social beings in a consumer cu lture), is not discussed. There is even less literature focused on poverty and tweens. Howe ver, there is some work that applies directly to the topic of poor, urban, minority youth and consumer culture. In Â“The Dichotomous Child in a Consumer Culture Â” (2005), Cook argues that much of the literature on child ren in general, including that linking them to consumer culture, operates with the ideology that the social being of the child is either exploited or empowered. The problem with viewing chil dren as purely expl oited by manipulative marketers (i.e., the pawns of structure) is that it does not account for a childÂ’s agency in consumer contexts (Cook, 2005). When research ers believe children lack agency, they do not examine the ideas, meaning making systems, or interpretations of children. Particularly problematic to th e view of urban youth as lackin g agency is that it ignores the ways tweens influence marketers, particul arly in the fashion industry (see Gladwell, 2000). As opposed to seeing children as expl oited social beings, notions of the Â“empoweredÂ” child see children as unencumber ed by structural constraints and resources or knowledges stored in pract ical consciousness or the unconscious (Cook, 2005). This view promotes asking children, tweens, and t eens about their own identity constructions and regards them as fully knowledgeable and ar ticulate about their own likes and dislikes, 35 One need only listen to the morning news/ta lk shows flaunting fashion or home Â“musthavesÂ” for Â“every budgetÂ” to see that the poor are virtually erased in the rhetoric of consumption. When a $60 (or $250) Â“stealÂ” of a dress is spoken of as one anyone can afford, the many women who live lives where a new dress at $10 is unlikely or even impossible are rhetorically eliminated from existing.
83 motivations, and influence on and from the social world. It assumes all consumer knowledge and motivation is located in disc ursive consciousness. In addition, such a view provides moral cover and justification for direct marketing to children. Most companies that market childrenÂ’s products ag ree, at least publicl y, that Â“an active, knowing, desirous child is essential to bus inessÂ” (Cook, 2005, p. 156). This child thrives on and controls consumer culture and has the agency and ability to reject harmful or undesirable behavi or and products. The use of structuration theory in st udying the consumer lives and understandings of youth is one way to avoid th is structural/agential dichot omy. A vision of the child as enabled and constrained by consumer cultur e as well as influencing the rules and resources of the structures that create c onsumer culture emerges by seeing structure and agency as always implicated within one a nother and never fully separable. As Cook and Kaiser (2004) state, Ultimately, this agency [that of tween girl s in this case, but this can be expanded to tween boys as well] cannot be separated from the marketplace and the cultural spaces it generatesÂ—strategically, ambiguously. (p. 206) Cook (2005) calls for research on children in the everyday moments of their lives, arguing that their consumption will best be understood through these actions: The consumer self . does not arise sole ly from within or solely from without, but in the interaction between the Â‘insideÂ’ and Â‘outsideÂ’. We be come selves partly through consumption just as consumptionÂ—the goods, meanings, spaces, images and relationships thereby forged with othersÂ—becomes part of us. (Cook, 2005, p. 158; see also Chin 1993, 2001) The continuum of the exploited child and the empowered child set out by Cook (2005) combined with GiddensÂ’s structurati on theory (1986) and informed by discipline (Foucault, 1977), cultural capit al and habitus (Bourdieu, 1984 ), impression management (Goffman, 1959), stigma (Gof fman, 1963), and disidentific ation (Munoz, 1999) can offer an organizing device by which various social science perspectives of the consumer selves of low income adolescents can be viewed. We can look at the work of Schor (2004), Gladwell (2000), Autio (2004), Pugh (2009), Kotlowitz (1991, 1999, 2000),
84 Chin (2001), and Nightingale (1993) along a co ntinuum of agency to structure to see where they place the emphasis in their understa ndings of the consumer selves of lowincome youth. By situating these works within the continuum of agency and structure, we also see what is missing from the current research. Far to the agent side of the spectrum, ma rketers purport that children and teens are pure or nearly pure agents. As mentioned a bove, the image of the empowered child gives marketers carte blanche to sell to whomever whenever, and however they please. As Schor (2004)36 outlines in Born to Buy marketers depend on children not only as consumers but also as innovators to help them sell and create products. Gladwell (2000) accounts for another similar aspect of marketingÂ—the coolhunt. The coolhunterÂ’s job is to find the cool, urba n kids and ask them what they think about different styles and products. However, once they tap into the crea tivity and innovation of what the cool kids are doing, this knowledge goes into the corporat ion that mass markets the product, image, or identity, making it uncool and overdone. Once what was cool becomes mainstream, something else becomes cool and the cycle be gins again. Thus, the fashion cycle is in constant flux, demonstrati ng both what Gladwell refers to as the Â“first rule of coolÂ”Â—Â“the quicker the chase, the quicker the flightÂ” (p. 361) and the role of constant change in the consumer system. Bo th Schor (2004) and Gl adwell (2000) address the ways that the structure not only demands a docile body but also has ways of taking innovation (even innovation that is subvers ion or rejection of discipline) and incorporating it back into the structure. Autio (2004) is not a marketing researcher but takes a heavily agential stance in the study of teens and consumer culture. In her work with Finnish youth, she asked students to write essays about their consumer identities. Then, using their titles and descriptions, she teases out identity construc tions most salient to the teens themselves. She found that, Young Finnish people are representing th eir identity as consumers through a combination of various levels of co nsumer discourse besides hedonism and 36 Schor (2004) and Gladwell (2000) are ex ploring the work and conceptions of marketers selling to children. They are not purporting that children are fully empowered, only reporting on those w ho do (marketers).
85 squandering: rationaliz ing and economizing are essentia l parts of their process of forming identities as consumers. So me youngsters present themselves as responsible consumer including ecological and ethical choices as part of their narrative. (Autio, 2004, p. 389) AutioÂ’s themes offer an idea of how traditional ideas (such as economy) and contemporary ideas (such as pleasure or l uxury) of consumption can mesh together despite their incongruity in youthful iden tities. Although Finnish youth are by no means a doubly marginalized culture, they are still using the strategies working with and resisting both contemporary and traditiona l ideas of consumption. They are using the strategy of disidentification (Munoz, 1999) to create livable consumer identities with in conflicting structural and disciplinary frameworks. Pugh (2009) studied both childrenÂ’s cons umption and parentsÂ’ consumption for children in both affluent and low-income schools. Pugh addresses the ways consumer culture infiltrates the child/parent relati onship and focuses her analysis on childrenÂ’s Â“economy of dignity.Â” In this economy, dignity is created and maintained through the use and knowledge of consumer goods and popular cu lture. Parents understand this dignity as important to their childrenÂ’s acceptance within peer groups and thus buy items for their children that are part of this economy. Pugh ar gues that poorer parents focus on what they do provide for their children while wealthier parents focus on Â“symbolic deprivationÂ” or what they do not buy for their children. Both ch ildrenÂ’s and parentsÂ’ agency is confined within the structure of consumer culture. Chin (1993, 1999, 2001) and Kotlowitz (1991, 1999, 2000) also clearly frame agency as constrained by the structural co mponents of consumption and society. Both set out to show the effects of th e interplay of agency and st ructure through th eir youth and adolescent participants. They seek to account for areas of agency not seen in mainstream renderings of poor, Black, urban children, tweens, and teens and to destabilize taken-forgranted notions of agency. In his extensive fieldwork with two brothers who resi de in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing development on Chicag oÂ’s West Side, Kotlo witz witnesses the various constraints and resources in the boysÂ’ lives (Kotlowitz, 1991, 1999, 2000).
86 Kotlowitz juxtaposes the lives of the t eens in the Henry Horner Homes, those Â“inhabitants [who] have become geographically and spiritually isolated from all that surrounds themÂ” (1999, p. 66), with the white, middle-class teens who share their sense of fashion. Kotlowitz argues that it is thr ough the literally manufact ured connections of fashion that middle-class, white, suburb an youth and poor, Black, inner-city youth connect. As such, they are connected as cons umers, rather than as citizens or human beings. Like Kotlowitz, Chin (2001) falls into this middle ground between agency and structure. Chin (1993, 1999, 2001) spent tw o years doing an ethnographic study with 10year-olds in Newhallville, Connecticut in order to overcome the understandings of Black children as being devoted to hedonistic consum er desires for name brand status symbols. She spoke to these children about and obs erved them in moments of consuming, connecting these moments to both their everyda y lives and larger so cial, political, and historical processes. She writes, Class, race, and gender differences in cons umption cannot be attributed simply to neutralizing notions of produc t preferences or shopping habits, individual likes and dislikes. Rather, these differences ma y instead be viewed as being in large part expressions of or responses to st ructural oppression, which is itself often created and enforced through consum er channels. (Chin, 2001, p. 4) Clearly in line with structuration theor y, Chin believes, Â“cons umer culture is a medium through which multiple oppressions ar e brought to bear on peopleÂ’s lives in enduring and intimate waysÂ” (2001, p. 175). Sh e found that although the children are not untouched by the desire for brand name shoe s and toys, a larger ethic of practicality, caring, and connection underlie s their purchasing behaviors and consumer outlook. Her account shows that her participants are both constrained by the consumer system and use its resources to act back on it in ways not officially sanctioned by its rules. Nightingale (1993) accords more power to structure than the previous authors. NightingaleÂ’s (1993) work, On the edge: A history of poor black children and their American dreams, offers a historical perspective mixed with contemporary ethnographic excerpts to provide an explanation for blac k, urban, teen consumer consciousness. This
87 work provides extensive context of the system s of poverty and racism as they relate to inner-city youth consumption. There are many individual examples of youth making decisions about consumption, which are utilized to explain the impact of larger systems of poverty, racism, and consumer culture on inner-city youth. Fo r Nightingale, the decisions an individual is able to make are so narrow that agency has virtually no role in the identities of poor, Black, urban teens. Together, Schor (2004), Gladwell (2000) Autio (2004), Kotlowitz (1991, 1999, 2000), Chin (1993, 1999, 2001), and Ni ghtingale (1993) offer us a look at the aspects of agency and structure as treated with more or less weight in th e depictions of the consumer selves of low-income adolescents. Each of these studies offers a piece of the picture of the consumer identities of lo w-income, minority, inne r-city youth and how these identities affect their lived experience. They each atte nd to the duality of structure and agency (Giddens, 1986), and with varying emphasis the force of discipline (Foucault, 1977), the role of habitus, cu ltural capital (Bourdieu, 1984), s tigma, and spoiled identities (Goffman, 1963), in negotiating these structures, a nd the various forms those negotiations take, including impression management (Gof fman, 1959) and disidentification (Munoz, 1999). My study falls closest to ChinÂ’s (1993, 1999, 2001) work. Her work is critical and works to consistently situate the choices participants are making as necessarily constrained. She most clearly ba lances structure and agency in the ways I see the tweens of Scholastic Middle enacting it. Also, this work follows her recommendation to study Â“typicalÂ” urban environments rather than the po orest and/or most viol ent areas of the U.S. Where this study differs is the age of the par ticipants and the use of individual, in-depth interviews. First, where Chin focused on children around 10-years-old, I focus on tweens between 10 to 14-years-old, with the majority of my interviews coming from the eighth graders who are 13 to 14-years-old. I focus on this population because I am interested in how individuals who are newly, relatively independent (i.e ., they make many of their own purchasing decisions w ith oversight by those provi ding the money and take shopping trips on their own) make consumer d ecisions. The use of interviews allows me to access their discursive knowledge regardi ng their consumer decisions in their own
88 words as well as providing the opportunity to question some of their practical knowledge, perhaps moving it to the discursive level of consciousness. Second, this study differs from many in that it does focus on a Â“typicalÂ” urban environment, but it does not focus on a typical school environment. This study focu ses on the students of Scholastic MiddleÂ—a unique institution and philosophyÂ—which provides me and the tweens with a different perspective on the ways race, class, educa tion, and ideas of opportunity are connected. Conclusion In this chapter, I have worked to situat e contemporary life as rooted in late modernity where a future-oriented progress narrative and plethora of choices regarding constructions of self fit into the agendas of marketing and consumer culture. I have also argued for consumer culture as a structure in GiddensÂ’s (198 6) sense of the term. This structure both enables and cons trains the individuals/agents who live within it. It also serves to discipline us (Foucault, 1977). Both of these theories mark out the territory in which the tweens in this study negotiate th eir identitiesÂ—identit ies which consumer culture provides the most important res ource for negotiating. Theories of impression management and stigma (Goffman, 1959, 1963) habitus, reconversion strategies, and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1984) and disidentifi cation (Munoz, 1999) provide insight into the ways this is negotiated. I have also focused on previous work (Autio, 1993; Chin, 1993, 1999, 2001; Cook, 2005; Kotlowitz, 1991, 1999, 2000; Nightingale, 1993; Pugh, 2009) that places poor, minority, urban, tweens in consumer culture. What the intersections of these various theories and em pirical works enable is the ability to see individuals as both acting a nd acted upon in consumer cultu re. It is a foundation for a complex analysis of the ways the tweens at Scholastic Middle use consumer culture both discursively and practically to show care for themselves and their families and to subvert the rules and routines of school. As much as I have learned from the rese arch profiled in this chapter, the most influential theorists to this work are the tweens themselves. As such, the following chapter is dedicated to them, to an unde rstanding of their locale, families, and personalities.
89 Chapter 5 Where We From: Setting the Lived Scene A Coat of Arms Â“Everyone take a seat,Â” Ms. CurtisÂ’s voi ce drifts over the heads of the eighth grade girls as they slowly move to the stool s at the high lab tables As the students sit down, the teacher draws a shield with four areasÂ—a center, bottom right, bottom left, and full arch along the topÂ—on the white board. In the center, she draws a tree, which represents the Scholastic Mi ddle logo. The drawing on the board is similar to the handouts being passed around. Â“Both you and the eighth grade boys will be going on camping trips soon. We have a lot of activitie s planned for you, and the shields you have here will factor into one of them. What you are holding is a coat of arms.Â” Ms. Curtis goes on to explain how medieval European soldiers and knights in war wore coats of arms to identify them as soldiers and show their family histories. Th ese coats of arms were important symbols of identity that showed a soldie rÂ’s past, present, and future. Ms. Curtis continues, Â“You each have th e Scholastic Middle symbol in the middle to show your school family. YouÂ’ll place symbol s in each of the other three sections. In the bottom left place a symbol of your past, in the bottom right a symbol of your present, and use the arc at the top to show your future. This next handout explains the meanings of many of the symbols that have traditionally been used in coats of ar ms. Also, it details the meanings of various colors. YouÂ’re welcome to use these symbols or to create your own.Â” With this the students get down to work. After handing out acrylic pa ints, I sit down with Ianna, Cala, Rashona, and Kaia. Totally at home with both an art project and the freedom of direction theyÂ’ve been given, they get right to work. Rashona, true to her by-the-book nature, uses the handout and picks out the medieval symbols she thinks best fit her life. Focusing on the present section of her shield, she begi ns to carefully outline a candle. The handout says that a
90 candle represents light, life, a nd spirituality. I ask her why sh e chose it, and she responds, Â“Because family and church are important,Â” a nd immediately turns back to her drawing. I turn to the other end of the table to see Cala drawing a picture in the past section of her shield of a family in front of a bi g house with trees all around. Â“Who is that?Â” I ask. Â“My familyÂ—thereÂ’s my mom, my dad, a nd my older sister and my sister is holding my niece,Â” she replies. I know that Cala lives in an apartment and can think of no house in Tampa that would have as much sp ace around it as she details in her drawing. I also know that her parents do not live toge ther, although they are both very involved in her life. Given that this is th e past section of her shield, I imagine that she is drawing a time when they all lived together. However, her niece is not very old and wouldnÂ’t have been around when her parents were still living together. This family structure is a bit of fantasy on her part, and I assume the house is as well. Like most of us, the image of her past, which she identifies as making her who she is now, is perhaps not wholly accurate, though this makes it no less real for her. Like Cala and Rashona, nearly every girl makes a strong and positive reference to their families somewhere on their shields. They draw pictures to symbolize their future college and career goals, to show the activit ies they enjoy now, and to pay homage to both the trials and support they feel brought them to this point. As the class goes on, I begin to notice that there is another trend th at crosses the shieldsÂ—there are no references to material goods or consuming. No brand l ogos, no fancy cars, no mate rial objects at all with the exception of houses in the backgrounds of some of the pictures. At no time do they see consumer goods, let alone brands, as pl aying a significant part in their identities or lives. Where We Live This chapter serves to move this research from the theoretical locale from which I originally conceived many of my research questions to the liv ed locale of the tweens who gave their time and energy to answer, and often change, my questions. First, I will address the area of the city wh ere the school is located and then talk about one of the
91 areas where many of the student s live. Next, I will talk abou t each of the 25 students I interviewed. As I come off the highway, the great ei ght-lane transport marvel that not only bisects the entire city but also keeps you from actually having to traverse it, be in it, or see it, I exit onto a road IÂ’ve never been on. It leads me down a two-way street that becomes one way as it provides a straight shot through a residential neighborhood. The homes appear old and relatively small, butte d right up against the sidewalk and road. The bungalows appeal to me because of their archit ecture, but they clearly need repair. A few are in better shape and the better-looking one s have for sale signs. As I drive, I both admire and lament the neighborhood. IÂ’m attrac ted to the houses and the history of the area, but hate the condition that itÂ’s in. I wonder if it is pos sible to live in and feel a connection with a run-down neighborhood seem ingly abandoned by city planners and not feel a bit run-down and abandoned yourself. As I pull up to a red light, I see a larg e brick building and a basketball pavilion surrounded by a tall wrought-iron fence. Si nce IÂ’m looking for a school, the basketball courts make me look twice, even as I th ink the building isnÂ’t nearly big enough. Although I went to an elementary school smaller than this, I havenÂ’t seen a ny school in Tampa that couldnÂ’t hold this one five times over. Howeve r, as I pull away from the light I notice a bus bench that says, Â“Scholastic Middle. Now accepting scholarship applications.Â” This leads me to take a chance and pull through the only opening in the gate surrounding the school into the parking lot. Scholastic Middle is located in Casitas City,37 a historic area and a community redevelopment area (CRA)38 far west of much of TampaÂ’ s more recent sprawl; it is solidly part of the city. Its st atus as both historic and a CRA tells a lot about the area. It was originally both a factory town and a pa rt of Tampa. Although always a part of 37 Names for various areas of the city, roads, and other geographical locations and their directional locations from one another have been changed to prot ect anonymity for the school and all participants. Th e only area retaining its actual name is the University Community Area because it is not connected to the school and statistical information, which must be cited, is relevant. 38 Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) is an area of the city in which special tax incentives are in place to re vitalize it, and a Community Redevelopment Agency has been created to manage that tax money and the revitalization projects it supports.
92 Tampa, Casitas has its own look and a feel mu ch different from mo st of the city. The Spanish-influenced architecture of Casitas was largely unappreciated and allowed to languish by the city for many years. In an atte mpt to revitalize the area, much of Casitas is now contained in two community redevel opment areas. CRAÂ’s are areas that are set aside to benefit from tax increment funds (T IF) and other incentives like ad valorem tax exemptions, transportation impact fee reducti ons, historic preserva tion tax credits, and enterprise zone tax credits (Florida Rede velopment Association, 2009) in the hope that these additional funds will allow for repair and attract investment therefore bettering the community. Although sections of Casitas have been re vitalized (or gentrified depending on the perspective taken) through th e CRA and other programs, much of Casitas is still rundown. Its inhabitants are largely poor and of Latino and African-American descent. Given Scholastic MiddleÂ’s mi ssion to serve financially disadvantaged students who otherwise would not have access to quality, private school education, Casitas is an appropriate section of the city in which to be located. However, the location of the school is ju st that for many of the kids who attend Scholastic Middle. Most do not live in the immediate area. Student s at Scholastic Middle come from all over the city and surroundi ng suburbs. Given the immense sprawl of Tampa (like that of many Southern cities ), some students move across a significant distance to attend school each day. Given that the school has no transportation system this means that students are either dr iven to school or take city busses. However, whether or not they live in Casitas, many Scholastic Middle students live in similar areas around the city. It is these areas where much of their consumption and lives in general take place. Ridge Par k, an area that once prospered as a cigar manufacturing community, now reminds its ci tizens of its past by abandoned, derelict cigar factories. Other low-income areas of the city are also home to many of the students. In particular, several of the eighth grade gi rls I worked with most lived in the area referred to by either those trying to be pol ite or those who donÂ’t know the area very well as the University Community Area. To its resi dents, the police, and most of Tampa, it is known as Suitcase City. Although many reside nts and community organizations have
93 tried to shake the negative label of Suitcas e City, identification with the university remains farfetched given the condition of the area when compared with the manicured campus. Separated from the University of Sout h Florida by no more than a major street, the kids who live there have a much smaller likelihood of ever crossing that street as university students than the offici al name for the area suggests. Students often talked about the corner stores or bodega s in their neighborhoods as places they frequent. They also talked a bout playing or hanging out outside. Those descriptions of the University Area meant so mething to me, because itÂ’s where I live as well. ItÂ’s an area where needles in a vacan t lot are not uncommon and the vacant lot is virtually the only place to play other than the parking lots of apartment complexes. ItÂ’s one of the most transient areas in the state, with up to 89 percent of the residents moving within any given year (Franklin, 2004). At the beginning and end of the day, the sidewalks are full of people walking to and fr om bus stops in their work uniforms. In a kind of reverse racial profiling, it is an area where myself, my white partner, and three of our white friends have been pulled over, with one having his car searched, for no discernable reason. I can only assume itÂ’s b ecause they canÂ’t figure out why seemingly middle-class white people are driving around th is neighborhood if theyÂ’re not there to buy drugs. And we are the exception. The condomi nium complex where I live is one of the few owned residences in the area. Acco rding to the 2000 U.S. Census, the zip code has 54.9 percent rental-occupied units (compa red with 33.8 percent fo r the country) and a median income of $26,985 (compared with $41,994 for the country) with 21.5 percent of individuals below the poverty level (compare d with 12.4 percent for the country). It has high juvenile crime compared to better-off ne ighborhoods in the city (Brown, 2002). It is an area where more of my neighbors than not have had their homes broken into or had break-ins attempted. In all honesty, if it hadnÂ’t been for the home price boom in Florida, we and others who live in our complex likely would not have bought homes there. However, it is also an area where I regular ly walk my dogs at night and feel safe enough to do so. ItÂ’s an area where I see kids and teens freely walking and joking. I have more than once seen Scholastic Middle studen ts walking to the store with their friends and families. It is not a place in which most people of middle-class means would choose
94 to live. Tampa does not contain Â“ur-ghetto s,Â” neighborhoods at th e extreme end of poverty, the Â“nationÂ’s most dramatically depressed areasÂ” (Chin, 2001, p. 58-59), and these Scholastic Middle tw eens do not live in them. The kids at Scholastic Middl e are universally poor and non-white and they live in poor areas. However, these areas are racially diverse (the University Area was 60 percent white during the 2000 census) and proximate to more affluent areas. Near its eastern border the, University Area contains one of the cityÂ’s major shopping malls. Another rundown area to the south contains a Busch Gard ens amusement park. Likewise, sections of Scholastic MiddleÂ’s home, Casitas City, have been turned into tourist areas with high-end retailers, restaurants, and entertainment venues. These are major differences in locale from the work most often done with the urban poor, which often takes place in the poorest, most dangerous, and depressed neighborhoods in the country (Bourgois 1995; Kotlowitz, 1991, 1999, 2000; MacLeod, 1987; Nightingale, 1993). Chin (2001) argues, These sites effectively allow researcher s to look at the reality behind popular images and to counteract them with caref ully researched and reasoned accounts, but they have also, in a way, allowed domi nant discourse to lay the boundaries of the inquiry. . it is precisely because th ey represent such extremes that these communities are heavily studied. Urban poverty has more faces, colors, and permutations than those seen in the natio nÂ’s most dramatically depressed areas. (p. 58-59) The tweens in this project live in a complex and diverse metropolitan area, meeting ChinÂ’s call to study more typical urban settings. Thus far I have provided a great deal of information about the school, and now have covered the type of neighborhoods in whic h the students live. However, as much as tweens are influenced by their surroundings, they are individuals. As much as they are demographically lumped together by race, class, and geographic location, they are all incredibly different from one another. There is not one child at Scholastic Middle that I did not get the chance to observe and learn something from; however there were some
95 who gave so generously of their time and in sight that they became the basis for this project. These boys and girls are the subj ect of the rest of this chapter. The Participants All things at Scholastic Middle happen according to grade: the eighth grade girls are in drama, or the fifth grade boys are sitt ing outside during lunch, or the seventh grade girls are going on a fieldtri p. School life is organized ar ound the movement of these groups. Hence, it seems natural to me to break them down as such. Because I spent so much time with the eighth grade girls, I will profile them as a class and then individually describe each person. I also spent a great deal of time with the eighth grade boys so I will do the same with this group. Based on the im practicality of describing 100-plus students individually, I will limit my comments regardi ng students in the lower grades to only the students I interviewed. Eighth Grade Girls The eighth grade girls were the group w ith whom I became the most familiar. I attended most of their drama classes, often monitored their study halls, and worked with a lot of them in the school play. I know teachers and parents arenÂ’t supposed to have favorites, but IÂ’m not sure about researchers. Supposed to or not, as a group they were my favorite because of their paradoxes. They we re loud and contemplative, and classy and rude, put-together and a mess, wise and nonsensical. As a group they were both tight-knit and had a few loners. One thing I liked so mu ch about their dynamic is that they allowed the loners, like Rashona and Kaia, to be alone when they wanted to be alone, but then allowed them into whatever they were doing when they wanted to be involved. Although bringing loners into the group often we nt smoothly, mending hurt feelings and friendships was not always so simple. Keeping the girls together was often the job of the fieriest of them, Jacynth. Jacynth. Jacynth reminds me a bit of Pres ident Theodore RooseveltÂ’s quote, Â“Speak softly and carry a big stick.Â” She is as loud as anyone, but her softness comes in her desire and her efforts to keep the peace. When other girls would say mean things to each other, Jacynth would remind them that th ey had been friends and would be friends
96 for some time. However, if her kinder tactic s didnÂ’t work, she had no problem switching to harsher comments such as, Â“shut up and listen.Â” Jacynth lives with her mom, dad, and two older sisters. She has a close relationship with her dad and a great respect for both her parents. As the youngest, she was eager to have her older sisters move out so she would have her parents, and their financial resources, to herself. However, this desire was tempered by her obvious affection for not only her sisters but also her several half-siblings. Jacynth carries the confidence of royalty in the posture of a soldier, grace held within wiry toughness. Although she doesnÂ’t ha ve the best grades, she is street and relationship smart. Despite her being 14, if sh e told me to do something, even something I wasnÂ’t sure about, I would consider it, as she generally knows what sheÂ’s doing. Cala. If Jacynth is black leather, Cala is pink, fuzzy slippers. She loves fashion and gossip and is very giving and nurturing. I first met her monitoring study hall. She went out of her way to share a new set of pret ty pencils not only with her classmates but also with me. I still have the pencil decorate d with monkeys and bananas. She always has the cutest school accessories, and she of ten kindly shares them with others. Cala lives with her mother and 20-year-o ld sister and her sisterÂ’s daughter. Although her father doesnÂ’t live with her, sh e referenced him frequently and he came to several school events. She also has two brothe rs who are older and live away from home. I always looked forward to seeing Cala with her mom at school events. They made each other laugh heartily and continuous ly, and you couldnÂ’t help but be drawn in. CalaÂ’s most frequent confidant is Iann a. While Cala looks young, Ianna sends off the vibe of a fully-grown womanÂ—at least in terms of her physical appearanceÂ—and she enjoys the attention it brings her. Ianna. She has shoulder-length, dark, strai ght hair and thick-rimmed black glasses. Ianna was one of the few girls in the eighth grade who seemed to be interested in boys and was dating Eldad, an eighth grade boy. I originally hoped to take some of the girls to the mall but actually ab andoned that plan partly be cause of Ianna and KabiraÂ’s relationships with the eighth grade boys. The other girls talked often about them lying to their parents to meet the boys at the mall, and I didnÂ’t want to enable that plan.
97 Although flirty, Ianna doesnÂ’t ge t attention just for her l ooks. She is also one of the highest achieving girls in the eighth grade. She applied to some of the most prestigious private boarding hi gh schools in the country and was accepted into more than one. She and Cala get along well, as do most of the girls, and one of their bonds is fashion and other Â“girliness,Â” as so me of the other girls would say. Ianna lives with her mom, stepdad, and two younger sisters. Although the man she lives with is technically her stepdad, she continually referred to him as her father. One of her sisters is a fifth grader at Scholastic Middle. Crystal. IannaÂ’s polar opposite is Crystal. In the same study hall where Cala gave me a pencil, Crystal took something from Eloi s and managed to give Jacynth a busted lip. I had no idea what to do. SheÂ’s a sturdy girl and asking her to stop didnÂ’t work. I wasnÂ’t sure I could physically do much if she decided to carry on and hurt someone else. Although I donÂ’t have exact details on her fa mily life because she never brought in an interview consent form, I learned from our c onversations that she lived with her twin sister and a younger brother. It seemed that she sometimes lived with her mother and sometimes her grandmother. I did learn from one of the teachers that both she and her twin applied to the school, but only she was accepted. As I spoke with teachers regarding her behavior that first day, many seemed to gi ve her a pass. Given th e level of discipline I had seen at the school up to this point, this was unexpected. Mr. Shah, one of the AmeriCorps teachers, said that her family life was hard and although her mom tried, it was hard for all of them. I never got more detail than that, al though Crystal came to be another of my favorite students. Not only did her behavior get better, but she also warmed up to me. Most of the students are open and chatty immediately, and, although I had no illusions about them spilling their darkest secrets to me I did think of us as positive acquaintances, if not friends. It took Crysta l a lot longer to warm up, but on ce she did I realized what I could have missed. Despite the roughhousing, she was one of the shyest girls in her class. Although all the kids thrived on positive attent ion from teachers and administrators when she was praised, CrystalÂ’s face would light up, a smile breaking across her entire face, even as she tried to act nonchalant. Partly because of this realization, and honestly
98 because I liked her so much, I lobbied hard for her to get a part in the play. She got it; she was great. Elois. Elois is physically like Crystal and of ten just as prone to roughhousing, but much louder. Always in the middle of everyt hing, she was one of the girls I most often had to implore to be quiet, sit down, or stop any number of things. Elois has five older sisters and lives with her mom and dad close to the school in Castitas City. Although close enough to walk to school, she answered my question of why she didnÂ’t with and incredulous, Â“Why would I? I have four sister s at home that can pick me up.Â” This kind of almost abra sive, but mostly f unny matter-of-factness constituted most of her speech. Elois came across as hard, but was one of th e girls most integrated and social in her cohort. Dedra. Dedra is especially important to Elois, who, despite the cl oseness of all the girls, is her best friend. Firmly ensconced with the boister ous girls, Dedra was one of the first students under suspicion when a loud snor t or laugh interrupted the quiet of a room. She is easily distracted from both work and play and quick to laugh. She is the only girl in her class who makes apol ogizing a significant portion of her day. Although she had to apologize to the other girls often, she was no less a part of the group. Dedra lives with her brother, mom, dad, grandma, sister, her sisterÂ’s boyfriend, and their baby. As she lists the family members off, she ends with Â“and thatÂ’s it,Â” as if that were a small family. SheÂ’s excited because her sisterÂ’s family is moving out soon so sheÂ’ll no longer have to share her room w ith her brother; otherwise, she harbors no resentment toward the members of her exte nded family and sees the multigenerational family unit as a integral part of her life. Always ready to laugh, carry on a prank, or try to bend the rules just a little farther than the other girl s are willing to, Dedra is both fun and unpredictable. Kaia. Kaia was one of two girls in the ei ghth grade whom I would consider a loner. Amongst the boisterousness of her peer s, her comfort with being quiet and alone stood out. Chubby and with the booming laugh that I associate with large, grown women, Kaia was one of my favorites even though, or perhaps because, she largely treated me
99 like a pet. Unless she was in a particularly bad mood, she never failed to greet me with a hug and, after the one study hall period during which she spent the entire time playing with my hair (amazed at its inability to hold the shapes she brushed it in to), she always gave my hair a quick pet by way of greeting. Kaia showed very little interest in being interviewed and with the sudden and unexpected death of her mother in the sp ring semester, pursuing an interview was inappropriate. Prior to her motherÂ’s death, Ka ia and her mother lived together. However, she has an extensive extended family in the area that seems to be a part of her day-to-day life. After her motherÂ’s death, Kaia began living with her father. Although I might have originally thought Ka ia one of the less mature girlsÂ—she was often prone to whiningÂ—after the death of her mother, I realized my perceptions were entirely wrong. She handled it with more grace than IÂ’ve ever seen anyone handle the death of someone close to them. Rashona. Rashona was the other loner among th e eighth grade girls. I never once saw her break away from work in class or study hall for more than a couple of minutes, despite the often hilarious and nearly always loud antics of her classmates. Shorter than many of her classmates, her body was the physic al manifestation of her sturdiness. Her metal-rimmed glasses added to the image of stability. Rashona lives with her mom, dad, he r three younger sisters, and two younger brothers. She took on a lot of responsibil ity for the younger children, but saw it as a legitimate role for the oldest to take on. I might expect a lo t of arguing in such a large family because of crowded conditions, limite d resources, and resentment over taking on such responsibility. However, Rashona brushe d aside such questions with, Â“we might get into some arguments, but we get over it and apologize.Â” One of RashonaÂ’s younger sisters is in the fifth gr ade at Scholastic Middle. Kabira. Always moving, talking, and laughing, Ka bira is the student you inwardly laugh at, even as you call her down. She walks a line between tomboy and coquette, for instance playing football and flir ting with the boys simultaneously. Kabira lives with her mother, step father, two younger sisters, and younger brother. She also has another brother and sist er who live with her father. One of KabiraÂ’s
100 younger sisters is in the sixth grade at Sc holastic Middle. They have very similar personalities in that they are both outgoing and quick to laugh. Kabira is hard to pin down in a group. She is constantly moving from one person, idea, and thought, to another. However, in our interview she was nothing but thoughtful and showed a deep caring for her mother and siblings. Tahira. Tahira is KabiraÂ’s physical opposite and best friend. Tahira has the same boisterousness but with a slightly darker, more menacing edge. SheÂ’s tough, but unlike Jacynth who is so self-assured, thereÂ’s an al most violent edge to TahiraÂ’s toughness. Her laugh is beautifulÂ—loud, infectious, and full. It seems to take her over; once it starts nothing can stop it. Tahira lives with her mom, stepdad, and older brother in Suitcase City. This is also where Kabira lives so they are together all the time. She doesnÂ’t seem to have many feelings about her brother one way or anot her since she doesnÂ’t see him much, because heÂ’s always at work or school. She also seem s rather indifferent to her stepfather but spoke at length of her respect and devotion for her mother. Both Tahira and Kabira are fiercely devoted to two things: their mothers and step dancing. Both participate four days a week in step practice and both spent a great deal of their interviews praising their mothersÂ’ work ethic and care for them. Chantoya. Chantoya is another member of th e boisterous group. If anyone could manage to be the center of attention of this group of dynamic girls, it is Chantoya. Always laughing and seemingly unafraid of a nything, she has a great mix of fearlessness, self-confidence and joy. The lead in the school play, Â“Drop Dead, Juliet !Â” her portrayal of a sassy Juliet who takes Shakespeare to task for his treatment of women in his plays was truly hilarious. Chantoya lives with her mom, stepdad, and two younger sisters, one of whom is in the seventh grade at Scholastic Middle. Just as she is a leader in her grade and for the school in general, she has a lo t of responsibility in her hom e. Given her parentsÂ’ work schedules, she often looks after her youngest sister with the help of her 12-year-old sister. Chantoya has a self-professed Â“smart mout h,Â” but rarely gets into trouble given her impressive ability to read situations and engage in code-switching (Garner & Rubin,
101 1986; Scotton & Ury, 1977). She moves from cu tting up with her classmates to being studious and engaged in no time. Though the eighth grade girls were proba bly my favorite group at Scholastic Middle. I also had the chance to frequently engage with the eighth grade boys. I became charmed by their savvy and unique traits as well. Eighth Grade Boys Much of my time spent with the eighth grade boys was during academic classes including writing, drama, and English. I sa w some of them during extracurricular activities, but many of them chose sports-rel ated extracurriculars in which I was not involved. Compared to the girls, the boys were quiet, which is not so much a comment on how quiet the boys actually we re but how loud the girls managed to be. Although an extremely tight-knit group, the boys were more prone to talking and working in small groups rather than as a whole. The boy who mo st bucked this trend and was always in the middle of everything was Brian. Brian. Brian is one of the smallest boys in the class. Whether his class clown status springs from this or other circumstances, he fulfilled his role consistently and perfectly. Always cutting up and laughing, he was perhaps the boy most often chastised and disciplined for talking. As the first student that I intervie wed, Brian immediately challenged any preconceptions I had about what the student sÂ—especially the boysÂ—would want to talk about. His interview proved to be an accurate predictor of what I would learn in later interviews. He showed a grea t deal of care for his mother and cited few brand names among other things. Brian lives with his mother and baby brot her. He often takes care of his brother. When I ask him if he changes diapers, he re plies, Â“Yes, maÂ’am,Â” w ith nothing in his tone to indicate that this is some thing out of the ordinary for a 13-year-old boy. It is simply one of the many things he does to try and help his mother. The Â“maÂ’amÂ” part of his reply also demonstrates his communication style. He uses this very formal address with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm. His warm a nd animated personality is tempered with sarcasm in a way that makes him entirely unique.
102 Alexander. Although none of the boys identify Â“best friendsÂ” the ways the girls do, BrianÂ’s frequent companion is Alexander. Si milar in size, they are nearly the smallest kids in the school, let alone the eighth grade. Alexander is also a cut-up. Until the spring semester of his eighth grade year, Alexander lived with his mother and two older sisters. Like Kaia, Alexander lost his mother during the school year. AlexanderÂ’s mother, one of the most invol ved parents at the school, was killed in a car accident. This loss hit the entire school ha rd, leaving all Scholastic Middle students in tears for much of the day. The eighth grade boys were unable to attend to any of their classes and spent much of the day crying and talking with the school counselor and their teachers. Unlike in KaiaÂ’s case, in which he r family stepped in to take care of her, AlexanderÂ’s grandmother was in bad health up north and his father was a somewhat unstable and absent force liv ing in another state. When Alexander returned to school following the funeral, he was living with JosiaÂ’s (his classmateÂ’s) mother and Josi aÂ’s younger brother. Four of AlexanderÂ’s classmatesÂ’ families had offered to take him in. JosiaÂ’s mother, an employee of the school, was appointed as his gua rdian. When they finished ei ghth grade, Alexander went on to boarding school with Josia. Amazingly, AlexanderÂ’s exuberant personal ity was little chan ged by the death of his mother. After a few weeks, he acted as wild and fun as ever. I imagine this was due in large part to the way that his classmates and the school rallied around him during and after the tragedy. DeAngelo. DeAngelo is 6Â’ 5Â” and rarely said a word to me. If he had been the first interview, I would have dreaded talking to the tween boys. Ho wever, there seemed to be no malice underlying the silence, simply shyness. Luckily, his shyness did not keep DeAngelo from performing in the school play. DeAngelo is the last of hi s siblings to live at home, and he lives there with his mother. Unlike many of the other students, he did not worry too much about his mother. This could be because his description of he r was as incredibly strong, someone not given (at least in front of him) to displays of em otion. However, it could also be that she is under less financial strain because he is the only child at home.
103 DeAngelo was the Romeo of the eighth grade. He had at least one eighth grade girl he had been Â“talking toÂ” and another who was dating him at Scholastic Middle. Taite. The best way to describe Taite is gr egarious and outgoi ng. This served him well as the lead of the school play. Like De Angelo, Taite lives alone with his mom. His older brother is in his mid-20s and has move d out of the house. Still, he spoke with a great deal of concern about helping his moth er in whatever way he could. This care was similar to what he showed for his classmates. More than once I saw him jump to help them with homework or help them to answer a question in class. Aaron. Like Taite, Aaron does not mind bei ng the center of attention; however, heÂ’s less adept at gaining peopleÂ’s atten tion in a positive way. Although not sought out frequently by the boys, they fully accept him as part of their group. He seems to gain a great deal of pleasure in annoying the girls. Not afraid to make mean comments toward them; he doesnÂ’t take it well when the eighth grade girls stand up to him. Aaron lives with his grandmother. Howeve r, I never received an informed consent form from him, so I was unable to intervie w him and gain any further details about his life. Demaine. Demaine also manages to make his peers laugh, frequently at the risk of getting into trouble by behaving inappropriately in class. Much of his inappropriate behavior involves being mean, which is a rare trait among Scholastic Middle students. He acts dismissive of school activities, but jump s in to participate when asked directly, making this nonchalance seem a front. He was in credibly proud to be cast in a small role in the play. Demaine lives with his mom and several br others and sisters, one of whom is less than six months old. However, he rarely ta lks about them. For a kid who talks all the time, he manages not to disclose much about his life. The most pers onal thing I learned about him is that his greatest desire it to become a fighter pilot. Edwyn. Edwyn managed to become dirty ever y single day. Despite the fact that students were only allowed to play touch footba ll, every recess he still managed to return covered in dirt. I can only imagine that his mo ther spent a great deal of time treating and washing his clothing.
104 Unable to interview him, I am unsure of his entire family situation, but I know that he has at least one younger brother who is a Â“mini-meÂ” version of him. They look exactly alike, except is brothe r is much smaller. Edwyn is always polite and a bit quiet. His demeanor makes it hard to tell if he is just shy or uninterested. Eldad. Skinny, quiet, and entirely unobtrusive Eldad is the kind of kid you have no idea is even in the room. Unlike so many of his classmates, I donÂ’t remember him ever being called out for talking or goofing around. Get him started in a game and he is focused and competitive. The kids played a lot of games I had not been introduced to before. One of these is mancala, a count and capture game. Eldad and Brian taught me how to play; however I soon realized I was ir ritating Eldad both with the amount of time it took me to play and by how easy it was to beat me. Given how shy he seemed, it was surprisi ng that he was one of two eighth grade boys to have a girlfriend in the school. He and Ianna dated for most of eighth grade. Josias. Josias was the valedictorian of the eighth grade. Although very focused on his work, as one might imagine with such an accomplishment, he is also quite social and popular with his peers. JosiasÂ’s sociability may come from his mother. She worked as the secretary for the school for a few months, and I came to know her as very kind and always ready to talk. She was warm and friendly with everyone as was Josias. Josias and his family showed their dedication to the school and students by bringing Alexander to live with them after his mother died. More Knowing and Crazy Tweens I was unable to make as clear an assessmen t of the other grade groups as I did of the eighth grade girls and boys. My knowledge of the students largely came about as a result of their willingness to talk to me and because th ey put up with having me around. This is also why I became closer to the gi rls than the boys. They simply seemed more interested in me. Th is says something about the fortuitous nature of fieldwork. I happened into study hall with the eighth grade girls early on. I could just have easily been placed with another class and spent more of time with another group. However, because
105 of the widespread distribution of consent forms, I was lucky enough to get to know other students. At least one student from each boysÂ’ and girlsÂ’ class was interviewed. Cynthia. One of the seventh grade girls, Cynt hia nearly always has a half-grin, half-smirk on her face. She has a sarcastic ye t gentle sense of humor that makes people laugh and rarely hurts anyoneÂ’s feelings. She lives with her mom, dad, and older brother and has a sister who has already moved out of the house. She revels in be ing the youngest because she feels both her parents and her older siblings spoil her. When questioned about what this spoiling entails, she lists having her own room and being driven places. Although she likes being spoiled, it also s eems that she might like to have other siblings around. With both of her parents a nd brother working, she spends a lot of time alone. Norrence. A seventh grade boy, Norrence is al ways laughing and making fun of others. However, as a slightly chubby boy, he generally gets a little hurt when others comment on his weight. His kiddi ng and much of that directed toward him is relatively gentle. There is a definite maturing process to be seen across the grades with the fifth graders generally being the hars hest with one another. Howeve r, even over the time I was there, Norrence became gentler with others and thus was teased less. Norrence lives with his mo ther, older brother, and th ree-year-old cousin. His cousin came to live with them when she was born so he sees her more as a sister. Reed. Also a seventh grade boy, Reed is the loneliest kid I met at Scholastic Middle. He is one of only two interviewees who placed any real value or importance on name brands (despite that he could name ve ry few brands when asked). He made clear connections between buying and love, as did many Scholastic Middle students (discussed in Chapter 6); however, ReedÂ’s connections we re primarily negative. He desires to have name brands to show how important he is because he does not feel important to his family. Reed lives with his great-aunt and uncle because his mother is in prison. He was unclear on how long he has lived there, but it has been several years. He spoke of going
106 shopping with his mom, but it seems to have either been some time ago or in between stays in prison. Reed feels as if his aunt and uncle donÂ’ t care about him as much as they do their grandchildren. He sees their preference in th e things they buy for th eir grandchildren. The sole bright spot for Reed is his girlfriend, one of the seventh grade girls. As he speaks about her, his face brightens with a smile that, although he tries to contain it, breaks across his whole face. Macella. Quiet and reserved, sixth grader Macella seems much older than 12. This is her first year at Scholastic Middle, and even well into the school year she still seems slightly surprised when any adult addr esses her. When I come to get her for an interview, the situation is much the same as any time IÂ’ve addressed her. Her eyes momentarily look toward the floor as if to take a moment to make sense of being addressed. Macella lives with her mom, dad, and nine-year-old brother in a neighborhood she cannot identify but is Â“closeÂ” to the school. Both her parents are very involved in the school and closely follow her progress. Despite her intense shyness with adults she is vivacious and full of laughter around her peers. Damien. Sixth grader Damien is the quint essential round-faced, innocent little boy. HeÂ’s adorable and sweet, but somewhat une ven in his temper. This is unusual in the students, as most of them take joking rather well, either jo king back or brushing it off. Damien takes a lot of things personally. Damien lives with his father, stepmother, sister, stepbrother, and stepsister. His stepsiblings are older than he while his sister is younger. Most of the kids blend their families relatively easily, only declaring stepfa ther or stepsiblings for my benefit but generally referring to them as siblings in thei r general talk. However, Damien is different. He details what he seems to see as a so mewhat rocky family life. His father and stepmother have been married for 10 years, but she and his stepsiblings moved out of the house they all lived in together for three years before coming back. He details all of this for me without prompting, leading me to be lieve that it has been stressful for him.
107 Although he spends most of his time with his father, he does spend some weekends and weekdays with his mom. Howe ver, he doesnÂ’t fully understand how this arrangement is made, making it sound haphazard. He misses his mom and wants to spend more time with her. One of only two participants who seem ed unhappy in their interviews, Damien also was one of only two who really valued name brand clothes. He lit up when he spoke of things that were his, things that no one else could Â“takeÂ” from him. Like Reed, he seems to be looking for a personal sense of value and belonging in consumer goods that the other largely are not, looking for something th at is missing in his family life and selfconcept. Shawntea. Shawntea expects you to pay attention to her. Bubbly, loud talking is her trademark, and although it can ge t her into trouble, itÂ’s also her best feature. As a fifth grader, she is on the bottom of the hierarc hy at Scholastic Middle, but she pays no mind. If she wants an eighth grader to notice her, she will ma ke sure it happens. I was no exception. Whenever I worked w ith her class, she asked me to sit with her and was happy to answer my questions with great detail, or, more often, to move the conversation to topics that she deemed more interesting. Shawntea lives with her mom, dad, and 25-year-old brother. She adores her brother and went into great de tail about the time they spend baking together. She is also Haitian, which is a very important part of her identity. Very few of the students identified with ethnicity, but for Shawntea most of her at titude and her family life are connected to this identity. Shawntea was also one of the very few students who remembered what my research was about and that she did not have to participate just because her mom signed the consent form. Â“I know my rights, Â” she told me in a tone that let me know she took the entire process very seriously. She cal led it Â“important workÂ” and wanted to participate. Taisha. Taisha, also a fifth grade girl, has a similarly bubbly personality. I often wondered how the teachers made it through any lessons with such a spirited bunch. Taisha approached our interview like a sponge Rather than simply answering questions,
108 she often repeated them and tr ied to provide hypothe tical examples to be sure she had the question right before providing he r own answer. It was as if sh e were trying to absorb all of this knowledge for her own use. Taisha lives with her mom and brother, and, like many of the students, seemed to have little idea about what neighborhood in Tampa she lived in. Not unexpectedly, all students could provide thei r addresses, but most had no idea in which neighborhood Tampa they lived. Latoya. Although wearing the same uniform as all the other girls, fifth grader LatoyaÂ’s clothing stands out for its tucked shirt, creased pants, and perfectly matched belt and shoes. She carries herself like one imag ines royalty would walk, almost as if she expects to be stopped in her tracks by some one wishing to kiss her ring (if she were allowed to wear one). Appearance is very importan t to her and she is one of the few students who names more than two to three brand names in he r interview, although she admits to having relatively few brand-name items in her closet She names these brands without fanfare or any sense of wistfulness. ItÂ’s almost as if she is naming off states, elements, or some other type of knowledge that might show up on a school test. For all her talk about clothes and brand names, the first thing she would buy if she had $20 is two green folders. She is also very interested in saving her money. The importance of saving is something she says she learned from both he r mother, with whom she lives alone, and Donald Trump. An internet video of Trump talking about how to make money seems to have been quite an influence on her. Ty. Small and wiry, Ty fits right in with the fifth grade boys. Ty is a child who keeps you on your toes. I spent a lot of study ha lls with Ty and his cohort. It was an allor-nothing gamble: either you could get them a ll working right away or the entire hour was dedicated to attempting to stop but at be st limiting various antics. Once he got going on his homework, Ty took great pleasure in finishing it and showing it to me. Ty lives with his mom and grandmother in Country Trace, a low-income neighborhood not too far from the school. Alt hough he liked to shop with his mom and
109 declared an affinity for name brand pa nts, his favorite clothing item was a Juno t-shirt he received for free outside the movie theater. Malik. Malik is also a fifth grader and one of the few kids who hugged me nearly every time we met. When I saw him, I fe lt welcome. It is amazing how quickly he adapted to Scholastic Middle. When he at tended his first summer session, I personally had to stop him from fighting twice. Prior to entering fifth grade, he had already learned how to posture and the necessity of fighting. I was surprised they accepted him after the summer trial session. However, IÂ’m glad they did. As soon as he realized that the environment was safe, he adapted beautifully. Malik lives with his mom and two younger br others but also spends a lot of time visiting his grandfathe r in a nearby town. Devon and Demarco. As my final interviewees am ong the fifth grade boys, I put Devon and Demarco together because they are identical twinsÂ—so identical that no matter how much time I spent with them, I couldnÂ’t tell them apart. They used my confusion as an opportunity to play tricks on me. This was the only set of siblings I had the opportunity to interview. Devon and Demarco live with their mother, little brother, and older sister. Their interviews were interesting because both em phasized fairness and sharing. Although they recognized that holding to these values meant they had to sacrifice sometimes, they both thought it was worth it. Conclusion In this chapter, I have addressed the locale of the school as well as a typical neighborhood in which the participants live. It is important to understand that these tweens and their school reside in typical (a s much as any neighborhood can be considered typical or representative), poor, urban neighborhoods. I have also given brief introductions to the members of the eighth grade, many of whom I interviewed, and all with whom I spent a great deal of time. I al so gave some details about the students in other grades who gave of their time to be interviewed. Although I did not cover all of the students of Scholastic Middle in this chapter, I learned a great deal from every individual student.
110 This chapter serves to familiarize you with the people who made this work possible and who created the insights that come later in this document. Their insights and creativity helped me to begin to answer how consumer culture a nd particularly brand name goods factor into their identities. What I found is that they are utilizing the resources of the consumer system, including brand names, in building their personal and social identities. However, as agents in this system they are not necessarily utilizing these resources in accordance with th e rules of the system, and th ey are certainly not selfish, unthinking, or hedonistic consumers, as popul ar portrayals of them would have us believe. The next chapters will detail how the tw eens I worked with used consumer culture in profoundly social, caring and creative ways First, I will addre ss the ways that the tweens showed care for themselves and set up an expectation of care from others. Then I will show how the tweens gave care to othe rs in their families and peer groups through monitoring and often denying their consumer de sires as well as defending others who do not meet consumer standards. The third argum ent I will make is that these students are moving against the consumer structure in st rategic and effective ways to change the politics of their ident ities and consumption. As the adage goes, one must love herself before she can love others, and therefore self-l ove is what will be addressed in the next chapter.
111 Chapter 6 Looking Good: The Performance of an Ethic of Care Getting Respect As we settle into drama class, I join Br ian and Alexander at a table in the middle of the room. Both boys are small for their ag e and very funny. IÂ’m not sure if one has to do with the other, but each boy has found his way socially at Scholastic Middle. In my few visits to the school so far, Brian especi ally has made an impression on me. He is adept at sarcastic, self-deprecating humor. Becau se of this, he is one of the first students whose name I know. I ask to sit down and am gr anted entry with a shrug that says, Â“Sure, whatever.Â” The class is working through a set of ques tions designed to help them create a character analysis for the monologues theyÂ’re performing in a couple of weeks. Questions include, Â“Why is your characte r saying this? What does your character look like? What attitude(s) does your character have in this scene?Â” As Brian and Alexander go through the questions out loud, theyÂ’re joking and talking. IÂ’m not excluded from the conversation; nor am I intentionally drawn in until I prove my usefulness to them. Luckily, I have some experience with perfor mance. When Brian says his character Â“is annoyed,Â” I ask him why the character feels annoyed. He looks confused; I clarify by saying that the reasons the character is annoyed would play into how he acts Brian decides his character isnÂ’t rea lly annoyed, but instead frustrated and upset. In this way, they let me help them flesh out the attitude s, demeanor, and general motivations of their characters. BrianÂ’s monologue is about a black boy, Byron, who is in love with a white girl, Amy. Amy returns ByronÂ’s affections but her mother does not like Byron because he is poor and black. AmyÂ’s mother tries to keep th em apart until Byron becomes so upset he confronts the mother, pleading with her to let him see her daughter. The performance
112 centers on the argument he lays out to the mother about why he is a good match for her white, middle-class daughter. BrianÂ’s worksheet is meant to help him focus on the protagonistÂ’s characteristics and the scene so he can perfor m them with his body and voice. HeÂ’ll have no props or set and no one on stage with whom to interact. As he works through the intricacies of the character, Brian discusses how the boy feels, the motherÂ’s reasons for not liking him, and the persuasive strategies most likely to gain her good will. Accordi ng to Brian, his goal is to show the mother that Â“heÂ’s a good ki d, a nice guy whoÂ’s going to be good to her daughter.Â” A key aspect of this discussion and the character wo rksheet heÂ’s filling out is the characterÂ’s presentation of self. What does the boy wear to impress the mother, to persuade her that he is a good boyfriend for her daughter? When Brian gets to this question, he says simply that the boy Â“dresse s nice.Â” He goes on to describe the boyÂ’s clothes: a Â“nice button-down shirtÂ” a nd Â“some nice pants.Â” Signaled by a nod, these answers are met with approval from Alexander, and Brian begins to write them down. I ask, Â“What kind of shirt? What kind of pants?Â” Without hesitation, he replies, Â“An irone d shirt, clean, not wrinkled.Â” Since I continue to look curious, he continues, Â“It fi ts right, not too baggy, but not too tight. The pants too, they fit. His shoes are clean and shined.Â” I nod and he begins to write in these additional details on his worksheet. As he writes he continues to describe the boyÂ’s condition, Â“HeÂ’s clean too. HeÂ’s got his hair combed and greased right. And heÂ’s holding himself good, you know, standing up straight and stuff.Â” I ask why he chose this outfit and why a l ack of wrinkles matters. This time Brian looks at me with a combination of exaspera tion and confusion (this often happens when I ask seemingly stupid questions a nd IÂ’ve come to expect it). With the patience of a parent talking to a child, he says, Â“It shows heÂ’s good, a good person, that he respects himself.Â” As IÂ’m on the cusp of another Â“stupidÂ” que stion and certain nonverbal rebuke from Brian, the teacher breaks into the conversati on with another set of directions. Self-Respect, Self-Care, and Consumption BrianÂ’s explanation of his characterÂ’s clothing was not a conversation fully bound by his reality. Although Brian has to perform this he and his peers were operating in the
113 realm of brainstorming and reality constr uction. Improbable options to resolve the situation like Â“they should ge t on a planeÂ” and Â“get marriedÂ” had already been suggested to connect the ill-fated teenagers in the monol ogue. The clothes in his own closet did not limit Brian in this exercise. He could have chosen a tuxedo or a jogging suit for Byron. He could have built an outfit from the most expensive line of name brand of clothing he knows. He could add jewelry or athletic s hoes to ByronÂ’s ensembleÂ—but he did not. He dealt with the situation and the assignment by making his character Â“look niceÂ” and used this as the defining premise for the acceptability of the outfit. He then described an outfit that anyone I know would consid er appropriate for a fourteen -year-old, or 40-year-old, to wear to meet his girlfriendÂ’s mother. Brian addressed the communicative roles that the presentation of self, in this case looking good, performs. He clearly and consci ously articulated that to look good is to show something about yourself and your relationships to ot hers. To look good is to signal to others the deepest levels of who you are; looking good evidences your moral center. As Brian puts it, Â“heÂ’s a good kid, a nice guy whoÂ’s going to be good to her daughter.Â” Looking good is about more than the clothes and more than the moment in which they are being worn and more than the process of c onsumption that led up to the wearing. It is about proving goodness, care, and re spect, and ultimately morality. Although dressing a character for the stage, Brian sees himself in Byron (the character). He picked this monologue because he related to it. In addition, throughout this project (which goes on for several class periods), he refers to the character as Â“meÂ” and Â“I.Â” In many ways, it is Brian who is getting dressed, and he is getting dressed to impress the mother. He is aware that careful attention has to be paid to the type of clothes worn and the presentationÂ—the ironing, shining, a nd tucking-inÂ—of those clothes. He has a great deal of discursive a nd practical knowledge (Giddens, 1986) regarding dressing well. He explains that ironing, shining, and tucking-in must be done to look nice. BrianÂ’s thoughts on his characterÂ’s outfit show something I came across again and again in both interviews a nd interactions: These tweens do not talk about brands. What they do discuss is Â“looking niceÂ” and Â“looking good,Â” and they further connect looking good with self-respect. Several aspects of looking good deserve e xploration. What is
114 Â“looking goodÂ”? How do showing respect and care for oneself play into looking good? To get to these questions, IÂ’ll begin by discussing common understandings of poor, minority, urban tweens and their storied relations hips with brands as hedonistic; discuss the tenets of looking good; explore how bra nds fit and do not fit into looking good; and finally survey the connections be tween looking good and care for self. Hedonism, Anti-Consumers, and Combat Consumers Common conceptions of poor, minority, urban youth and their use of and engagement with consumer culture focus on hedonistic aspects of consumption (Chin, 2001; Kotlowitz, 1991, 1999, 2000; Nightingale, 1993). Without regard to the constraints on their lives, the pursuit of name brand appare l, electronics, and jewe lry is seen in the media as not only the sole form of consump tion of this group, but also as choices made without intelligence, savvy, or care for others (Chin, 2001; Kotlowitz, 1991, 1999, 2000; Nightingale, 1993). Hedonism posits that human beings make decisions based on the ratio of pleasure to pain: pleasure should be maximized and pain minimized (Moore, Fall 2008). Although some philosophers have pointed to hedonism as the basis for an altruistic society (Moore, Fall 2008), the popular conception of hedonism is negative. Hedonism is primarily understood as a self-centered take on life. Hedonists are interested only in immediate pleasure for themselves without considering the long-term consequences to self or others. The consumption that is th e foundation of a consumer cu lture can be understood as hedonistic. Often engaged in to increase our pl easure and status, the majority of middleclass consumption is not necessary for survival or even modest comfort. And in a privatized consumer culture, purchases are made for the individual and thus centered on the self rather than made for the greater good. In fact, alongside an increase in private spending, public spending is at an all time low, leaving many people and neighborhoods struggling (Pugh, 2009; Putnam, 2000; Schor, 19 98). Such Â“taxÂ” revolt can be at least partially attributed to a desi re to keep income for oneself for private consumption (Pugh, 2009; Schor, 1998). However, although much contemporary consumption could be understood as hedonistic, it is the poor, espe cially the urban, minority, poor, who are
115 most frequently labeled as hedonists39 (see Chin 1993, 1999, 2001; Kotlowitz 1991, 1999, 2000, Pugh, 2009) while the same consumpti on by the middleand upper-classes is celebrated.40 Chin (2001) goes beyond the general c onception of hedonism to explore the images of what she calls the Â“anti-consumerÂ” (p. 43) and Â“combat consumerÂ” (p. 47). She argues that images of the welfare queen or street corner drug dealer have become virtually synonymous with poor urban Black people. This Â“a nti-consumer,Â” is someone who spends money she has not legally or righ tfully earned on things she does not need and should not have. Â“They are morally corru pt consumers, dangerous and threatening. The evidence of their moral corruption is their very consumptionÂ” (p. 43). Anticonsumerist portrayals of poor, minority consum ers do not take into account structural constraints, but instead place all responsib ility (and therefore bl ame) on a mythical individualÂ’s choicesÂ—as if she was unfettered and unc onstrained by institutional practices. Chin (2001) argues that these imag es are simply transformations of earlier images of slaves that allowed slave holders to see slavesÂ’ needs and desires as Â“being rooted in depravityÂ” (p. 38). Critiques of slavesÂ’ consumpti on similarly portrayed slavesÂ’ needs as luxuries and considered their wil lingness to work on Sunday to procure such things as furniture, clothes, and kitchen ut ensils as a kind of immorality and depravity (Chin, 2001, p. 38). Chin (2001) describes the Â“combat cons umerÂ” (p. 47) as purportedly created through the violence of poor, urban, black boys and the materialism of their female counterparts, who accomplish consumption through thievery and violence (p. 47). Chin asserts that media accounts of youth stealing a nd killing for jewelry and sneakers Â“serve to cement dominant and ahistorical narratives about the consumption of the poor rather 39 Kozol (1992) describes this lack of ability to see how tax codes and other institutionalized practices enacted by power ful and generally white and middle and upper class groups, neighborhoods, and voting f actions affect poor neighborhoods and education living with the f eeling of Â“ethical exempti onÂ” (p. 178). By disguising inequality as meritocracy, thos e in power do not need to take responsibility for the effects of their decisions. This ethical exemption al so includes what is deemed appropriate and inappropriate consumption for different groups. 40 Referring back to points made in Chapter 4: Cohen (1998) details the movement of the U.S. economy to a personal consumption model, and we were urged after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and in the current recession to spend to fulfill our citizenship duties.
116 than provide any contextually situated insi ghtÂ” (p. 48). These narra tives present minority consumption as going beyond hedonism to levels of pathological depravity. The very desires of poor minorities are criminalized, de spite very little difference existing between their desires and white, middle-class de sires (see Chin, 2001; Kotlowitz, 1999, 2000; Pugh, 2009). Representations of the anti-consum er and combat consumer are based in unfettered individual agency and ignore the st ructures that constr ain and prohibit such flagrant and self-cente red individual action. There are two main problems with these representations: prevalence and context (Chin, 2001). First, they are overly prevalent and relativel y stable across media (Chin, 2001, p. 48; see Hallsworth, 2006; Rome, 2004). Thes e are the stories to ld over and over for their sensational content. Like JhallyÂ’s argument in Dreamworlds (Media Education Foundation, 1995) that the highly sexualized and objectified images of women in the media are not themselves the only problem, but rather that such portrayals prohibit alternative views to complement/contradict in their proliferation. The reprehensible may be a true, though isolated, incident, but it is the almost monolithic prevalence of this narrative that is problematic. That the story is likely to be rare and more complex than media accounts report, or context, is the s econd problem. Acts of the antior combat consumer are decontextualiz ed, playing on structure and content that revolves around violence and women who are e ither ineffectual mothers or materialistic girlfriends in (generally) male lives (Chin, 2001, p. 49). Rath er than focusing on the structures of racism, poverty, and consumer culture that en courage such violent acts, these stories focus on these men and women, boys and girls. Acts of violent consumption are not as prevalent as the media portray and are only one among many type s of consumption. The way poor, minority, urban tweens are viewed when they wear name brand fashions or jewelry is as if they have done something criminal to get them. The result of being marked by class and race as a combat or anti-consumer is that to consume is itself a representation of immorality and crim inality (Chin, 2001; see Pattilo-McCoy, 1999). When speaking of the various instances of reporting on combat consumers, some as young as ten years old, Chin says,
117 It is a portrayal tapping a particularly insidious Ameri can myth: that the poor are highly susceptible to commodity fetishism, that they are addicted to brands, and that they are willing to acquire expensive th ings even at the cost of their own (or someone elseÂ’s) health a nd/or well-being. (2001, p. 56) Neither the tweens I worked with nor th e similar groups that Chin (1993, 1999, 2001), Kotlowitz (1999, 2000), Nightingale (1993), or Pugh (2009) studied came close to these images of the combator anti-consumer. No t only are they not hedonistic consumers but they also put great effort into limiting their own consumption and trying to better understand the connections between consump tion and social identity, despite the constraints placed on their consumer choices. Their consumption is first limited by the amount of money to which they and their families have access. Beyond this are other structural constraints on thei r buying including proximity of stores and, for many, the use of government programs like food stamps and WI C. These programs limit the majority of their food consumption and other household items and provide very different shopping experiences than afforded those who s hop without government assistance. These shopping environments and experiences are ke y to how consumption is experienced and further problematize many of the negative assumptions detailed above. Children in low-income urban neighbor hoods often have severely limited retail options. Several students at Scholastic Middle noted that they purchased snacks and other foods at neighborhood bodegas or corner stores. For those students and families with limited access to transportation, corner stores operated as places where household staples like milk, bread, toiletries, and hot food are pur chased (often at e xorbitant prices). In addition to corner stores, Wal-mart was by far the most commonly patronized clothing retailer. Given the several Super Wal-marts in the Tampa area, it is likely that many families do a majority of their clothi ng and household shopping there. Chin (1993), citing Ward et al. (1977), points to the supermarket as an im portant place where children receive consumer training. This training is complicated in a super-store setting because clothing, electronics, and toys b ecome a part of grocery shopping. For the consumption of name brand clot hing and expensive jewelry to take a prominent role in the lives of poor, ur ban, minority youth (as accounts of hedonistic
118 consumption assume), these items would have to be frequently and easily accessible. However, these kinds of goods are most read ily found in malls. Malls are not common in poor, urban neighborhoods (Alwitt & Donle y, 1997) and when they are present, precautions like curfews, a lack of bus st ops, and architectural groundwork like fences and hedges keep poor, minority youth out (Davis, 2002).41 Despite Tampa having five major indoor malls and countless strip malls, very few students mentioned these as places they frequented often, although nearly all me ntioned enjoying the mall. Malls served most often as a figurative rather than literal part of their consumer lives. There was an exception for those who lived in the Univer sity Community Area, which surrounds the University Mall42. For these children, hanging out at the mall was common, although they didnÂ’t have many stories to share about buyi ng there. The mall was primarily a social space, rather than a buying space (see Hallsworth, 2006; Thomas, 2005). By analyzing the spaces that the tweens in this study ha ve access to, frequent, and spoke about, it becomes clear that status or brand consumpti on takes up relatively little of their money or time. Also, given the number of malls and the fact that the majority of the families at Scholastic Middle own at least one car, these tweens are likely to have more access to brand name consumption than poor tweens livin g in more densely populated urban areas. Far from being hedonistic consumers, the tweens I worked with understand a great deal about the complexity of their consumption and its effects on their families. When I asked about what they consumed, ma ny students spoke about food, electric bills, transportation, and rent in addi tion to clothing and toys. They are particularly aware that their desires for clothing and t oys are part of the many expe nses their parents incur on their behalf. This awareness leads them to be very careful in what th ey ask for and expect from their parents. When they do ask for clothi ng and shoes, they do so with the strategic goal of Â“looking good.Â” They r ecognize that their consum ption is tied to their 41 In fact, private retail security has signifi cantly contributed to an increase in private police forces in the U.S. (Bayley & Shearing, 1996). 42 It is also important to no te that unlike other high-end ma lls in Tampa, the University Mall is an aging, urban mall with many low-en d stores (for example, Burlington Coat Factory and other non-chain urba n-wear stores). It is aimed at a lower middle-class clientele.
119 presentation of self and seek to create a pres entation that shows themselves as individuals who respect and care for themselves and w ho are respected and cared for by others. Looking Good The tweens spent a great deal of time discussing being pr esentable, looking nice, and looking good (hereafter looking good). Looking good is about two main things: looking like yourself and looki ng presentable to others. Fo r the tweens, reaching the balance between these two goals lets others know a bit about who they are (their personal style and attributes), that they have respect and enact care fo r themselves, and that others care about them. Focusing on looking good also shows an understanding that one is being looked at and surveilled (Foucau lt, 1977). They realize that they are being watched and judged as normal or delinquent. In the initial story in this chapter, Brian talks about the various tactics for self pres entation that his character By ron must use to make a good impression on his girlfriendÂ’s mother. ByronÂ’s be st possible presentati on of self depends on taking time for dressing and grooming. Jacynth went even farther in her descri ption of the role gr ooming plays in looking good by judging those who do not pay close a ttention to grooming standards harshly. Despite recognizing that it can take a lot of time and effort to make oneÂ’s hair Â“look nice,Â” she replies, Â“No matte r what, you should look nice. Your hair should be done everywhere you go.Â” This type of judgment without attention to circumstances was completely uncharacteristic of Jacynth and he r peers, as I discuss further in the next chapter. However, in terms of grooming, she was unable to accept that individuals might not do their bestÂ—anything with in and even beyond their cont rolÂ—to look nice. In terms of brushing your hair and being clean sh e saw no reason, no matter how much time it might take you, not to do these things. Jacynth makes assumptions about agency,43 albeit different assumptions than those in the popul ar imagination regarding these youth. She is assuming access to not only a usable bathroom setting but also to grooming products. For the tweens, grooming is very importa nt and something that cannot be made up for with attention to other details like cl othing, even brand-name clothing. However, clothing too plays a large ro le in looking good. Also, alt hough grooming requires a great 43 These assumptions are founded in normaliz ing judgment (Foucault, 1977), something the tweens largely fight against (discussed in Chapter 7).
120 deal of time, knowledge, and resources, it is not the most frequently considered aspect of consumer culture popularly associated with th ese tweens. Therefore, brands and clothing, the aspects that are most often questioned a nd commented upon as part of their hedonistic consumer identities, deserve atten tion in their role in looking good. Far from the obsessed combat consumer, the tweens I worked with talked about brands in nuanced ways. What is perhaps most interesting is that they did not talk about brands a great deal; at leas t not in concrete terms or without direct, and sometimes sustained, prompting. Brands are not as impor tant to looking good as time and attention to self. If you have a wrinkled designer sh irt, you donÂ’t look good. It is this function, the role that brands might play in Â“looking good,Â” that primarily makes them desirable. To explain looking good, this section first addres ses the limited ways that brands are used toward this goal and then discusses the more salient tenets of looking good. The chapter will then move on to discuss how looking good f actors into creating the image of a caredfor self. The Limited Role of Brands The shift from the popularly understood impor tance of brands to this group to a focus on Â“looking goodÂ” came through clearly in the ways they spoke about what they liked to wear. Brands are by no means an overw helming part of the tweensÂ’ consumption; however, they do have limited uses. Brands serve as short cuts to looking good and communicating positive attr ibutes of the wearer. In most interviews I posed the questio n, Â“What is your favorite outfit?Â” I asked this question to ascertain what they thought of as stylish and fashionable and expected that brands would play a role in the descriptions of thes e outfits. However, brands had little to no role in their de scriptions. Instead, they offe red the type of clothing and descriptions (i.e., color, fit, attractiveness) When I followed up with Â“What brand is the shirt you just described?Â” the brands were frequently not recognizable to me or, more often, the students did not know the brand name at all. I ask Devon, a fifth grade boy, to tell me about his favor ite outfit. He says he doesnÂ’t have one. Next, I ask him to tell me about a good outfit. He says, Â“My striped shirt and some nice shorts.Â” To not even have a favorite outfit shows less emphasis on
121 clothing than I expected. But just as impor tant, and something I found in nearly every interview, is that his description of a good outfit does not include any mention of the brand of his clothing. I continued with this li ne of questioning in my interviews with Scholastic Middle students; howev er, I was also quick to offer alternative questions such as, Â“What kind of clothes do you like?Â” to allow participants latitude in describing their clothing practices and preferences. When I ask DevonÂ’s twin brother, Demarc o, what kind of clothes he likes, we move through three sets of questions before any mention of a brand. He responds, Â“gym shorts.Â” When I ask what other types of clot hes he likes, he says, Â“fancy pants, fancy clothes, like shirts and stuff.Â” The use of the word Â“fancyÂ” le ads me to think heÂ’s talking about name brands. However, when I follow up by asking what he would wear if he were going out to the mall tonight, he says, Â“I woul d probably wear some pants, pants thatÂ’s not too big and not too small. At least make it like dark blue or something, and at least a sign in the front, and a shirt th atÂ’s striped, and green and black and stuff.Â” Only in my fourth attempt for clarificati on, is there some indication that a brand might matter in the reference to Â“a sign in the front.Â” Through furt her questions, I find out a sign is a label for a brand and that Â“they donÂ’t ha ve to have a label on them, but I think to me it looks a little bit better.Â” However, when I ask why a Â“signÂ” looks better, he does not reference the brand but says, Â“Because if I was to wear some beat-up shorts, and nothing on it, itÂ’d probably look dumb.Â” To wear beat up shor ts would generally be unacceptable, therefore having a brand name on them makes them look less beat up. Although the shorts would look more acceptable, the brand would not redeem beat up shorts. Beat up trumps branding. However, if he took care of the s horts, the brand would not matter. In the end, brands are hardly more at the center of looking good for Demarco than they were for his brother. When I ask about her favorite outfit, Tahira an eighth grade girl, says, Â“ItÂ’s this pink shirt and these checkerboa rd gauchos, and itÂ’s so cute. I like it.Â” When I ask her what shoes she wore with it, she says, Â“Som e silver little string-up shoes.Â” Again, she does not mention brands. Also interesting is th at she wore this outfit to a special day at school last year, which shows that her favorit e outfit is one that she has had for some
122 time. Not only keeping but also continuing to en joy a year-old outfit s uggests that she is not concerned with keeping up with the high turnover in clothing consumption. By no means are the students overall opposed to brands or immune to their allure. Demarco thinks a label Â“looks a little better.Â” We can also look at eighth grader Cala who loves fashion magazines like Vogue and Ebony and spends a lot of time reading them to help her reach her dream of creating her own successful mag azine. Cala believes that Jordans44 are nice, but decides sheÂ’s not Â“really into that type of thing.Â” Throughout CalaÂ’s interview it is clear that she likes e xpensive things like Gucci and Jordans, but has chosen to define herself in di fferent ways. Instead of wearing the Jordan athletic shoes so popular in her peer group, she says she would rather wear dress shoes, something that need not be branded and theref ore significantly cheaper and ea sily purchased at Wal-mart where she says she gets many of her clothes. Cala doesnÂ’t wear dress shoes because th e Jordans have no meaning for her, and not because she doesnÂ’t want them. She wear s dress shoes because she likes the dress shoes too and this is a choice that is easier on her familyÂ’s finances. She says, Â“I mean, if I like, if I had the opt ion, I would wear Jordans and ev erything. But, you know like I said, the money situation, like you already know.45 So I wouldnÂ’t ask for something that big, plus thatÂ’s just not something IÂ’m into.Â” Bra nds are not central, al though they are also not absent from the tweens con cept of looking good. Cala bypasses asking for the branded shoe and doesnÂ’t see it as necessary to he r look given her financia l situation; however, when name brand products are utilized it is as a short cut or personal signifier. Brands as short cut. For Cala and her peers, brands are u nderstood as one, but not the only, way to look good. Instead, they offer a shortcut to looking good. Whatever their import, name brands are not necessary to looking good. When I asked Devon why he thought some people cared about name brands more than he did, he said, Â“Because they donÂ’t know which clothes to sort out. If they know th ey like a name brand, that makes it easier to 44 Michael Jordan athletic shoes made by Nike. 45Cala spoke about the relative pove rty her family lived in as a fact of life to which I must be privy. Cala knows the financ ial situation in her family from everyday in teraction and expects that I understand the same. Similar to other studies of yout h in universally poor school setting, poverty is largely not referenced with shame (see Pugh, 2009).
123 shop.Â” Tahira echoes this by saying, Â“Some pe ople its all about s how. I think itÂ’s all about how intelligent you are. Â” To buy clothing that looks good without relying on name brands requires knowledge and creativity. Devon and his peers believe they have th ese skills and knowle dges, and therefore they do not need to depend on name brands They hold this knowledge in practical consciousness and thus are aware of it and can articulate it. Through their creative style they are agents actively addressing the struct ure of consumer cultu re and fashion. They are utilizing their knowle dge to subvert the brand resource s of the structure. Knowing a name brand makes it Â“easier to shopÂ” in that it is a short cut around acquiring and utilizing the various knowledges otherwise ne cessary to put togeth er good looking outfits. Looking good is a rule of the consumer system and having the expertise to do so is a resource. Because these tweens have these know ledges, they can avoid purchasing brands and thus bypass more expensive aspects of the consumer system. They are also attempting to be judged normal consumers when surveilled without paying for it by the use of name brands. Brands as personal signifier. The second use of brands the tweens saw was as personal signifier. When the students talked about the attr ibutes of brands, including w hy they liked certain brands more than others, it was often because they saw desirable brands as showing something positive about them. Sometimes celebrity aff iliation with the brand was a positive, at other times it was a characteristic of the brand that appealed to the tweens. Often, the celebrity related to a product superseded th e importance of the brand. Jordans were nearly always listed as a separa te brand from Nike, despite the fact that Jordans are a Nike brand shoe. The connecti on with and desire for these products was connected with admiration for Michael Jordan, rather than the shoe named for him. For instance, Malik thought being associated with Sean John was positive because of Sean John CombsÂ’s (recording name Diddy)46 success as both a musician and a businessperson. 46 At the time of writing, his recording name is Diddy, however he has been previously known as both Puff Daddy and P. Diddy and ther e have recently been rumors of another name change (MTV News, 2008).
124 However, the tweens were also critical of celebrity endorsements and clothing products. After expressing his admiration for S oulja Boy, a popular ra p artist, dancer, and record producer, I ask Demarco if he would buy Soulja Boy clothes if he came out with a line. He responded, Â“No, because heÂ’s my favor ite rapper to a song, not just to everything I see and want to touch.Â” These celebrity a ffiliations also became problematic when the endorser loses status, such as NFL player Michael Vick, who had a line of Nike shoes before being convicted of dog fighting and se nt to prison. Chantoya says, Â“Well it was kinda sad, like I got these shoes for this st upid person; he lost everything he got.Â” Chantoya continued to wear the shoes because she didnÂ’t feel it was a good reason to ask for new shoes, but much of her pleasure in wearing them was gone. Other times the brand identity itself was seen as a way to communicate the identity of the wearer. For eighth grader Ia nna, Ralph Lauren is a brand that makes her feel Â“happyÂ” because, she says, it Â“fits my person al style. I have class, classic style. I like fashion.Â” When I push her to define class, sh e says, Â“Like older, sophisticated.Â” She goes on to describe wearing the Â“basicsÂ” like pair ing black and white and wearing jeans that fit well. Ralph Lauren is the only expensive brand she names and she marks it as her favorite. She says it Â“fits her pe rsonal styleÂ” because it is Â“classy.Â” When I question the connections between her Â“classy Â” style and why she likes to wear Ralph Lauren she says, Â“It just says it, shows it.Â” Following Ralph LaurenÂ’s advertised image, she sees the brand as associated with class and sees herself as a classy person, therefore making a nice match and allowing others to see the classi ness that she possesses. She doesnÂ’t derive class from Ralph Lauren, but communicates class with it. Important in both talk about brand affilia tion via celebrity and personal style is the reversal of a contagion-based model of id entity construction. Like a contagious virus that travels from person to person, so doe s discussion of brands move through popular discourse. The brand has a charac teristic that the wearer is trying to possess, to catch, to be given. The individual receives a sense of status or a qual ity, for example athleticism or class from the brand. Kotlowitz (1999, 2000) found that urban ki ds were trying to connect with the stability of the upper classes when wearing the same brands as white, suburban kids.
125 Nightingale (1993) too found that name brands serve as a connection to the Â“good lifeÂ” for inner-city kids. Nightingale says, Â“the va lues of conspicuous consumption, as well as the material trappings of those values, beco me a growing part of poor African-American childrenÂ’s upbringing in i nner-city neighborhoodsÂ” (p. 135). In order to create a compensatory identity (Nightingale, 1993), an identity that substitutes for marred race and class identities, teens become more inte rested in name brands, prestige items, and fashion consciousness. They search for Â“im itation luxuryÂ”Â—Â“symbols of status, excess, manhood, and violenceÂ” (p. 141), status-redeem ing products, to overcome feelings of inferiority based on race and class. Although I cannot say that th e tweens I worked with do not see these factors in the use of name brands at all, I can say that their talk does not show that they primarily see the brands as the carriers of positive characteristics and themselves as the receivers. Ianna does not get Â“classÂ” from Ralph Lauren. She has class (based on style, confidence, and social skill rather than on socioeconomic status) and the brand reflects this class. The brand helps her to manage the impression she makes on others (Goffman, 1959) by using a culturallyÂ—known symbol. The brand shows her class. It does not create it. When I ask Cala, Â“If you had to pick one brand that is you, could you pick one?Â” She replies, Â“No, because no brand can ever make me, like IÂ’m a brand. So if I just picked one, like Louis Vuitton, that w ouldnÂ’t be me. But, like a combination of everythingÂ’s me.Â” Not only is the brand not Cala, but she sees herself as having qualities more complex, important, distinct, and intere sting enough to be a br and all her own. She says, Â“IÂ’m a brand,Â” indicating th at there is something more to her, more interesting than any brand anyone else has created. Cala and the other tweens use brands to communicate their identities to others; brands do not imbue them with these iden tities. This complicates the views of Nightingale (1993) and Kotlowitz (1999, 2000) It shows opposite of QuartÂ’s (2003) findings. Quart (2003) found that the upper cl ass teens she worked with considered brands to be similar to celebrities and, Â“By this logic, the most famous brand is the greatest; and when teens fuse with top brands, they become the greatest, as wellÂ” (p. 21). Conversely, Cala sees herself as the greatest, without the help of the brand. Â“I am a
126 brand,Â” she declares, and no other brand can ex press so unique and interesting an identity as she herself already possesses. This reversal of contagion of the identity (i.e., the brand does not contain the quality, but simply communicat es a quality the wearer already possesses) begs the question of whether middle and upper class pe rceptions of poor consumption are simply projections of those classesÂ’ issues regarding identity, consumption, and hedonism. Pugh (2009) finds that affluent parents worry about the effects of consumer culture on their children and define their child renÂ’s consumption in terms of what they have not bought them or what Pugh calls Â“symbolic deprivati onÂ” to prove their own Â“moral restraint and worthiness as parentsÂ” (p. 9). Perhaps it is so mehow the worries of the affluent regarding having too much and being too enmeshed in co nsumer culture that are being transferred onto youth whose consumption may be visible, but is still much less prevalent (in terms of financial, time, and attention invest ments) than that of other classes. The agency and actions of the tweens at Scholastic Middle are being misread by the culture at large. The tweens have take n the rules (consumption status/ name-brand products) and resources (the products them selves) and re-written them with profound consequences for their identities. Students at Scholastic Middle address aspects of context, type, quality, and de sirability of clothing in their concept of looking good. Tenets of Looking Good The answers I got to questions regardi ng their favorite outfits or outfits they would Â“wear to the mallÂ” consistently descri bed the outfit in terms of the context where the clothes were to be worn, th e type of clothes (pants, shorts, capris, polo shirts, t-shirts, etc.), the qualities of the clot hes (color, fit, and style such as baggy or long), and a general assessment of the desirability of their favorit e outfits (nice, cute, Â“fine,Â” or Â“tightÂ”). Context was important to the description of the type of clothing and how this influenced the general assessment of looking good. Taite says, I was always taught you got to show up fo r the job that youÂ’re doing. So if youÂ’re a professor, I donÂ’t think you would dress in jeans and a t-shirt. People wonÂ’t take you seriously. So, thatÂ’s why I say that attire is so impor tant. Normally if thatÂ’s your job, like in the business world, the su it is the universal thing. Casual? Casual
127 is fine when youÂ’re back home. But in th e business world, the suit is the universal thing or at least some nice pants and a shirt, but never j eans and a t-shirt. Taite understands that different situations call for different cl othing and projects these lessons forward in his life. Often in the interviews, the tweens would project themselves or hypothetical others into the business world, into a time when they would have a career. They defined the work they do now (i.e., looking good at the mall) as practice for the future (i.e., a professional jo b), which demonstrates their future-oriented progress narrative. Taite says you have to Â“show up for the job youÂ’re doing.Â” This goes for jobs and for the everyday activities youÂ’re engaging, like going to school or the mall. When describing clothing they liked, the st udents typically bega n with the type of clothing. As detailed earlier, Tahira describes her outfit in terms of shirt and pants. Decisions about the type of clot hing are closely rela ted to context as well, as Taite details with his differentiation between suits and t-shirts. The qualities of clothing (col or, fit, and style) are also important. In the initial story for this chapter, Brian dresses his charac ter in a shirt that Â“fits right, not too baggy, but not too tight.Â” Demarco was quick to say that he wasnÂ’t going to go out Â“with some pants at my knees or something.Â” By this he means that he will not wear pants that look too big or show his boxers. Tahira describes her outfit as pink and white. Her tone tells me that she isnÂ’t just describing the colors fo r my benefit but that she really likes these colors and that color plays a la rge role in he r selections. Finally, the descriptions of clothing are usually summed up with a comment making a general assessment of the outfit. It is nice, cute, fine, tight, or otherwise positively described. Demarco likes Â“fancyÂ” stuff. Rather than verbally assessing the style of his outfit, Brian takes his hands even to his chest, palms f acing the floor and then pushes them down, stopping below his waist to pump his hands twice up and down he says knowingly with a bit of a wink, Â“you know.Â” And I do; I know he means he is looking good. Within these references to context, type, qualities, and desirability were factors that commented on gender. Boys spoke most often about the importance of matching,
128 while girls spoke more about their parents mon itoring their clothes to be sure that they were both feminine and modest. The eighth grade girls nearly all discussed the closely related concepts of modesty and femininity. For the eighth grade girls, mode sty is important. Generally, as I discuss in Chapter 7, the girls refused to pass judgment on others about clothi ng choices, even with prompting from me about hypothe tical scenarios. However, a lack of modesty is one thing they would not accept. To wear clothing that was too revealing (i.e., short skirts, low-cut shirts, and shirts that showed the midriff) was unacceptable. When I asked where they learned rules for modesty, the girls said they learned them from their parents, most often their mothers. Modesty is a standard that their mother s instilled in them, and one the girls agree with and accept. This is one of the ways their parents and habitus seeks to discipline their bodies. Although, the tweens fight against a great deal of the normalizing judgment, examination, and hierarchical observation (Foucault 1977) that surrounds them and their consumer choices, the girls find modesty rules acceptable and as coming from their habitus and cultura l capital, rather than the dom inant habitus (Bourdieu, 1984; Carter, 2003). Kabira responds with the term Â“presentab leÂ” when I ask her about how she needs to dress when leaving home. When I ask Ka bira to tell me what she means by being Â“presentable,Â” she responds, Â“Like not coming in here with a short skirt, inch material. Or like a shirt thatÂ’s too revealing. Just present yourself nice. Something youÂ’ll be comfortable, and not unc omfortable, with.Â” Thinking I misheard, I ask Kabira, Â“What material?Â” She replies, Â“ThatÂ’s what I call it when you got this much material on,Â” and spreads her fingers barely apar t to show me an inch and t hus define what she meant by Â“inch material.Â” For Kabira a key aspect of being presentable is to be dressed modestly. In response to a question asking why it is important to look nice, Jacynth creates and comments on a hypothetical job scenario: Â“Like, if you come with something short on, theyÂ’re like, Â‘Oh, youÂ’re not going to be a good representative for this company.Â’Â” Her father is the standard by which Jacynth j udges the modesty of her attire. Earlier in the school year she wore a purple t-shirt to dance class that on e of her classmates judged as
129 too tight, saying, Â“YouÂ’re gonna get in trouble.Â” When I asked Jacynth about this incident she said, Â“He [her father] bought it so it was fi ne.Â” Her parents have instilled and enforce the value of modesty upon Jacynth, but it is one that she accepts and self-imposes as well. Her she rejected the surveillance of her peers having determined that she was still within the realm of normal because of the judgment of her father. She has internalized this surveillance and operates according to his standards even though he will not see her at school. The standards of femininity set by their pa rents are accepted less so than those for modesty. The girls recounted pleading with th eir parents for bulky boysÂ’ athletic shoes, baggy pants, and oversized t-shirts and jers eys. As I will explain in more detail in Chapter 7, the tweens reportedly did not argue with their parents re garding the purchases they were willing to make for them. For instan ce, if they were told no in a store, they generally dropped their protests to avoid embarrassment and possible punishment and to show respect. Therefore, the girls largely did what their pa rents wanted in terms of not wearing baggy clothes or large athletic shoes, but did not internali ze this norm as they had their parentsÂ’ rules for modesty. Unlike in the case of modesty, th e girls did not selfsurveill, but instead revo lted against this norm in thought if not action. For instance, according to Cala, her mother enforces a standard of femininity that pushes her away from most anything considered boyish or too sexualize d. Cala says, Â“If I like something really baggy or something, like so mething not really girly, then sheÂ’s like, Â‘NoÂ—thatÂ’s not going to work.Â’ But if itÂ’s t oo girly and I want these big high-heeled shoes, like stilettos or something, sheÂ’s like, Â‘No.Â’ She has to keep me in a range.Â” CalaÂ’s mother wants her to look feminine, but not li ke a woman. This range is one that maintains what her mother considers age-appropriate femininity. When I ask Cala how she feels about her mother keeping her Â“in a range,Â” she replies, Â“ItÂ’s cool. I mean, she knows whatÂ’s best. But sometimes I disagree. But, you know.Â” She ends this sentence with a shrug to indicate thereÂ’s no poi nt in arguing with her mom. Where the girls mentioned modesty and femininity as defining characte ristics of what it meant for them to look good, the boys focused attention on matching.
130 Through modesty and femininity standards, the girls learn how the docile female body looks and much of this understanding is st ored in practical consciousness. The girls understand their parentsÂ’ definition of appropria te femininity to be narrower than their own. They desire to adhere to the standards of th eir peer habitus and a larger cultural norm for femininity and thus push against their parentÂ’s standards. This is quite different from the internalized standards of m odesty to which they willingly adhere. Matching clothing was an important c ontributor to looking good for both boys and girls, though more often mentioned and elaborated by boys. Taite says, Now, matching is important, as opposed to back in the 80s where you could just throw on a yellow shirt, some green pants, ju st go out there. But, nowadays, thatÂ’s just not what we would call the best out fit. Unless youÂ’re not planning to see anybody you know, like if youÂ’re just going down the street, thatÂ’s fine, but not going out to the mall. You have to ha ve at least some matching stuff. For Taite, as for many of the boys, matchi ng was key to an ou tfit looking good. Being able to match your clothes turned individual pie ces, for instance a shirt and pants, into an outfit. Fit also factored into matching because one aspect of matching is how the fit of each piece aligns and thus influences the aes thetic of the whole. For instance, you cannot wear an overly baggy shirt and fitted pants because youÂ’ll look Â“all unevenÂ” as seventh grader, Norrence says. Matching shows their willingness to conform to standards of normality, to normalizing judgment. However, they are creative in how they do this matching, and larger category of looking good. They are able to create some of their own standards because of their skills. To Taite, it is necessary to Â“at least ha ve some matching stuffÂ” because matching means looking good. In other words, if you ha ve taken the time to look good, through attention to the type of clothi ng appropriate to the situation, to the details of that clothing, modesty and gender appropriateness (especially for girls), matching and fit, you show you care about yourself. The tweens understand themselves as showing through dress not just their personal style but also something d eeper about who they are and how they feel about themselves. What they are not doing is placing much emphasis on brands or using brands to imbue them with status or other characterist ics. By looking good, they are
131 showing that they have the knowledge and the desire to be presenta ble to other people, that they care enough to take ca re of and respect themselves. Performance of Care The goal of looking good is to show mo ral worthiness. The tweens in this study made clear that their efforts toward looki ng good were in service of getting care and respect from others by showing that they we re already cared for by themselves and their families. They spoke extensively and passiona tely about care, concern, respect, Â“home training,Â” and how all these as pects of their current and fu ture selves are communicated to others, both those they know and those they donÂ’t, through looking good. To explain how looking good signals and facilitates care, IÂ’ ll first briefly disc uss Carol GilliganÂ’s concept (1993) of the ethic of care and apply it to how the tweens show they care for themselves, that their families care for them, and how this care should signal a right to care from society. An Ethic of Care Carol Gilligan (1993) found that women of ten base their moral reasoning on the ethic of care. They consider how people will be connected, cared for, or helped when determining ethical courses of action. Mora l development in women is exemplified by Â“attention to othersÂ’ partic ular needs and perspectives avoidance of hurt, and maintenance of attachments as moral goalsÂ” (Bardige, Ward, Gilligan, McLean Taylor, & Cohen, 1988, p. 160). From this perspective, th e Â“right thing to doÂ” is identified by considering a decisionÂ’s projected effect s on individuals, not through individualist, masculine justice or fairness frames. Ethics of care require the ac knowledgement that our interests are interconnected and interdependent To be a good and moral person is to care about oneÂ’s relationships and consider them when making decisions, recognizing that our capacity for caring for others and ourselves should be cultivated and enhanced. Utilizing different methods of moral reasoni ng leads to different imaginings of the self and identity. Gilligan explains the differe nt way of viewing the self that comes with an ethic of care (Gilligan, 1993; Bardige et al., 1988): A different way of describing the self, gene rally confused with a failure of selfdefinition, has been clarified in recent years by attention to the experience of
132 women. In this alternative construction, self is known in the experience of connection and defined not by reflection but by interaction, the responsiveness of human engagement. The close tie I have observed between self-description and moral judgment illuminates the significan ce of this distinction by indicating how different images of self give rise to di fferent visions of moral agency, which in turn are reflected in different ways of defining responsibility. (Bardige et al., 1988, p. 7) When operating with an ethic of care, oneÂ’s orientation to the worldÂ—her image of selfÂ— is seen not as independent and autonomous but deeply enmeshed and connected with others. An ethic of care coincides with an identity of careÂ—one who cares and needs care. This can be seen as a self based on a disidentification (Munoz 1999). This could be especially important for indivi duals who, like the tween s, do not have normal identities in the dominant discourse. Because their iden tities based on race, class, and age are delinquent (Foucault, 1977), basing identities in care for self and others, may be one of the few positive spaces left to base their id entities, especially those connected to consumption. Prior to GilliganÂ’s work (1993), reason ing through care was often seen as a deficiency in moral development. This c ould arguably still be seen as the popular conception of morality. However, Bardige et al. (1988) found that t eens, boys and girls,47 in poor, urban areas had advanced moral reas oning skills based in care. Bardige et al. (1988) found that, More than three-quarters of the inte rviewees spontaneously mentioned moral considerations in response to at leas t one of our identity questions. Moral considerations included desc riptions of oneself as help ful, sharing, liking to care for little kids, not prejudiced, caring a bout others, trying to make people feel good, being a sensitive and patient listener, being careful not to say things that hurt other peopleÂ’s feelings, being a peacem aker, avoiding fights, staying out of 47 Gilligan says, Â“The different voice I describe is characterized not by gender but theme. Its association with women is an empirical observation . but this association is not absoluteÂ” (1993, p. 2).
133 trouble, being obedient and/or helpful to parents, and being a Â“goodÂ” or Â“decentÂ” kid. (p. 164) For the teenagers in the Bardig e et al. (1988) study, a desire to be cared for and to care for others was a key marker of self-identity. The reliance on an ethic of care can also be seen in the comments of the students at Scholastic Middle, and their consumption and their presentation of self through looking good are necessary to show cared-for selves. For the students at Scholasti c Middle, a desire to be seen as cared-for and as someone who cares for others was a prime motivator toward looking good. It allowed for disidentification (Munoz, 1999) rejecting the status quo he donist title, while still participating in consumer culture. If we build our identities through consumer goods as many scholars have argued (Bauman, 2005; Crawford, 1992; Dittmar, 2008; Kotlowitz, 1999, 2000; Schor, 1998), the moral aspects of ou r identity would be at least partially signaled in the same way. A key aspect of th e tweensÂ’ moral ident ities, their legitimacy as cared-for selves, is shown to others through their clothi ng and overall presentations of self, their chosen commodities, and their use of consumer culture. Performance of a Cared-For Identity Looking good enables a positive performance of self. One performs her identity (including moral identi ty) through appearance and action to ward others within the rules and resources of the structures inherent in any given situa tion and setting (in the case of the U.S.Â—consumer culture). As discussed in Chapter 4, GoffmanÂ’s (1959) theory of impression management holds that identity is created and maintained in front stage/public life through both conscious and unconscious us e of tools and strate gies employed by the social actor in concert with others. Cons umer culture provides many, and arguably the most noticeable and easily read, resources (Giddens, 1986), for developing a front-stage self or identity. Most important for the tw eens in this study was that their front-stage identity show care Pugh (2009) found similar claims to care with children. Pugh takes on GoffmanÂ’s (1967) concept of facework, where each indivi dual works in interaction to portray a positive image of self. However, she locates th is facework within the individual using it, as it is manifested and performed rather th an in interaction. In PughÂ’s work with both
134 poor and affluent children, the Â“economy of dignityÂ” largely depends on cultural Â“scripÂ” gained through an ownership and/or know ledge of consumer culture. Pugh says, Children collect or confer dignity among th emselves, according to their (shifting) consensus about what sorts of objects or e xperiences are supposed to count for it. . I use Â“dignityÂ” to mean the most basic sense of childrenÂ’s participation in their social world, what the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen called an Â“absolute capability . to take part in the life of the community.Â” With dignity, children are visible to their peers, and granted the aural space, the very right to speak in their own commun ityÂ’s conversation. (p. 7) At PughÂ’s (2009) field sites, the economy of dignity, the structure in which children are able to speak and participate in their worlds, is animated by th e use of tokens of value, or scrip. Cultural scrip varied between more and le ss affluent field site s and as things came in and out of vogue. However, in all field si tes scrip was most often related to knowledge and ownership of elements of popular cultu re (Pugh, 2009; see Chin, 2001). Scrip also made claims to care by giving the children Â“a n aura of those who received the care, time, and attention of othersÂ” (Pugh, 2009, p. 64). However, unlike scrip, looking good is not primarily based in commodities. It is based in skilled and creative behavior. Fo r the tweens in this study, looking good, like scrip, is a means for belonging. Looking good is al so similar to scrip in that it gives solvency in the economy of dignity. Looking good is a way to claim care. It shows you care for yourself, that you are cared for by ot hers, and further that you deserve such care. By showing they are deserving of care, the tweens show that they are moral individuals.48 Care is shown through Â“home training.Â” Ho me training is defined by fifth grader Demarco as, Â“When at least somebody teaches you to do the right th ings and donÂ’t do the wrong things.Â” Utilizing an ethic of care to understand these complex performances of self shows that the very acts and attit udes regarding the centrality of appearance considered shallow and hedonistic in popular conceptions denote inst ead care for self and care from family, and further, a right to the care of society. 48 The tweens also utilize the ethic of care more directly by using consumption to show care for others, particularly their families, as is discussed in Chapter 7.
135 Care for Self and Care from Others To look good is to indicate care and the ri ght for care in three ways: care for self, care from family, and care from unknown othe rs. Although all of thes e forms of gaining and giving care are connected as elements of both structure and agency, for the sake of explanation they will be separated. Care for self and care from family will be discussed as they relate more directly to what the tween s pull into their identi ties and project out to others. The expectation of car e from unknown others will also be discussed as it is expected to be the direct re sult of a cared-for identity. Much of the effort put into looking good is in the service of creating a cared-for identity. Both self and others care for this cared-for identity. By looking good, tweens show they have the knowledge and the inclinat ion to put their best selves forward. They understand that they are presenting themselves to others and are showing that they care about what others think. The tweens c onceptualized self-care through comments including, Â“you have to keep yourself looki ng presentable,Â” Â“you must show you have Â“home training,Â” and you must leave home Â“looking nice, ready for the day.Â” For example, Taite says, Â“I care about wh at I look like out in the open.Â” When I ask him how others perceive him because of this care, he says, What I think that they would say is that Â“He has respect for himself . and he has the respect to show that.Â” I think that really it shows respect for myself more than anything else. But, what IÂ’m really trying to do when IÂ’m out in the open, and I dress nicely isÂ—IÂ’m just trying to have myself, like I said, be more confident. But I guess what theyÂ’re saying is that he has more respect for himself, and that heÂ’s going out properly, and that heÂ’s not putting himself like in the stereotypical way out in the open and just Â—heÂ’s kind of like more having his own style instead of copying what everybody else is doing. What we hear from Taite is that looking good shows that he has self-respectÂ—that he cares for himself. It is also clear that he knows and attempts to avoid the negative stereotypes of poor, urban, minority youth. He is actively work ing against these stereotypes by cultivat ing his own style. He works to make sure his style is not
136 stereotypical and will not be read as such. Being seen as a respected, cared-for, worthwhile individual is his goal. Respect comes in up much of the tw eensÂ’ talk and can often be used interchangeably with care. A lthough they donÂ’t use the adage, the tweens adhere to the idea of Â“if you donÂ’t respect yourself, no one el se will.Â” They use their knowledges and skill sets regarding looking good to show care and respect for themselves. For instance, brushing oneÂ’s hair or ironing one Â’s clothes would be a sign of care if someone did it for you. The tweens speak of these same acts as al so showing self-respect when they do these tasks themselves. BrianÂ’s comments illustrate the dynamics of self-care. Like, if IÂ’m going to a meeting, and IÂ’ m wearing some messed up clothes and people know that I have better clothe s, and stuff, people like get the wrong perception of me and think of me as like I donÂ’t care, I donÂ’ t care about myself, and I donÂ’t carry myself at a good, I donÂ’t ca rry myself the way IÂ’m supposed and that I just donÂ’t care. For Brian, there is a way he is Â“suppos ed toÂ” carry himself. Carrying himself encompasses how he dresses, his attitude, and the way he holds his body. Using the term Â“supposedÂ” signals an external framework for be havior that he must live up to. Self-care and respect are key to the adequate performa nce of the docile body in BrianÂ’s habitus. He has internalized these rules; therefore, th is framework is his own, but he also has a responsibility to itÂ—a res ponsibility to himself to portray himself well. Looking good is not about status consumpti on or standing out for the purpose of status, which is the commonly understood purpose for how poor, urban, minority youth dress (see Chin, 2001; Kotlowitz, 1999, 2000; Nightingale, 1993; Pugh, 2009). Looking good indicates that you have respect for yourself and because of that you take the time to care for yourself. However, self-care is not a matter of agency alone. Knowing the rules enables looking good, and caring and knowledgeab le families teach structural rules and resources. Care from family is required for and displayed in looking good and creating cared-for identities.
137 Someone taking time to iron your clothes or groom your hair shows that they have enough respect for you and themselves to be lieve you should look good out in the world. Looking good indicates that you have a family that cares about Â“home training.Â” When asked why others sometimes donÂ’t leave their homes looking presentable, Kabira responds in a tone of shame and sadness th at their Â“moms probably never told them,Â” meaning that their moms had not given them proper home training. The tweens speak of their parents (primarily their mothers) as at tempting to provide the best opportunities for them by aiding in their self-presentation, by doing what they can to provide them with the means to look good and make good impressions. Home training also shows that you receiv e love, respect, and care from your parents. It shows that they pay you time a nd attention. The tweens saw love as at least part of the reason their parents bought them things, however the most important aspects of love and care came about in terms of tim e and attention. Taking th e time to look at you and to teach you signaled care. It is the car e given to you by your family that looking good represents. You look good because they taught you about matching, modesty, fit, and wearing clothing that fits the occasion. Pugh (2009) claims that the reasons the child ren she worked with tried so hard to show they were cared for is because they feared they might not be. Interactions with the tweens at Scholastic Middle show that this st atement needs clarifica tion. Other than Reed and Damien who did not believe their families cared for them enough, the students never gave me reason to believe they were not fully convinced of their parentsÂ’ love for and dedication to them. They felt a great debt to their parents for all th e care they received and spoke extensively of how much their parent s did for them. They were not afraid that their parents did not care for them. However, I do believe that PughÂ’s (2009) observation that children feared they were not cared for is true in terms of th e care they get from society. They receive indications from both media and the state of their neighborhoods and schools (those before Scholastic Middle) that they and pe ople like them are not cared for by society. They are disparaged, ignored, and ridiculed based on race, class, taste, and mythical consumption. Working to show care for self and from family by looking good is creates
138 self-respect and is also meant to garner respect from strangers. The tweensÂ’ care for themselves and from their families is displayed by looking good not simply to reinforce their own understandings of the moral worthiness that co mes with looking good, but to gain further care from others. It is diside ntification; they are trying to negotiate a dominant majority that does not otherwise grant them legitimate space (Foucault, 1977; Munoz, 1999). The work the tweens put into mana ging their presentations of self is front stage, not back stage work (Goffman, 1959). Po sitive presentations of self are meant to positively affect a public audience. The tweens are showing that they have the necessary scrip to participate in the larg er cultureÂ’s economy of dignity. Conclusion The tweens of Scholastic Mi ddle utilize the rules and resources of consumer structure to create cared-fo r identities. They create th ese identities not through selfcentered, violent, or hedonistic consumption or a focus on brands. They cultivate the skills necessary to have a dist inct style that will communica te self-respect and care from families in order to (hopefully) gain care and re spect from society in general. Rather than being unaware of and in any way disrespectful to a society that disrespects them, they use the limited resources at their disposal in wa ys that garner them and their families some modicum of respect a nd care in return. However, disp laying the care that one has for oneself and receives from family is only part of the way the tweens at Scholastic Middle utilize consumption to show care. They also use both consumption and the denial of their own consumer desires to show car e for their families, especially their mothers. It is this care for others that is th e subject of Chapter 7.
139 Chapter 7 Taking Care: Consuming and Not Consuming for Others Christmas Realities I blink back tears as Kabira matter-of-fac tly tells me about Ch ristmas. Kabira is one of the few eighth grade girls with whom I have not become close. As my emotional connection with her story takes physical form as a rock in my stomach, I realize I have misread her. I took her frivolity and high spirit edness as an indicator of shallowness and perhaps even selfishness. I now realize I am looking at a girl w ho would give nearly anything to make her mother happy. I began our interview by asking her where and with whom she lives. As she tells me about her family, Kabira makes it clear that being the oldest of six siblings, three of whom live with her, her mother, and her st epdad, means she takes on a great deal of responsibility. Kabira tells me about her fruga lity; she is straightforward and mature. She likes to save her money for larger pu rchases or to buy ot hers presents. I see myself at her age, although Kabira is a more giving version, a better version. Given her talk of presents and the fact th at we are at the beginning of December, I assume Christmas will prove a fruitful topic. Â“Are you excited about Christmas then?Â” I ask. Kabira pauses, and I see my folly. If she is like my tween self, she doesnÂ’t want to talk about Christmas. Christmas for her fa mily doesnÂ’t look or sound like the images on television. I think I should turn away from this line of questioning when she responds. Â“Umm, oh, IÂ’m alright, but I know my mom. Sh eÂ’s probably not going to get me a lot of stuff. Because sheÂ’s . .Â” Kabira fades off and looks at her hands. Â“I donÂ’t ask my mom for anything unless she can really do it. Unle ss I really need it, I donÂ’t ask my mom for anything.Â” As she pauses again, I want to tell her she doesnÂ’t have to talk about it. I want to stop her so she doesnÂ’t have to think about it. I want to stop her so I donÂ’t have to think
140 about it. But I also realize that sheÂ’s living this reality whethe r she says so or not. I want her to talk about it, not just as a researcher, but as someone whoÂ’s been there, someone who can tell her that I know itÂ’s hard, that if she hits the ri ght combination of dumb luck and hard work it can get better. So I breathe swallow down the panic, and wait. And she goes on. Â“I think that sheÂ’s all overwhe lmed a lot, in a lot of stuff. So I donÂ’t . .Â” Kabira pauses, as if searching for the right words. Â“If sheÂ’s going to get me something, then I thank her for that, but I wouldnÂ’t be mad, or ex pect a present or something like that,Â” she says, biting off the last word with a sense of finality. Since Kabira seems a bit lost about how to continue, I volunteer, Â“When I was a kid there were four of us, and my mom was ju st by herself trying to take care of us, and we didnÂ’t have much money. I remember sometimes, even though I tried to be as mature as you sound like youÂ’re being, I was so . .Â” I fade off, knowing I should say I was mean and catty, but not wanting to admit that to he r. I settle on saying, Â“I would never tell her, Â‘Oh, this Christmas sucked,Â’ but I remember I would see all th at stuff in the ads and then I would get socks.Â” My self-disclosure pays off for both of us. I feel better about her disclosure because IÂ’ve reciprocated my own story. Kabira jumps in with a slight smile, Â“I used to do that. Like my grandmother, sheÂ’ll get me my basic needs, like everybody needs a couple bras or something like that. She just gives me my basic need s and not my wants.Â” I nod, and she continues, Â“Or something that I really need.Â” I ask partly as a research er and partly as someone who simply wonders how others dealt with the same experiences I did, Â“You just donÂ’t get disappointed by that anymore?Â” Â“No, I used to. But, now I understand. B ecause even though my dad [her stepdad], he takes care of the kids, but he doesnÂ’t have a job. And my mom, sh e works all the time. She works nonstop. SheÂ’ll work the whole da y, and sometimes sheÂ’ll be tired. All she does is come home and sleep. And itÂ’s like we never get time to talk to her sometimes. But, sometimes she will take time to have fun with us, even t hough sheÂ’s sleepy and all that. I thank her for that and all, but she . .Â” Kabira looks for the right words, Â“she seems
141 so overwhelmed. Like she has to pay the bills, and sometimes she donÂ’t have enough money.Â” She pauses for a second to tie he r thoughts together. Â“I look up to her.Â” Â“Why do you look up to her?Â” I ask. Â“She just turned 28 and she has four kids She has rent that costs like $1150, and she works back-to-back, nonstop. I donÂ’t know how she does it. She just does, and it gets done. I donÂ’t know how.Â” I swallow. I am 28 years old. The rock in my stomach forms again, this time for KabiraÂ’s mother. I canÂ’t imagine her life. IÂ’m ev en more in awe when Kabira tells me that her mom is a psychiatric nurse in a mental hosp ital and that she used to work in a juvenile detention center. I tell Kabira I admire her mom and she beams. I feel sure that she has never taken a compliment aimed at her with th is much satisfaction. I take this opportunity to ask about KabiraÂ’s sib lings. Â“Do you think your younger sisters and brother understand your mother being overwhelmed the way you do?Â” Â“No, I try to tell Cassandra. She likes to nag and go out all the time . I donÂ’t think she understands how mom works all the tim e. I try to sit her down and tell her that mommy doesnÂ’t have the time sometimes to do what she would normally do.Â” I nod, picturing her sister Cassandra, w ho is two years her junior and a sixth grader at Scholastic Middle Like many of the sibling groups at the school, their relationship seems built on a sense of respect and rapport, without much friction. I ask, Â“What does Cassandra want her to do?Â” KabiraÂ’s replies come quickly now al though we are still talking about some sensitive issues. Â“Go out to the park with her. Go get her some shoes. Or just go outside and have fun with her friends and stuff. Bu t sheÂ’s . I mean we try to make her understand, and itÂ’s my little brother too. We try to make them understand all the time, but I guess they got to grow up and see.Â” Other Care KabiraÂ’s story shows identity and rela tionships are built and understood in, through, and around consumption. Care, especial ly, is shown in consumption. Kabira tries to protect her mother from her desires so that she doesnÂ’t feel overwhelmed. Kabira further attempts to protect her mother by te lling her younger siblings not to ask for time
142 or things. Kabira wants time and attention from her mother, not things. A large part of her family role focuses on denying her own consumer desires, emphasizing harmony and time spent together with her family, and teaching her siblings to do the same. Differentiating the identities we build for our selves (our egos or inner identities) from our social identities (the roles we play for others) is difficult. Social identities and egos overlap and intertwine making any dis tinctions purely concep tual. In Chapter 6, I discussed the work these tweens do to create cared for, good, and worthwhile identities for themselves through looking good. This chapter moves on to highlight work the tweens do in relationships to protect and care for others throu gh their control and understanding of consumption. Care for Family Chin (2001) found that the poor, minority children she observed in Newhallville, Connecticut, utilized consumption to mainta in social networks. She says, Â“Consumption is an important medium through which many of these childrenÂ’s everyday social and kin relationships are created and maintainedÂ” ( p. 88). Scholastic Middle students maintain relationships by monitoring their consumer de sires and financially contributing to their care. These students hold an understanding of consumption that is Â“deeply social, where individual needs and desires must always be measured and evaluated in reference to those of othersÂ” (Chin, p. 70). This orientation endo rses the view that shopping or provisioning itself is seen as an act of l ove. Miller (1998) describes shopping as a sacrifice, a ritual in which relationships are maintained by connec ting expenditure with love and care. The tweens receive care from and show care for their families through an awareness of the connections between consumption and care. The tweens show familial care through consumption in several ways. The tweens understand Â“looking goodÂ” as enab led by consumption and as a reflection on and of their families. They wanted to give their parents gifts or other material indications of their affection for them. In addition, the tweens curb ed their parentsÂ’ knowledge of the tweensÂ’ desires for goods. All of these caring acts come together to show their understanding of teamwork as a metaphor for family life and the curbing of consumption as a way to improve everyoneÂ’s Â“game.Â”
143 Proving Home Training The tweens talked about themselves as being responsible for others, including their parents. This responsibility and thus care is shown in several ways. One way is by Â“looking goodÂ” in public, which reflects well on the Â“home trainingÂ” their parents have provided. Home training is their habitus (Bourdieu, 1984), the standards informally learned as a member of their social class.49 Looking good is possible only through knowledge of and an ability to enact comp lex processes of wearing the appropriate clothes in the appropriate manner, caring fo r those clothes, grooming, and behaving well. Home training informs the tweens knowledge of and ability to util ize these methods of looking good. Therefore, looking good does not happen by accident, but through complex processes and attention to detail, and looki ng good signals good home training to public others. Home training creates knowle dge in both discursive and practical consciousness. The tweens readily talk about the importance of matching, a discursive knowledge. Taite uses matching as key tool when he shops and sa ys, Â“If I have one pair of pants, IÂ’ll buy three different shirts thatÂ’ll go with that one pa ir of pants, so that IÂ’ll have not just one thing. So that IÂ’ll have a lot of other clothes to wear.Â” The tweens, however, go beyond doing as th ey have been taught. They enact behaviors that directly or indi rectly indicate their appreciation for this training, which in turn communicates gratitude towards parent s for providing home training. Many of the students described this apprecia tion as one of the reasons they give their parents respect and love. The tweens showed their respect and care for their parents by being Â“good.Â” Being good means both communicating respectfu lly with their parents and behaving well in public. Fifth grader Demarco is insisten t on the importance of not arguing with his mother about buying things in public. He says Â“Because if you was in the store, thatÂ’s public, and your mom taught you everything you know right now, so why would you argue in the store where everybody can see you?Â” I ask Demarco if he would get in more trouble for arguing in public than in private. He replies, Â“Yes, Â‘cause then ot her people would see y ou, and they might not 49 Habitus was also addressed in chapte r 4 and home training in chapter 6.
144 think you have any home training.Â” Although the lines between private and public communication often dictate th at some conversations, and most arguments, occur in private to save face or for various ot her reasons (Goffman, 1959, 1967), DemarcoÂ’s reasoning is very specific. He is not to ar gue with his mother because it would reflect badly on her ability to teach him right from wrong. He says, Â“Â’Cause if I was to argue they [others in the store] would think why w ould she have me being that IÂ’m so bad and stuff? And she raised me good. Why would I wast e all of that, then just feel bad about myself, cause my mom is sad?Â” Demarco woul d make his mother sad not only because he was not behaving well, but also because others would see th is behavior and judge her harshly and inaccurately. Demarco is cogni zant of the surveillance that not only surrounds him, but his mother and realizes there are punishments for them both should they behave in ways not sanc tioned by normalizing judgment. Demarco sees himself as responsible for displaying to others the good manners and respect his mother taught him. His moth erÂ’s care for him deserves reciprocation through care and respect in the way he co mmunicates with her, even when he is disappointed. Respect is important in backstage communication, but has added dimensions in front stage communication. Ba d behavior discredits the front stage performance devised by Demarco and his fam ily. In addition to communication with and around parents, tweens looking good and performi ng according to the standards of their home training is important when parents are not around. These behaviors show care for their parentsÂ’ reputations, even their reput ations with unknown parties. Looking good to show respect is connected at least partially to consump tion. If the students look good and behave according to their home training, they will be judged as normal, as docile bodies, and their parents will be judge d the same. To act out in public is to fail examination for both themselves and their parents. Parents understand, just as children do, that Â“consumption acts as a symbolic language through which buyers make conn ections to othersÂ” (Pugh, 2009, p. 15). Pugh found that parents, regardless of economic class, lamented their childrenÂ’s materialism. However, the role that consumption and knowledge of popular culture plays in the economy of dignity for children is someth ing to which parents respond. Therefore,
145 parents buy things to help their children fit in and believe across class and race differences that this is an impor tant aspect of their parenting. In fact, tweens perceive care from thei r parents in direct relation to buying. Demarco admits that he doesnÂ’t have a lot of cl othes he really likes be cause he Â“has to be grateful for what my mom buys me.Â” He says, Â“If I wasnÂ’t grateful, I would probably be more selfish-like and not get nothing, besides being grateful and ha ving a lot of things and not arguing.Â” When I ask Demarco why he must show his appreciation for the things his mother buys him, he says, Â“Because if it wasnÂ’t for my mom, I would probably be doing something bad.Â” For Demarco, questions a bout buying lead directly into talk about morality, being a good person, and care for hi s mother. He connects what she buys him and his reactions to it with all that she has taught him. Tweens positive reactions to consumption come partly from an understand ing of what it takes to support a personÂ’s needs as well as wants. The tweens are grateful that their parents provide necessities like food, electricity, clothes, and transportation a nd contribute financially when possible or necessary. When I ask eighth grader Brian what he would do w ith $20, he says, Â“IÂ’m a big saver. Any kind of money I have or I get, I save. Â‘Cause mo st of the time, when I save my money, my mom borrows it.Â” Brian says this with no longi ng to change the situation. Brian sees helping his mom fina ncially as one of his family roles. TaiteÂ’s comments illustrate a key aspect of both the tweens understanding of the way spending on necessities is accomplished on their behalf and how this spending can put a strain on their parent sÂ’ finances. In response to my question, Â“Would your mom ever say that you couldnÂ’t have someth ing, or you couldnÂ’t go shopping because she couldnÂ’t afford it?Â” he says, All the time. All the time we do that, cause we buy a lot of other stuff, just aside from shopping, because I eat a lot. So thatÂ’s what we mostly say, Â‘WhatÂ’s more important, clothes or food?Â’ And normally, yeah, itÂ’s food. Food wins. I ask Taite if there are other bills to worry about besides food, and he says,
146 Yeah. Two cell phone bills, car payment bill, . and we paid off the house. So, thatÂ’s fine and good. So, thatÂ’s over. ItÂ’s about time we did that one. And, also the electric. IÂ’m always running that one up. TaiteÂ’s use of Â“weÂ”50 is one IÂ’ve heard from othe r students and illustrates his understanding of his family as people meant to depend on each other. I say, Â“You keep saying Â‘we,Â’ like Â‘we paid all this offÂ’.Â” He responds, Â“Yes. I like kick in from so me of my jobs that I do.Â” Taite takes responsibility for his family by contributing fi nancially when he can. Like his classmate Brian, he doesnÂ’t consider thes e financial contributions a burd en, but part of his role in the family. Tweens understand the financial burden thei r education places on their families. Scholastic Middle tuition is mostly paid for by scholarships and government vouchers. However, families still have to pay activ ity fees of $15 per month, buy uniforms, and either drive their children to school or pay for bus fare. Rather than expecting their parents to pay for these needs as a part of thei r duty as parents, the tweens felt grateful for the financial support. Students often spoke about the work their parents did to put gas in the car to drive them to school everyday, a nd how expensive their uniforms were. Tahira exclaims, Â“My uniforms are expensive! The sh irts are like $17 or $20 each. I wouldnÂ’t pay that for any shirt!Â” Tahira shows that th is is a significant amount of money to spend on a shirt, an amount perhaps even antithetical to home training and yet her mother is willing to do this for her. However, behavi ng according to their home training and being grateful are not the only ways of showing care for parents. Li ke KabiraÂ’s desire to save her money to buy presents for others, the tw eens aspired to purchase things for their families, especially their mothers, to show love and appreciation. Giving Gifts Buying for others is another way that c onsumer culture wends its way into family relationships and our identit ies. Millman (1991) says, 50 This use of Â“weÂ” is similar to the Â“weÂ” I used to encourage students to interact and speake with me during the research process. Hi s easy and complete use of the term shows how fully integrated he sees his family. This feeling of integration and comraderie is what I tried to create when using the term.
147 In families, as well as courtship, a presen t is often taken as a sign of feeling or even character . We joke about it, but in the family, as in the marketplace, money is often the measure of ever y reality, including love. (p. 6) The tweens appreciate what their parents buy for them and consider this expression of appreciation among their central responsibilities in the family. In this way, students show that they care about others. I asked nearly all participants what they would do if I gave them $20. Their responses largely fit my assu mptions regarding tween priorities. They said save it, buy some clothes, or go to th e movies. However, an unexpected answer the tweens provided most frequently and enthusia stically was that they would buy something for their mothers. Eighth grader Tahira expressed this sentiment:51 I would save half of it first . I thin k with the other half I would go out and buy something nice for my momma, cause I think she deserves it. Because she . never gets any rest. Like, sheÂ’s always on the go . She works around the corner from my school, but she have to pick me up, take me to step practice, then she go all the way back home, then come all th e way back over there to pick me up, and then she goes to my step shows. She have to go to my brotherÂ’s basketball games. Like, she never gets any rest. So I would buy her something nice. Further, the tweens wanted to buy some thing meaningful for their family members. Tahira indicates this in an abstract way by sayi ng sheÂ’d like to buy something Â“nice.Â” Kabira lists specific Christmas presen ts she hopes to buy for all of her siblings and goes into great detail concerning her br other. Nearly tripping over her words with excitement, she says, I was going to get my brother, he likes Sp ider-man, I was going to get him, Â‘cause we just moved into our new apartment, I was going to decorate his room with Spiderman. And get, you know how they have like little light-up st ickers that light up at night? I might get the Spider-man like that. 51 This sentiment is in line with what Ch in (2001) found when she took younger children shopping. Nearly all the children spent some of the money she gave them on their parents and siblings. This act is surely to show gratitude but also reflects that these are the most significant relationships in childrenÂ’s lives.
148 KabiraÂ’s excitement reaches a peak not when she considers the prospect of getting something for herself, but when she discu sses purchasing somethi ng for her brother. This sense of care for others enacted through consumption echoes what Chin (2001) found with younger children in similar life circumstances. Gifts were an effort to reciprocate wi th care and caring and at the same time allowed kids to show that they were comp etent in meting out ma terial resources in ways that served not only material e nds, but social ones as well. (p. 139) For Kabira and the others, buying gifts for fa mily members shows they care about them. However, their spending ideas about these gi fts are immanently practical. Before telling me about her brotherÂ’s gift, Kabira says, Â“I was going to get my si ster a LeapFrog, but I donÂ’t know. I might have to look at them. They might be expensive.Â” KabiraÂ’s comment signals that she will dismiss the idea if it is too expensive. Kabira recognized that the LeapFrog might prove unattainable and wanted to find a meaningful substitute. The tweens also went beyond behaving according to their home training, expressing appreciation for consumption undert aken on their behalf, and gift giving in caring for their families. Students also understo od their performances of consumer desire affected the happiness of others in their families. Denying Desire KabiraÂ’s story at the be ginning of this chapter was one of the most poignant stories of denying desire, but it was by no m eans the only story. Many of the students talked about showing care for their pare nts by denying entirely or significantly downplaying their desires for purchasing clothe s and toys, attending social events, and even for certain types of food. There were several levels of denial. Often the tweens described a nearly simultaneous desire and denial; the product or other consumable is known, worthy, and impossible to attain (pure de nial). In the second type of denial, the object of desire is possible to attain in some ideal or nearly ideal financial circumstance, but the tween recognized that current circumstances made the object unattainable (conditional denial). A third ty pe of denial happened when the tween asked a parent for something and then downplayed the importance of the item when they found out that the purchase of the object proved difficult for th eir parents (downplayi ng denial). Finally,
149 parents simply saying no to requests required a caring reaction on the part of the tweens (parental denial). Pure denial is not unheard of for most ch ildren or, for that matter, adults. Many objects are impossible to obtain. I imagine that the vast majo rity of us, regardless of family financial status, who left the zoo wanting a monkey didnÂ’t get one. However, the types of things that might seem impossible to these tweens were varied and often easily attainable with a moderate income; for instance, seeing a trip to the zoo as impossible. Another example is KabiraÂ’s dismissal of the possibility of pu rchasing the LeapFrog, which costs around $20, with books in the $10 range. Kabira never approached her mother or sister regarding this toy; she simply found it unattainable and moved on, presumably seeking out other a lternatives. Students at Scholastic Middle were adept at these transitions to altern ative courses of action. Pure denial combined with the other fo rms of denial takes a toll on the tweensÂ’ self-esteem and relationships with their parents. Pure denial al so requires th e kind of selfcontrol not expected from a group with such a hedonistic consumer identity. Hedonism, after all, is pleasure seeking and solipsistic. Conditional denial occurred when the tween underst ood that the object could possibly be attained during ideal or nearly ideal financial ci rcumstances in their family,52 but that it could not be attained currently. In this case, the tweens waited for those ideal circumstances in one of two ways, either by telling their parent s about the item and hoping for it at a later date when circumstances improved or by waiting for improved circumstances to ask for the item. The tweens expected to wait for their pare nts to get paid, or wait until the bills were paid, or for a tax refund or other type of influx of cash into the family. Often when I asked them if there was anything they want ed to buy right now, they followed their answer with some indication of when they expected to get it; for instance, when my 52 The ideal circumstances for their family were a mixture of reality and fantasy. The tweens often couldnÂ’t name any concrete prev ious point that the item could have been obtained. Conditional denial was often part of a future-oriented progress narrative as befits their status as late modern individuals, for example, when my mom gets her raise or changes jobs, or when we get some extra money.
150 grandpa comes to visit. Sometimes these time expectations were relatively solid, such as when my mom gets paid again. Others were vague, such as when my mom has some extra money. The tweens did not have a problem with this type of delayed gratification. Brian says his mom often gives him a date that sheÂ’ll have both time and money to go to the mall, which he accepts. Alexander says his mom often defers buying to the next birthday, Christmas, or income tax refund. This situation of expecting things wi th larger, often unsteady or unpredictable influxes of cash is what Pugh (2004) calls Â“w indfall child rearing.Â” Pugh found that the unpredictability of income influenced family fi nances and therefore relationships as much as having a limited income. The instabil ity caused by limited oppor tunities led to a dependence on government assistance, part-tim e or seasonal work, money from friends and family, and the Â“caprice of fortuneÂ” ( p. 240). Pugh found this Â“windfallÂ” money status meant that parents lost a Â“critical source of parent-child connectedness during periods of high conflict,Â” removed money from a role in Â“behavior modification,Â” and created images of Â“parental helplessness,Â” wh ich plays into race and class stereotypes (p. 242). She argues that these effects play into an understanding of money and financial success as based in luck rather than hard work. The tweens did not refer to their parents as ineffectual even though they obviously lived with conditional, Â“windfallÂ” buying.53 However, the tweenÂ’s ro le in caring for their parents by showing good home tr aining, would extend to their conversations with me. They would not want to Â“act outÂ” and ope n their parents up to normalizing judgment through me by telling me that their parent s werenÂ’t providing for them or were ineffectual. If anything, I heard the opposite, with much of their talk focusing on how hard parents worked. In Kabira Â’s story, we hear how her mom, Â“Works all the time. She works nonstop. SheÂ’ll work a whole day.Â” It is obvious that she sees her mother as working, and therefore earning money for Kabi ra and her siblings, most of her waking moments. Tahira says of her mom, Â“SheÂ’s al ways on the go.Â” For Tahira this Â“on the goÂ” 53 Pugh could also be overestimating the conn ections that middle-class parents maintain between buying and behavior. I donÂ’t personally know a ny parents who are thoroughly consistant in their insistance upon proper be havior before buying for their children.
151 is about both the work her mother gets paid for doing and the work she does to keep Tahira and her brother in school and activities. The tweens engaged in the second form of conditional denialÂ—to wait for a windfall or other type of positive financial circumstance before asking for what they desiredÂ—partly because they understood how ha rd their parents worked. Brian explains how he waits to ask his mother for things: If I know she doesnÂ’t have the money to get it, I wonÂ’t ask fo r it. But if I know that she has the money for it, she be like Â‘Brian, Saturday IÂ’ll take you to the mall, and you can buy what you want.Â’ As long as she has the money, and IÂ’m doing good school-wise and everything el se, sheÂ’ll buy it for me. He explains why he takes his motherÂ’s finances into consideration by saying, Â‘Cause I know that sometimes my mom r eally doesnÂ’t have it [money] like other people do. So I really donÂ’t pressure her to get me something. So if I ask her and she says she doesnÂ’t have the money, IÂ’ll ju st be like, Â“Okay.Â” Â‘Cause I donÂ’t like asking her for stuff if I know she doesnÂ’t have the money, Â‘cause my momÂ’s like real emotional. SheÂ’ll star t crying or something. She gets stressed out about all that stuff. To avoid upsetting his mother, Brian does not ask for things until he believes she has the available money. Not all students said their parents directly told them about money problems. As Cala says, Â“You just know,Â” indicating that stress regarding household spending doesnÂ’t need explicit statement. Demarc o indicates that his mother Â“hides stuffÂ” regarding financial matters from him, but he finds out anyway. Despite all their work to understand the fi nancial situations of their parents and their willingness to deny their own desires to fulfill their role in caring for the family, sometimes previously possible desires beco me impossible and relationship maintenance must take place. These moment s require downplaying desires. Downplaying known desires was a frequent and delicate matter for the tweens. Finances can become precarious for those with even comfortable inco mes with little or no notice. The number one reason for bankruptcies in the U.S. is illness and health care bills (Himmelstein, Warren, Thorne, & Wool handler, 2005). The frequency, duration,
152 and significance of these chaotic circumstances increase when dealing with limited finances. Because of this volatility, the tw eens often faced revisions to the familyÂ’s finances after they already ma de their consumer desires known. In these cases, the tweens worked to diminish their parentsÂ’ percepti on of the importance of the item to them. As shown earlier in his comments, Brian tries to avoid asking his mother for things when he knows she doesnÂ’t have the money. However, he sometimes doesnÂ’t read the financial situation fully and must backtr ack on his requests. He says, If I wanted something and she just didnÂ’t have the money to get it for me, I wonÂ’t pout or nothing. IÂ’ll just, in my head, IÂ’ll be like, Â‘Man, I really wanted that,Â’ but I wonÂ’t show it. Â‘Cause I know sheÂ’s gonna hurt bad. Brian is careful not to show disappoint ment. Of course, the tweens also cited circumstances where self-censoring regard ing consumer desires was not necessary. Parents also said no to requests. Tweens generally accepted their parent s simply saying no to purchases and believed denials were made for two main reas ons. First, because the desired item did not fit with family valuesÂ—for example revealing clothing in the case of girls or because the item was expensive and thus a waste of fam ily resources. Second, parents also said no because of structural constraints like fina nces. However, denying requests was not the object of a power struggle. By and large, the tweens saw their parent s as legitimate authority figures. This legitimacy came about partly because of th e care parents showed their children. For instance, Brian did not worry about waiting to get things because when his mother had the money to buy him something she would remember what he wanted and initiate its purchase. Brian believed stated financial co nstraints were real a nd purchasing promises would be kept. His mother showed h im consistent care in this regard. The only participant unwilling to wait for th ings was seventh grader, Reed. He did not believe his great-aunt, denied him consum er items for legitimate reasons. He thought she treated him unfairly in general by bei ng nicer, paying more at tention to, and buying more for his cousins (her grandchildren). ReedÂ’s unwillingness to wait patiently and
153 without complaint stemmed from perceptions that he was not seen as important and valuable, or cared for, by his family. The tweens employed self-control in these situ ations. I ask Brian if he or his peers would be able to get what they wanted by crying and screaming and he says yes. He responds, Â“All of our parents will.Â” He knows that if his mother thinks it is important to him, she will often buy him things even against her judgment. For Brian, accepting his motherÂ’s denial is about respect and caring. When I ask him what he thinks about kids who cry and scream after hearing Â“no,Â” he says Â“They just need to grow up a little bit or something. Â‘Cause the parents have more im portant things to do, like pay bills and the more needed stuff.Â” The tweens viewed accepting denial by pare nts as part of their duty to both parents and siblings. Maturely dealing with other forms of self-control and self-denial (pure denial, conditional denial and downplaying denial) were also a part of this duty. The tweens performed their duty to th eir families by not being demanding or misbehaving, even when a parental Â“noÂ” was conditional. In many ways these various forms of deni al are a part of the tweenÂ’s habitus. However, they differ significantly from those discussed thus far in that the connection of denial to home training is held in practical consciousne ss. Looking good and other forms of care were clearly articulate d by the tweens as rules they had been taught. These rules were held in discursive cons ciousness. However, they spoke of denying their desires as something they did without their parentsÂ’ know ledge. It is not that home training did not teach these lessons, simply that they were not articulated. Denial was a form of selfdiscipline although no less a resu lt of the disciplining structure and the rewards and punishments that accompany the docile body. These forms of denial, showing home training, showing appreciation for home trai ning, and gift giving all fit into their understanding of their role in the family as a team member, as someone with a responsibility to take care of others on the team. Teamwork as Family Metaphor The tweens understood their families through the metaphor of teamwork. According to Yerby (1989), Â“A family metaphor can be defined as a specific image,
154 event, object, or behavior that represents for the family some aspect of their experienceÂ” (p. 43). Metaphors help family members explai n how their relationships are experienced and can assign Â“Â‘identitiesÂ’ to particular relatio nships in the family and to the family as a wholeÂ” (p. 43). In addition to words or phrases used as family metaphors, actions can also hold metaphorical and representational value for the family. There are three types of metaphors: metaphors as representational acts, as collective images for the family, and as connecting links between events and meaning (Yerby, 1989). Representational acts metaphors are beha viors with metaphoric content (i.e., buying a present to make someone feel better). These representational acts often operate as Â“constitutive rulesÂ” or Â“how meanings at one level of abst raction count as meanings at anotherÂ” (Pearce and Cronen, 1980, p. 141). Constitutive rules help us assign meaning to sensory inputs or behaviors. For many families, and certainly for the tweens I worked with, the act of purchasing or consuming on oneÂ’s behalf is a represen tational act of love (Miller, 1998). Collective image metaphors are Â“symbols, adjectives, or events that are descriptive of the family as a unitÂ” (Yerby, p. 47-48). These are also called Â“relational metaphors,Â” and they help us to understand th e Â“subjective sense-maki ng of participants as they construct their relationshipsÂ” (Owen, 1985, p. 10). These are metaphors for the collective experience of a family and reflect the Â“familyÂ’s value system and world viewÂ” (Yerby, p. 48). This is the type of metaphor in which the understanding of the family as a team most clearly fits. Teams depend on suppor t, helpfulness, and each player doing her best to reach the goals of the team, not for personal glory. Demarco becomes upset when his mom, Â“hides stuff from the team,Â” becau se he wants to be trusted and relied upon. His mother threatens his vision of the family as a team when she insists on dealing with problems alone. In the case of the tweens, a nd their interactions with consumer culture, part of being a member of the team is c ontrolling oneÂ’s own desire s so as not to put emotional or financial stress on other members of the team, particul arly parents. Being part of the team and having a positive ident ity as a team member means caring for and about the other membersÂ’ needs and feelings. Anot her aspect of this team role is to utilize
155 consumer culture well (attending to spending, style, and quality standards) to create a self who looks good, and therefore reflects well on the family. The final type of family metaphor is th e connecting links metaphor. This type of metaphor Â“involve[s] a process of translating or framing a specific experience or event into meaning for the familyÂ” (Yerby, 1989, p. 49). In the case of the tweens and consumption, they interpret the events of ge tting or not getting th e consumer goods they desire as about both love and necessity and as part and parcel of their role on the team. KabiraÂ’s interpretation of Christmas and its meaning is a connecting links metaphor. Despite the popular images of Christmas as ornamental, present-laden, extravagant, and set apart from everyday life, KabiraÂ’s Chri stmas does not fit this mold. Rather than focusing on the lack of these things in her holiday, she has come to see Christmas as representative of how hard her mom works to provide for the family and also what Kabira can contribute. Kabira st eps in to try to get things fo r her siblings that they will like, but that will not cost a great deal. In re sponse to my asking if she will get presents for her siblings, Kabira excitedly replies, Â“Yeah! I always buy them something for Christmas!Â” and quickly follows with the list of things sheÂ’s clearly been thinking about for some time. Therefore, this holiday repr esents love and dependence on one another. These types of family metaphorsÂ—represen tational acts, collective images, and collective linksÂ—are seen in the way the fam ily consumes and relates to each other based on that consumption. The tweens described th eir decisions regarding consumption as dependent upon the collective image of the fa mily as a team. Teams act to support each other. The tweens worked to always give th eir very best in terms of limiting their expectations and expressing their appreciati on regarding consumption. By doing this they maintain positive images of themselves as team members and arenÂ’t forced to, as Demarco puts it, Â“to feel bad aboutÂ” themselves However, these are not their only roles in the team. In addition to limiting their desires to protect their parents from their disappointment, the tweens often expected their parents to let them help with at least the emotional burden of bills.
156 Contributing Emotionally to the Team When I ask Demarco if his family ever talked about money stress he responds, Â“Sometimes, because if we canÂ’t pay our bill s, we really donÂ’t know what weÂ’re going to do.Â” I follow up by asking him why he is using the term Â“we.Â” He says, Because we brought into this world to he lp people and at least love what you got, and so we all should probably just be a team, because itÂ’s the best thing to do, because life is really not that long. I go on to ask him if he personally feels li ke a financial stressor on his family. He responds, Â“Yes. Because probably if we have money problems, IÂ’m thinking what weÂ’re going to do and stuff.Â” His response to my ques tion is not an answer about how he adds to family financial stress, but how he feels stress regarding finances. I then ask Demarco if his mother tries not to tell him about m oney problems so he wonÂ’t be Â“stressed.Â” He says unequivocally, Â“Yes,Â” and then goes on to say, Â“It makes me feel better, but it still makes me feel bad, because my mom is still hiding stuff fr om the team.Â” Demarco wants his mother to count on him more than he wa nts her to protect him from their financial realities. He wants to show his care for and he lp the team. He wants to fulfill his identity in the group. The tweens showed their care, and repaid the care given to them, by doing their best to behave as full and responsible member s of the family team. This attention to the ways that consuming affected their relati onships did not end with their families but extended to their friends as well. Care for Friends Another primary social experience wh ere the tweens care for others through consumption is friendship. The tweens show care for their friends through sharing, soliciting for consumption on their behalf, and reserving judgment. First, itÂ’s important to revisit the sch ool environment in which the students find themselves. Scholastic MiddleÂ’s school da y runs from 7am to 6pm Monday through Thursday and 7am to 5pm on Fridays. They have a mandatory four-week summer program and once-a-month Saturday fieldtrips during the school year. This all adds up to the students spending a great deal of their time together. In addition, each cohort spends
157 their class day, study hall hours, and often their extracurriculars together for three to four years. Add in classes that begin with ar ound 15 students and can end up with as few as eight or nine by their eighth grade year, a nd you have a small group of students who have bonded in significant ways. The students showed care for one another throughout the time I spent with them. If a student got into trouble w ith a teacher, the others were there for comfort, whether the more overt and obvious comforts like hugging, hair stroking, hand holding, or comforting words employed more often by the girls or the less direct, joking comfort more often employed by the boys. Acts of caring also incl uded acts of consumption such as sharing. Sharing Although protective of their possessions, the students also enjoyed sharing things, sometimes through loans. Often the girls would loan each other their jewelry (despite the school rules prohibiting all but a small amount of jewelry) fo r the day. At lunch or during down time, the girls would play with each othe rÂ’s hair and exchange hair accessories. I did not see as much of this type of shar ing amongst the boys, but I did see them sharing pencils and other school supplies. The girlsÂ’ were joyful about sharing, while the older boys addressed sharing without much emotion. However, the fifth and sixth grade boysÂ’ sharing usually came only after a direct request and generally accompanied a strong performance of sacrifice that included taking time to dig out th e pencil or paper, looking it over with longing before sigh ing and giving it to another boy. Sharing seemed to be a part of their habitus, which explains w hy the younger boys did it even though they did not seem to want to. Beyond loans, the students were very happy to share any small goods they received. For instance, in the first study hall I attended with the eighth grade girls, Cala had a set of new pencils. They were bright and decorated with images of ducks, bunnies, dolphins, monkeys, and kittens. Without being asked, she went from desk to desk asking each of her classmates, ten in total, which penc il they liked the most. She included all of her classmates and, to my surprise, me. A lthough I had little use for such a glamorous pencil, I graciously accepted one decorated wi th monkeys and bananas leaving Cala with
158 one remaining pencil. Not only had she given al l but one of her pencils away, but she also made her gifts without firs t picking her favorite. The students also shared smuggled candy, undermining the campus-wide ban. Students handed out candy indiscriminately. Th e giver did not take into account the strength of friendships in their sharing. In a ddition, the giver usually left with very little after completing the distribution. Loaning jewelry or giving pencils and candy may seem like small gestures. However, these things often represent a sign ificant financial outlay for the students and their families and are symbolically important goods to the tweens. Panicked cries often overtook the room when a student couldnÂ’t find a folder, pencil, or highlighter. Much of the panic over these lost ite ms stemmed from the trouble th ey would be in with their parents if they couldnÂ’t find it and their pa rents had to buy another. A lost piece of jewelry signified a significant loss, both fina ncially and emotionally as these pieces were often received as gifts. Also, enough candy to share is a lot and was likely purchased specifically for the purpose of sharing. In addition to sharing their goods, I had the opportunity to see instances where students wanted to buy something for each other. Soliciting Consumption for Friends In a sudden and tragic set of circumstan ces, two of the eighth graders lost their mothers in the same month. The first was Alexa nder. His mother, a single parent of three children with no family support system in Ta mpa, was killed in a car accident. It happened in the middle of the night, and Alexa nder and his sisters were notified in the early morning. One of the first things he di d was call the school. When I arrived before lunch, the entire school was in mourning. Not only was a parent dead, but Karen, AlexanderÂ’s mother, was also one of the most dedicated parent volunteers in the school. All of the staff and students and most parents knew her. As I entered the office, I knew immedi ately something was wrong. The volunteer coordinator filled me in with tears in he r eyes. I met Karen briefly during a reception following graduation the previous year, but r ealized what she meant to the school. During lunch it was obvious that the eighth grade girl s were crying as they came through the line. The younger boysÂ’ joking and pushing to get to the front of the line was gone. The
159 younger girls came through positively despondent. The eighth grade boys filed through the lunch line alone, held back until everyone else had left for the tables. They had not left the boysÂ’ classroom building all day. As they came in, their faces were puffy, their eyes downcast. They returned immediatel y to their homeroom to eat lunch. Their homeroom teacher told me the boys cried all day and could not concentrate on work. Later that afternoon, I learned four of the eighth grade boysÂ’ parents offered to take Alexander in after hearing of his loss. After a whirlwind of emergency court appearances and negotiations among the head of school, other key school personnel, Al exanderÂ’s father, and AlexanderÂ’s sisters, Alexander went to live with his classmate JosiasÂ’s family.54 This process took no more than a couple of days. Immediately after Alex anderÂ’s move, I ran into Ms. Curtis as she hauled in three bags full of clothes purcha sed at Wal-mart. Assuming the clothes were costumes for the upcoming play, I asked her about them. She informed me they were for Alexander. There were issues retrieving all of AlexanderÂ’s be longings, including his school uniforms, from his house. Therefore, Ms. Curtis took on the responsibility of buying him the things he needed. Thinking sh e was paying for this out of pocket, I offered to help. She told me that the f oundation (the funding mechanism for the school) was paying for everything. As our conversati on continued, she said she was going to get Alexander one more thing he had asked forÂ— an Xbox controller. Re ading the surprise on my face, she laughed and explained. When she asked Alexander what he needed, he told her about the necessities and then asked quietly and with his head down if he could please have an Xbox controller. It turns out Alexander brought a Xbox gaming system to JosiasÂ’s house and he wanted the controller so he and Josias could play the game together. AlexanderÂ’s request for the second controller was profoundly social. He asked for it in order to share something that he had with someone else who was sharing so much (his home, his room, his mother) with him. The second student, Kaia, lost her moth er not two weeks after Alexander. Although obviously devastating for Kaia, this loss was made a bit easier by family 54 AlexanderÂ’s older sisters were 17 and 19 a nd the court declared the 17 year old could stay with her sister in their current home The home had recently been built for them by Habitat for Humanity who were working to k eep them in it even without KarenÂ’s income.
160 circumstances. Kaia was able to continue to live with her father and within a large, closeknit, and local extended family. She did not n eed someone to buy her clothes or find her a place live. However, this did not stop the eigh th grade girls from wanting to express their care through consumption. The eighth grade girl s brought in all the money they could and solicited heavily from the rest of the school to get flowers for KaiaÂ’s motherÂ’s funeral. Through the work of soliciting consumpti on on the behalf of their classmates, Alexander and the eighth grade girls attempte d to show how much they cared about their classmates through consumption. They wanted to consume to show love, camaraderie, and care for their friends. Some might say th at given their financial circumstances, the tweens should buy only the essentials. Howeve r, refusing to judge is another way the tweens try to show care for friends. Reserving Judgment Another way that the tweens show ca re for one another in the realm of consumption is through a conscious reservi ng of judgment. Chapter 6 discussed the importance and tenets of Â“looking good.Â” L ooking good is created and maintained in consumer culture and requires a great deal of knowledge. It is a disi dentification (Munoz, 1999) reaction to normalizing judgment and su rveillance (Foucault, 1977). The tweens said they needed to look good in order to ga in respect, both from themselves and from others. However, when faced with the opportu nity to judge others for their lack of looking good, they refused. They refused to examine others and deem them delinquent, undisciplined bodies (Foucault, 1977) even as they self-discipline themselves to adhere to normalizing standards. A misunderstanding I ha d with Tahira is an example of this refusal to judge. One of the dres s code rules at Scholastic Middl e is that all shoes must be black. The fifth and sixth graders must ha ve pure black shoes while the seventh and eighth graders must have primarily black shoes, but are permitted an accent color. When Tahira and I were discussing these rules, I me ntioned that I had noti ced Kabira (her best friend) wearing white Nikes. I said this to ask about why Tahira thought the faculty had not said anything to her, but before I could finish my ques tion Tahira said defensively, Â“Those are her PE shoes.Â”
161 I had not realized that th e students could wear non-black shoes for PE, but what was more interesting is TahiraÂ’s defense of Kabira even though I had meant no harm. Weeks later Kabira had new, black, name-b rand tennis shoes. I admired them and she said, Â“Yeah, I finally got them.Â” Kabira ha d no other shoes to w ear until her mom was able to buy her new ones. Tahira knew this and protected Kabira from what she saw as my normalizing judgment. Brian suddenly clams up after talking for several minutes about the time he takes so his clothes match and his shoes look Â“fresh,Â” when I ask him if he makes fun of other kids when they donÂ’t match. Suddenly quiet a nd self-conscious, he stumbles and pauses as he says, Â“No. . Not really . I might la ugh but not to the point th at . like with my friends. I will laugh and joke a bout it, but thatÂ’s it.Â” Br ian backs off the level of importance he previously placed on looking good, and says, Â“ItÂ’s their choice. They want to dress well, thatÂ’s their c hoice. If they donÂ’t; thatÂ’s up to them.Â” These students do not refrain from teasing one anothe r. However, they do avoid any teasing that they perceive as truly hurtful to an individualÂ’s abi lity to look good. Because looking good is so important to them, to bring this up would cross an implicit line of caring and inflict normalizing judgment. Although every student I interviewed di scussed the importance they placed on looking good, none would say anything negativ e about those who did not fit those standards. This refusal to judge is deeply ingrained within their identities, making me believe that it is at least part ly about home training. In fact in response to two fifth grade girls snidely commenting to a third girl jump ing rope with them that, Â“Those shoes are the problem,Â” and laughing. Seventh grade boy, Norrence, turned from where he was playing basketball with other boys and said, Â“S hoes ainÂ’t her problem, your weak skills is the problem.Â” He accompanied this statement with a long and disgusted look at the fifth grade girls before turning back to his game. This was a moment of socialization for the two new fifth graders into the Scholastic Mi ddle culture of care. These girls had not learned this care in their home training; th erefore Norrence enforced this norm as a member of their peer culture. Alongsid e knowledge of the importance of looking good, they have learned the importa nce of understanding anotherÂ’s circumstances. They have
162 learned to see the world and choices as co mplicated in ways uncommon to their age group across class lines. This refusal to j udge, combined with sh aring, and soliciting goods for others were ways they showed care in their friendships. However, a lack of judgment also spread beyond their personal circles to strangers. Care for Strangers The tweens showed care not just for th eir families and friends, but also for strangers. With so much focus placed on l ooking good, I asked the tweens how they felt about people who did not look good. The tween s extended their refusal to judge to strangers. They would not submit these unknow n bodies to the standards of the docile body. Two reasons not to judge others were a lack of knowledge regarding financial circumstances and a lack of knowledge rega rding home training. They did not know the structural constraints on their agency, neither their access to structural resources like money or social resource s from their habitus. Unknown Financial Circumstances I ask Jacynth what it means when people donÂ’t look good. As if I am judging these imaginary people just by asking, she immediately responds, Â“You never know what they have, any money or not. So you canÂ’t just say that quick at times.Â” I ask what she would think about the parents of a kid w ho didnÂ’t look good, and she responds, Â“Probably canÂ’t afford that much stuff as other pe ople could afford.Â” Pushing the conversation further, I ask what she would think if she knew that the ki dÂ’s parents had a comfortable amount of money to buy them nicer, more expe nsive clothes. She simply says, Â“Probably got bills to pay.Â” Jacynth, like others I interviewed, takes her own understandin gs of how family and parents operate in terms of values and priorities concerning money and places this frame on others. This attitude s hows care for others, but it is also a form of self-care. Although Jacynth sees herself as having good pa rents who provide for her and teach her well, she is aware that there are times her parents might not be able to provide fully. Perhaps this is also a Golden Rule scenario, in that each of these tweens understands that they could be on the other side of this judgment at any time.
163 While Jacynth vehemently denies judging others, Brian is more philosophical. He says, Me personally, I try not to do it, but sometimes I kind of do it. But I never really try to do it; because you donÂ’t know what that person has or if they can get things they want like me. Like if I have a friend or somebody I donÂ’t know and they come dressing looking dumb and stuff, I really wouldnÂ’t like laugh or nothing. I would just look at Â‘em. ThatÂ’s about it, cause you never know if they are fortunate enough to have the things you ha ve. So you donÂ’t laugh at Â‘em. In contrast to Jacynth, BrianÂ’s statement show s that he understands the constraints placed on his ability not to judge. He tries not to do it but is still caught within the structures and disciplines that discipline him and everyone el se. He canÂ’t behave as a free agent as if those structural constraints do not exist, a nd thus he sometimes perpetuates them even though he does not want to. Brian admits that it is sometimes hard not to judge others, but makes it a point to try not to because he doesn Â’t know how Â“fortunateÂ” they are. It seems clear that part of this fortuna te state is financial, however fortune can also be a matter of home training and knowle dge about what how it is appropriate to look. Unknown Home Training Â“Their mom probably never told them,Â” Ka bira responds with a note of sadness in her voice. She quickly follows this statement wi th, Â“Or, they are just coming out just to get some air or something like that. They probably just going out side.Â” Kabira is responding to the scenario of a hypothetical woma n or girl wearing an outfit that is not Â“presentableÂ” because it is too revealing a nd not modest enough according to KabiraÂ’s standards. In this scenario, the problem is not necessarily that she doesnÂ’t have enough money to dress well, but that she does not have the proper knowledge or habitus, to know how to dress appropriately. Ka bira is trying to protect th is hypothetical girl from normalizing judgment while trying to deter her own judgment. She is not interested in damning the other girl for not fitting her st andards; rather she allows her a legitimate space to exist outside of them. The tweens want to protect both these imaginary, hypothetical others and their hypothetical parents. When I ask Demarco wh at his mom buying things means about the
164 two of them, he says, Â“That she loves us [meaning him and his two brothers] and would take care of us right away.Â” I follow his comment with, Â“So if you came looking raggedy what would that say?Â” Demarco responds, Â“It would say hardly nothing. IÂ’m still grateful for what I got.Â” Demarco sees love and care in what his moth er buys him and his brothers, but if parents fail to buy things for their children this does not indicate a lack of love. In DemarcoÂ’s opinion all people, with or wit hout home training, deserve re spect and so others should reserve judgment. In sum, the tweens showed care for ma ny different categories of others through both their consumption and their understan ding of the limits of consumption. They showed care for their families, particularly their mothers, by proving their home training out in the world by looking good. They also spent a significant portion of their money and a great deal of their tim e and energy in either buying or wanting to buy goods for their families. Another significant portion of th eir energies went to denying their desires for goods in various ways. They critically exam ined their familyÂ’s fi nancial situation in order to determine the likelihood of receivi ng certain goods, downplayed their desires when the likelihood was low, and denied thes e desires by not sharing them much of the time. They also worked hard to graciously acc ept denial from their parents. In addition, the tweens showed care for their friends by sharing, soliciting consumption on their behalf, and reserving negative judgments. Fi nally, the tweens extende d this refusal to judge to strangers, citing unknown financia l circumstances and home training as legitimate reasons others (or pot entially they) might not be able to live up to the same standards the tweens had set for themselves. Rather than being shallow, selfish, unthinking, or hedonistic consumer s, the students of Scholasti c Middle show a great deal of critical ability in their c onsumer decisions and reasoning regarding consumer culture. Conclusion The tweens I spoke to and observed care profoundly through their consumption. The control they enact as agents works ag ainst a system that seeks to place their consumption at the forefront of their identiti es. As agents, they utilized the rules and
165 resources of their home training to naviga te the consumer system. These rules and resources were about caring as much as cons uming. As members of the family team, they also engaged in many forms of self-denial to lessen the financial and emotional stress on their parents. Not only do they use their agency to adhere to more relational ways of defining themselves, but they also refuse to hold others to thos e stringent consumer standards that re quire expensive consumer display. In many ways, these attitudes and actions are strategic. It is lik ely that they have been in situations where they didnÂ’t look as good as they w ould have liked due to a lack of money or knowledge and desired kind and fa ir judgment. Therefore, they desire to treat others kindly and judge th em fairly when similar situations occur. However, their care is political. Through care, they attempt to undo the st atus quo power relations of class and race they see, and have been vict im to, in society. And these are not the only political backlashes to which they are party. The next chapter discu sses some of the more obvious consumer-based political tactics th ey use to enact resistance in school.
166 Chapter 8 Playing the rules: The politic s of Consumption and Care The Sock Revolution The eighth grade girls are standing in what can best be described as a pseudo-line. Their conversational knots are roughly connected, with no one standing directly one in front of the other. This almost line offers them protection: itÂ’s a good enough line so as not to draw the attention of the school staff, but it still makes it easy to talk with one another. I head down to the bottom of the stairs and see Chantoya at the front, halfstanding on the first step lead ing to the building and half-b racing and lifting herself on the banister behind her. She, like the other girls, is facing away so she can speak to the classmate behind her. I immediat ely notice her thick, bright wh ite tube socks. They are pulled up nearly to her knees. Â“Nice socks,Â” I say in the joking yet gen tle tone I often find myself using when trying to engage the students. My tendency towa rd sarcasm isnÂ’t as well received here as with my own peers. At the same time, quest ions phrased more seriously are often taken as interrogations. I add in a smile and eyebrow li ft to indicate that IÂ’m more curious about the socks than making fun. Chantoya lets a huge smile break across her face, lifts her chin a bit into the air, puts her hand on her hip, and laughs. She tips her left foot up onto the toes, bends her knee, and turns her lower body to the side so I can get an unobstructed view of the socks. Â“Like them?Â” she cheerily asks. I laugh and say, Â“Sure,Â” wondering where this is coming from. Normally the students, especially the girls, prefer Â“no showÂ” socks. The dre ss code requires that ankles be covered, so this preference often earns the attention of sc hool staff, who then require the students to wear white tube socks from the office. The tube socks conform to the
167 dress code, and further, punish offending students through embarrassment. Chantoya declares, Â“IÂ’m going to wear them like this from now on.Â” Â“Really?Â” I say with a bit of a smirk, figuring sheÂ’s having some fun with me. Â“Yup, I like them. TheyÂ’re comfortable, and IÂ’m going to keep wearing them.Â” For emphasis she bends down to make a quick tug at each sock to be sure they are at their maximum extension, hitting just below her knee caps. As she finishes, Ms. Curtis arrives to collect the girls for drama class. The line becomes more re cognizable as they file into the building. Punishment to Pleasure Â“Yup, I like them. TheyÂ’re comfortable and IÂ’m going to keep wearing them.Â” This pronouncement turns a punishment into a pleasurable fashion performance. True to her word, when I saw Chantoya later in the week she was wearing tube socks pulled up as high as she could. I soon noticed that Kabira was wearing tube socks as well. In the next weeks, many of the younger girls were also wearing tube socks. Beginning with Chantoya, the students changed a fashion donÂ’ tÂ—a punishmentÂ—into a preferred mode of dressÂ—a pleasure. This act of creativity show s one of the ways in which the tweens at Scholastic Middle subvert institu tionalized rules and create a quiet revolution through measured consumption. The previous two chapters focused on the care shown for and by the tweens through consumption. This chapter focuses on how care as consumption can be understood as a subversive practice. After offering background on the school as a regulatory space, I will discuss two types of subversive behavior common at the school: code switching and playing with and wit hout consumption. The limitations of these subversive acts will also be discussed. Fina lly, I will return to th e subject of care, and discuss how it too is a subversive act agai nst the dominant discourse surrounding these tweens. School Discipline of the Poor, Minority, Tween Body The tweens at Scholastic Middle consci ously and unconsciously work to undo and repurpose the structures constr aining and enabling various ways of being, both within their school and in their lives in general. Gi ddensÂ’s (1986) structura tion reveals that the
168 tweens are enabled and constrained by the vari ous systems and structures in which they operate. The school itself is perhaps the mo st tangible structure and discourse which permeates their days. Although their actions are often unacknowledged or acknowledged through punishment by the school officials, th e students nonetheless us e their agency to affect the structure, fulfilling the process of structuration. While ChantoyaÂ’s rebellion, one enac ted simply by changing her personal preferences regarding fashion, did not resu lt in the administration changing the dress code, she did change the power of those ru les and made a disciplined body (Foucault, 1977) somewhat less so. She turned a constrai nt of the school system into a resource (Giddens, 1986). The dress code is one tac tic of discipline (one co nstraint) that the students frequently push against. Sc holastic MiddleÂ’s uniforms cons ist of polo shirts with the school name and logo on the left breast and navy blue pants, shorts, or skirts (girls only). Pants must be made of twill or a similar mate rial. The polo shirts are either green (for fifth, sixth, and seventh graders) or white (for eighth grader s). All shirts must be worn fully tucked in. Students are allo wed to wear navy blue jacket s, sweatshirts, and sweaters. Shorts and skirts must hit the knees but cannot be more than one to two inches below the knees. All clothing must also Â“fit ap propriately,Â” and not appear too tight or too loose. If a studentÂ’s pant s, shorts, or skirt has belt l oops, a black belt must be worn. Students must wear black dress or athletic shoes. Jewelry, ot her than small studs or hoop earrings for girls, is prohibit ed. Students must wear white so cks that cover their ankles; Â“no-showÂ” socks are not permitted. Some of the rules, particularly the length and fit of pants and the use of belts, seem to be de signed to discourage the relatively long-term trend among youthÂ—particularly black male youthÂ—of wearing large pants that sag below the waist and often show colorful boxer sh orts. In addition, it is clear that a white, middle-class, adult norm regarding fashion and self-presentation is enforced. Craik (2007) says of school uniforms: They prescribe the DoÂ’s of behaviour such as authority, order, hierarchy, role and rules, but equally uniforms proscribe the DonÂ’tÂ’s often more prominently . . Hence uniform rules are imposed in respons e to what is deemed as unwelcome or
169 inappropriate behaviour, th at is, uniforms are a composite of Â‘not statementsÂ’ about the limits of acceptable perfor mance in social context. (p. 37) Scholastic Middle uniforms demonstr ate adherence to this norm. A docile student body, by definition in U.S. society is a white, middle-class body. According to Dolby (2002) these attempts at Â“whiteÂ” dress move to ward a standard of Â“non-ethnicityÂ” rather than to ward any definable style. Like the administrators at other black schools with white images55 (see Dolby, 2002), the dress code at Scholastic Middle is more about what is not allowed, which is ethnic, than what it is, which is white. This style is defined as normal, rather than white (Perry, 2001). Looki ng good has a lot to do with reading both dominant and non-dominant forms of cultural capital (Carter, 2003), and being able to creatively engage the rule s inherent in each. Unif orms attempt to limit this creativity. However, uniforms go beyond visually crea ting a white, middle-class (i.e., docile) body. They are also used as tools to modify be havior. The white polo shirts are worn only by the eighth graders and are meant to serve as a symbol of leadership, accomplishment, and distinction. The variation in shirt color se rves to visually rank individuals (Foucault, 1977). If teachers and administra tors decide an eighth grader is not living up to the values and standards of the school, she is prohibit ed from wearing the white polo, and instead must wear a plain green t-shir t (having disgraced herself so much she can no longer wear even the green Scholastic Middle polo shirt). On ce behavior improves, the white shirt is returned. This punishment and redemption cycl e is practiced over a six-week examination period. These six weeks are a time when stude nts must prove themselves reformed and must demonstrate their ability to behave a ppropriately as a doc ile body (Foucault, 1977). This is a period of exercise. Of course, uniforms are not the only tool s of regimentation utilized by the faculty and administrators of Scholastic Middle. Like any school, they break down time and space in discrete increments that determ ine the appropriate use of the body in each moment (i.e., doing history work in history class, ea ting during the lunch period, exercising in prescribed ways in gym cla ss). Scholastic Middle utilizes the tools of 55 The school is viewed as white by the tweensÂ’ community peers. Th ey are often accused of going to a Â“white scho olÂ” despite its 100 percent minority student population.
170 hierarchical observation, nor malizing judgment, and examination to create docile bodies according to white, middle-class norms (Foucault, 1977). Scholastic Middle disciplines through its standard curriculum, which is taught alongside middleclass, white, adult norms. Much of the communicative styleÂ—bo th verbal and nonverbalÂ—of black and youth culture is deemed inappropriate at Scholastic Middle. The goals of a collegeprepatory education (middle-class careers, fi nancial stability, intellectual fulfillment, contribution to community) are presented in a middle-class, wh ite vernacular and understanding. Students learn what is possibl e and how to go about obtaining it from a racial and class habitus not their own. A black vs. good dichotomy is created, which necessarily limits, but does not eradicate the power of their subversive practices. BourdieuÂ’s (1984) concept of habitus show s how the studentsÂ’ home training is a resource for negotiating school and consumer cu lture, but one that is insufficient when white, middle-class norms are the basis for pr oper behavior. However, as Gramsci (1971) explains, hegemony also offers the tools fo r subversion. The power system, entrenched and unseen and therefore difficult to challenge can be made visible and understandable through discursive and practical knowl edge (Giddens, 1986). The concept of disidentification offers anothe r strategy to resist and subvert the status quo by utilizing and queering the norms of the domin ant power structures (Munoz, 1999). Given an understanding of societal control provided by FoucaultÂ’s (1977) explanation of disciplinary society and Giddens (1986) stru cturation theory, it is clear that all U.S. citizens are subj ected to various levels of c onsistent and powerful control through institutions including the social serv ice system, the educational system, and the legal system among others. However, given th eir age, race, and economic status these tweens are subjected to higher levels of control and are less powerful, more closely identified, potentially delinquent (Foucault, 1977) members of society who reside in Â“problemÂ” communities. When the added struct ures and control of such a strict school environment are added, individual choices ar e even more constrained. The extended day and mandatory weekend and summer structur e at Scholastic Middle helps students catch up and work beyond their academic grade level while providing the social discipline deemed necessary for college attendance and professional careers. The elongated school
171 day, week, and year are also meant to keep the students Â“structured in time and spaceÂ” and out of their neighborhoods and away from bad influences. Smaller school and class size and higher student-to-teac her ratios allows for increas ed learning opp ortunities and support as well as tighter control over student behavior. The next section explores the subversive practices of code switching and playing with and without consumption and discusses how they are enacted despite the se vere restraints and re gimentation of this disciplinary system. Subversions Control and constraint ca n provide opportunities for creativity in a consumer culture environmen t (Chin, 1993, 2001): While close examination of the consumer environment of inner city children exposes tragic realities, the elements of play and self-affirmation exist there as well. Children and others are not si mply challenged by the consumer environments they inhabit; they challenge them in important ways. (p. 104) The tools the tweens use to subvert and resist the dominant power systems in school and their larger lives come from w ithin that system of power. Foucault (1978) writes, Â“Where there is power, there is resist ance, and yet, or rath er consequently, this resistance is never in a positi on of exteriority in relation to powerÂ” (p. 95-96). For all the constraints imposed by the structure of power, it also provides resources that enable and are necessary for change (Gramsci, 1971). Although constrained in so many ways, the tweens of Scholastic Middle subvert the re gimentation of the school and consumer structure through code switching. Code Switching Code switching is most commonly unde rstood as an ability to shift among languages, dialects, or other linguistic m eans. Scotton and Ury (1977) define code switching as Â“the use of two or more linguist ic varieties in the same conversation or interactionÂ” (p. 7). Garner and Rubin (1986) refer to th e phenomenon as style-shifting and view it as the Â“attitudinal posture that allows some Black English (BE) speakers to
172 become bidialectal without disavowing their blacknessÂ” (p. 33). Thus, code switching is also seen as a functi on of black identity:56 The codeswitching function allows a person to temporarily accommodate to the norms and regulations of a group, or ganization, school, or workplace. Codeswitching, or fronting may occur when an organization or group shows signs of discomfort with explicit expressi ons of difference, especially race. In situations that foster codeswitching, Af rican Americans act, think, dress, and express themselves in ways that maxi mize the comfort leve l of the person, group, or organization toward which the communi cation is focused. (Cross, Strauss & Fhagen-Smith, 1999, p. 32) Cross, Strauss, and Fhagen-Smith (1999) specifically refer to Black individuals trying to create a level of co mfort for other groups in their code switching. However, Chantoya shows this same concern for her peersÂ’ comfort when she says, I just talk where people can understand me. And that Â’s why, around my peers, I use more slang. Â‘Cause thatÂ’s the unders tandable language. IÂ’m not going to use a whole bunch of big words, throw Â‘em at them, like stuff theyÂ’re not usually used to and try to make them act like me. IÂ’m going to speak where itÂ’s comfortable for them and me also talking to them. Code switching is a complex process. In the specific instance of code switching from Black English (BE) to Standard English (SE), the situation is complicated by formal and informal standards of both BE and SE (Garner & Rubin, 1986). According to Burling (1973), the communication differen ces in BE and SE are seen in word variability, sound variability, contrast variab ility, and final consonants. The students also switched between the in formal and formal styles of both black English and standard English in conversati ons with me, often laughing at my lack of either practical or discursive knowledge re garding current slang. Frequently, I would 56 Although much research has been done on code switching amongst Black people (see Carter, 2003; Doss & Gross, 1994; Koch, Gross, & Kolts, 2001), they are certainly not the only group that utilizes this tool. Code switching is a tool used by nearly all groups to address the communicative needs of various s ituations (Ball, Gile s, & Hewstone, 1985; Street & Giles, 1982). People code switch acro ss class, region, na tionality, sex, gender, and sexuality as well.
173 enter conversations in progress where they would decode the language for me, saying things like Â“that means it looks good, Mi ss Edgecomb.Â” The younger boys particularly liked to take my language and make it thei r own. For example, I happened to use the word accoutrement in study hall, which two boys commented on and asked for the definition. A week later, the science teacher told me it ha d entered the fifth grade boysÂ’ daily vocabulary. Code switching requires an ability to switch among several speech codes based on the needs of the situation and audience. C ode switching is a Â“strategic negotiationÂ” (Carter, 2003) involving not only language but also othe r forms of cultural capital including speech patterns, conversation topic, dress, and body language. Carter expands the view of code switching, or Â“strategic ne gotiation,Â” from linguistic means to cultural capital and argues that Black youth must ne gotiate dominant and non-dominant forms of cultural capital, which encompass much more than language. The term Â“dominant cultural capitalÂ” corre sponds to BourdieuÂ’s conceptualization of powerful, high status cu ltural attributes, codes, and signals. . Similarly, Â“non-dominant cultural capitalÂ” embodies a set of tastes, or schemes of appreciation and understanding, accorded to a lower status group, that include preferences for particular linguistic, musical, or interactional styles. Nondominant cultural capital describes th ose resources used by lower status individuals to gain Â“authen ticÂ” cultural status positions within their respective communities. Different, though interconn ected, these two forms of capital represent variable cultural currencies, the benefits of which vary, depending upon the field in which the capital is used. (Carter, 2003, p. 138) However, as an example from Chantoya demonstrates, code switching is not a universal skill. During Chant oyaÂ’s interview, I asked a que stion I often asked about how middle-class, middle-aged, white people might judge her at the mall if she were wearing what she considered to be a cute outfit. She responded with a story in which she believed Mr. Tejera, the head of school, was stereo typing someone without regard for varying tastes and cultural capital:
174 IÂ’m going to use something, and this is what Mr. Tejera said. There was a car blasting some music, it was black, and it was on high wheels. He said, Â“I bet you that person has wasted his whole life doing the little things wrong.Â” To me that was like the biggest ster eotype ever. And that really offended me. Â‘Cause you never know what that person went through. That person could have like a good life. IÂ’m not saying blasting music is right. Â‘Cause a lot of people do it, and itÂ’s wrong. Who wants to hear your music? ItÂ’s kind of rude. Actually, itÂ’s not wrong. ItÂ’s ju st rude. So, I, and I guess we [meaning her classmates], were laughing at the music, cause we knew the song. We were like, Â“Oh, we like that song.Â” Â“Un uh, un uh, un uh,Â” he [Mr. Tejera] was yelling. I was like, Â“Is that really called for? Â” Because I think the thing a lot of people get in trouble for is they donÂ’t know how to deal with certain people. Your demeanor, or the way you approach ot her people, you canÂ’t approach with disrespect. It has to do with race in a sense, because we going to look at you and be like, here this white man57 and heÂ’s trying to tell me th at this is stupid, and we look at him, like he thinks heÂ’s better than us. Or if we do something our way, heÂ’ll get mad and just be like, Â“YouÂ’re going to be like those people out there.Â” And you canÂ’t approach us, or people in ge neral, like that. Because it makes us look at you and not want to hear. We block it out, because you have to approach us with a calmer spirit. Because weÂ’re already like, Â“Hmm, why should we listen to this person?Â” Because, you donÂ’t really know who to trust really. So I think that was a kind of like a stereotype when he sa id that. They just like jazzing up their car. Maybe thatÂ’s materialistic, but isnÂ’t a lot of people in the world, the media? A lot of them are materialistic So, I thought that was a big stereotype. It was wrong to say it in front of a lot of people. I mean, he could have been like, Â“ThatÂ’s kind of rude. Guys, thatÂ’s something you wouldnÂ’t want to do.Â” He c ould have said it in a different manner instead of saying what he said. 57 Mr. Tejera is not white in the strict se nse, but is Cuban-American. However, the majority of the students referred to him as white because of his light skin color.
175 In ChantoyaÂ’s estimation, Mr. Tejera made a stereotypically raced assumption regarding the driver of the tr icked-out car that made her sh ut out what he was trying to say. This is often the case in cross-cultural communicati on (Carter, 2003; Garner & Rubin, 1986). The non-dominant group refuses to accept standards, rules, and information regarding dominant cultural capital because of the perception that it is being given in a way that demeans them and their culture. Carter says, Â“students frequently refused to fully seek the acqui sition of dominant cultural ca pital at school, especially during those moments when they perceived that school officials demeaned their own cultural resourcesÂ” (p. 147). For Chantoya, Mr. TejeraÂ’s tone and comment lacked a Â“calm spiritÂ” that would have allowed her to at the very least acknowledge to him that he had reached her and at the most altered her pe rceptions as to how and what a tricked out car communicates to others. Of course, this assumes she needed the in struction in the first place. She makes it clear that she already unders tands how he views the car and finds it offensive that he cannot see the non-dominant cultural value it displays. Chantoya is code switching not simply amongst language but id eology in this instance. She understands that Mr. Tejera thinks the driver of the car is wrong. Howeve r, she refuses that estimation and tries to protect the driver from his judgment by pointi ng out that he does not know the driverÂ’s circumstances and is stereotyping. This can be seen as a strategy of disidentification (Munoz, 1999). From this interaction Chantoya concludes that Mr. Tejera cannot admit that he does not know much about the driver inside, and th at he believes is in a position to judge the appropriateness of the driverÂ’s actions.58 The example Chantoya provides regarding Mr. Tejera is an example of the ways the tweens go beyond linguistic code switching to subvert and find space in a system that demeans their knowledge and experiences As a group, poor, minority, urban youth consistently upend and change fashion and langua ge. However, more attention is paid to their interest in name brands than in their ability to take a $2.50 tank top or t-shirt and turn it into a fashion staple. Similarly thei r use of vernacular black English is emphasized 58 For Chantoya, Mr. Tejera is also missing another important aspect of her habitus, which is the knowledge that one should reserve judgment wh en they donÂ’t know anotherÂ’s circumstances.
176 rather than their interest in playing with language as a whole. These tweens do know about stereotypically black fashion and vern acular black English; however, they also know how to read situations and code-switc h in their fashion, language, and demeanor. Much of this code switching is accomplis hed with a minimum amount of consumption and a minimum interest in consuming the wa y the system wants them to consume. The initial story in this chapter s hows eighth grader Chantoya taking the punishment of wearing long tube socks and tu rning it into a fashi onable and pleasurable performance for herself and her peers. As I looked at her standing in line, her body was disciplined in time and space, and distribu ted according to rank. Her actions were prescribed. Hers is a seemingly docile body, a nd yet she used it to take up and use the rules to her advantage. The influence of urban black youth on fash ion, particularly youth fashion, is well documented (Gladwell, 2000; Kotlowitz, 1999, 2000). The Â“cool huntÂ” that continuously updates the fashion landscape most often takes place in urban settings and with minority children, tweens, and teens (Gladwell, 2000). Th e agency of these kids, tweens and teens enables fashion innovation. Structure offers up the resources of consumer culture and rules about how those resources are to be utilized. The tweens follow some rules but not others, which changes the system. The consta nt and overarching rule of the consumer system is not only buying but also constant change so th at one must always be buying. Thus the innovators of consumer culture ar e bodies just as docile as those who do not make the fashion changes but rather follow them. Scholastic Middle students are no exception to this attention to fashion and detail; however, in addition to financ ial constraints on fashion expression, students must wear uniforms while on campus. Scholastic Middle st udents know the dress code, and spend a great deal of time and creativity breaking or bending those rules. Girls often come to school wearing necklaces, large ear rings, or rings. Most often th ey are told to take them off and either put them in their backpacks or turn them into the office to be picked up after school. Students, especia lly the girls, often wear sweaters and sweatshirts over their clothing. Although some wear either blue Sc holastic Middle sweatshir ts or plain blue sweatshirts, many do not. It is not uncommon to see students in embellished sweatshirts
177 of all kinds and colors. Sometimes they are asked to remove these sweatshirts before entering the main building, but most often they are overlooked. F aculty overlook these sweatshirts in an attempt to make the students more comfortable in sometimes heavily air-conditioned rooms and the students take advantage of this exception, relishing wearing clothing not sanctioned as part of the uniform. Many of the boys take great pleasure in un-tucking their sh irts. It is not uncommon for the same students to be told to tu ck in their shirts upwards of five times a day. Given the number of times I have seen th eir shirts become un-tucked in a single afternoon, I find it hard to believe they are simply pulled out through ordinary movement. They are un-tucking them at nearly ever y opportunity. The dress code of Scholastic Middle is highly restrictive, even un-tucking one Â’s shirt offers some small bit of relief from the rules and sense of individuality and rebelliousness. As the students work to undo the dress code in these small ways (jewelry, sweaters and sweatshirts, un-tucking their shirts ), the staff work to enforce these rules. Some code infractions cannot be resolved by asking the student to remove or alter her accessories or clothing. These punishments are doled out on a daily basis to more than one and generally less than five students pe r day. When students wear socks that do not cover their ankles, they receive long, thick t ube socks from the office. Students who were forced to wear punishment socks did their be st to disguise the length of the socks by folding them down. The socks showed that you had gotten into trouble, which was seen as a disgrace. Given conversations among th e students, this disg race stemmed from having been caught doing something wrong, rather than from having done something wrong. At one point, two of the eighth grade girls, Dedra and El ois, were fighting because Elois said Dedra had gotten her into trouble over her socks. Although I never got a clear version of the incident, it seemed th at Dedra had been called out for something and had attempted to turn the tables by asking why Elois wasnÂ’t in trouble for her socks. The resulting tiff between two otherwise very close friends went on for over a week, as Elois was mad about being told on as we ll as having to wear the long socks.
178 Given the importance that the students pl aced on not having to wear the long socks, ChantoyaÂ’s decision to not only wear, but to embrace, the tube socks is an act of subversion. She and her friends have taken a rule formerly understood primarily as a constraint and firmly placed it in the categor y of a resource. They have conformed to the actions required of a docile body while subvertin g it. In the structure of school they have successfully, at least temporar ily, subverted the system. This works for their fashion sensibility because in embracing the tube sock s they have changed what is fashionable and left the administration to accept a style they do not like or change the rules. When Chantoya is punished for her socks being too shortÂ—a positive characteristic according to her habitus a nd non-dominant cultural capital informed by being black, young, and from an urban ne ighborhoodÂ—she is being punished for not adhering to the dominant cultural capital of the administrators. However, in their punishment they actually go beyond their own ta ste preferences with the large tube socks to make a pointÂ—a point that backfires when Chantoya and her peers decide to incorporate the long socks into their system of taste. Chant oya and her peers are talking back to, rather than with, the dominant system. The recognition that cultural capital writ large plays a role in code switching is impor tant in understanding how larger systems of taste and understanding inform cross-cultur al interaction. There is a difference in acceptable dress style between the students and administration at Scholastic Middle that comes from a difference in taste, and in cultur al capital. The domina nt cultural capital of the administration is then used as a tool to discipline the students. However, through creativity and code switching, th e tweens find ways to hold thei r bodies up to hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and examin ation and be declared a docile body all while subverting the struct ure and docile body (Foucault, 1977; Giddens, 1986). They have successfully disidentified (Munoz, 1999). What was once primarily a constraint of the system is now primarily a resource (G iddens, 1986). Another way that the tweens challenge the system is by breaking the rules of the consumer system to play with it in new and creative ways a nd to play without it.
179 Playing With and Without Consumption Beyond doing very well without name bra nd clothing, the students of Scholastic Middle often do without many other cons umer goods. Toys and entertainment commodities are considered important for child ren and are one of the categories of goods that these tweens must often make strategic choices regarding or do without. These goods are not used in isolation but form the ba sis for play and interaction among children, tweens, teens, and adults. Give n the importance of these aspects of consumer culture to peer interaction, the tweens at Scholastic Middle must engage consumer culture in creative ways within their financial constrai nts. In order to address the ways tweens subvert the packaged, Â“use asÂ” directions re garding toys and pla y, I will first address academic work on play, then move on to exampl es of this play without consumer means. Play in theory. Play is a childÂ’s work (Montesso ri, 1964). It is therefore serious and important. As Barry (2008) says, Â“Playi ng and fun are not the same thing, though when we grow up we may forget that, and find ourselves mixing up playing with happiness. There can be a kind of amnesia abou t the seriousness of playingÂ” (p. 51). For the students of Scholastic Middl e, playing is serious and is a way to denote membership in their peer group. Pugh (2009) says knowledge of popular culture, if not the tools of that culture in the form of toys or othe r goods, is necessary for belonging and dignity among children (see also Chin, 2001). Play is accomplished within designated li mits of time and space, and creates order and structure (Huizinga, 1950, p. 7-12). Regardin g the freedom of play, Huizinga (1950) says that play as a necessity of life does not detract from its disinterested character toward the everyday because: The purposes it serves are external to immediate material interests or the individual satisfaction of biological needs. As a sacr ed activity play naturally contributes to the well being of the gr oup, but in quite another way and by other means than the acquisition of the necessities of life. (p. 9) Play must take place in a separate, limin al, contained setting outside of Â“normalÂ” life (V. Turner, 1969, 1987, 2001; Huizinga, 1950). These students took one of the most disciplining structures in our societyÂ—a schoolÂ—and carved out settings where they
180 challenged the power of the standard rule s and rhythms and enact ed their own. They played not just in the moment s that the timetable and structure afforded them, like recess or lunch, but in areas and times marked as o ff-limits for this type of behavior. Within confines of time and space, the power of the structure was challenged and redefined through their agency. Because th e body is partially disciplined through the structuring of time and space (Foucault, 1977; Gidde ns, 1986; Munoz, 1999), altering our understandings of space is one move toward a less disciplined body. Despite the necessity of play to culture and human nature (even animal nature), contemporary society often equates playÂ—espec ially the play of childrenÂ—with toys. The what and how of playing is complicated for t hose in this study by their statuses as both minorities and poor. Chin (1999) details the ways girls in Newhallville made their white dolls hair Â“blackÂ” and therefore a more accurate representation of themselves through braids and beads. Rather than demanding bl ack dolls, they accomp lished this through the creative use of the means at hand. The tweens I studied do the same. Although I never saw any of them play with dolls, I did witn ess a great deal of play. Three forms and instances deserve special note: rapping, lists, and magazines. Entrainment and the alteration of time and space. Rapping is a favorite activity of the boys. It could take place anywhere at the spur of the moment and at anytime when they werenÂ’t being strictly controlledÂ—in ar t class, on the playgr ound, at lunch, in line for class, or on the bus on a school trip. Generally one student begins to rap, either in response to some internal impetus or as a result of conversation with others. Almost immediately the others make space for him, tu rning to him and moving away to give him room. They participate by keeping a beat, ad ding to, or rapping alongside others. Often their additions are a form of descant, an ornamental or counter melody that enhances rather than competes with the original. Very rarely does the original rapper maintain the floor; the activity quickly becomes one of taking turns being center stage. When this turn taking is not acknowledged by re linquishing the floor, argumen ts break out. The process is at once pleasurable and serious. Here, langua ge is the raw material for play. However, as the boys rap they display a knowledge of th is musical genre gained by listening to the
181 music. Since they often do not own many CDs, they gain this knowledge from television, radio, listening to othersÂ’ CDs, or downloading pirated copies. Rogers (1994) hits on rhythm as a means of organizing and performing organization. Calling on FoucaultÂ’s (1977) conc ept of the docile body, he claims that the rhythms of a culture help di scipline and create a docile body, and, just as some rhythms subjugate the citizen, others Â“subvert, resist, enact a differe nt orderÂ” (p. 223). The boysÂ’ rapping was Â“a rhythm from a different rhythmic sensibility, a different form of order and social organizationÂ” from the one imposed by school. They used rapping as a chance to entrain themselves into a different rhythm and therefore body and mind space. The law of entrainment says that two rhythmic patterns in proximity will quickly lock up (Huygens as cited in Rogers, 1994). The boys seemed to seek and find a se nse of their own bodily rhythm in communal action rather than a rhythm and se t of actions imposed on them by the larger structures of school and society. Similar to th e concept of entrainment, the boysÂ’ play can also be understood as Â“jammingÂ” in EisenbergÂ’s (1990) sense of the term. Jamming offers Â“an ecstatic way of balancing autonomy and interdependence in organizing . [and] a different route . to communityÂ” (p. 139). It requires individuals of sufficient skill and cannot be planned. On one occasion, I watched as a group of teachers gave up on calling an end to the session despite the fact that it was time to go inside for class. They let it play out of its own accord. This activity was removed from the timetable of the school day, even by the timekeepers themselves, and exemplifies how th e students experienced it, as well, as set apart from the school day. The rap session created a liminal space (V. Turner, 1969, 1987, 2001). This too is a necessary basis for ja mming; the setting must be separate from everyday life (Eisenberg, 1990, p. 155). In this and other characteristic s, the requirements for jamming are much like the requirements for playÂ—voluntary, disinterested, within designated limits of time and space, and cr eating order and stru cture (Huizinga, 1950). For each of the boys involved, the created rhythm was improvised among a group of other boys like themselves. Although thei r created rhythm was influenced by popular R&B music, it did not discipline them or require them to be quiet, still and unobtrusive.
182 Their bodies worked collectivel y like the machine created by the disciplined society, but oriented instead toward play. Another form of play that shows aspects of entrainment and jamming is the list making of the eighth grade girls. Our CDÂ—our connection. Another spontaneous act of play was one that involved sharing preferences and creati ng lists. Often a group would playfully interact simply by taking down lists of their preferences as a group, their favorite names, or their favorite actors and actresses. One partic ular instance involved music. During some down time in a class in the library, the eighth grade girls spontaneously came to the conclusion that th ey needed Â“their ownÂ” CD. It began, much like the boysÂ’ rapping, with Tahira and Dedr a having a casual conversation about what songs they liked. Then Elois got involved. So mehow the talk jumped tables to Cala, who responded enthusiastically with her song. From here it turned into a list. Tahira wrote down everyoneÂ’s names on a piece of notebook paper with space for them to put their favorite song. Each of the girls recorded thei r favorite song until the list came to Dedra, with whom the conversation had started. De dra couldnÂ’t decide on one song, so said sheÂ’d put two. This led everyone who had gone before to choose a second song. This impromptu activity, a playful and creative e ngagement with and altering of packaged consumer culture, became play in which each girl wanted to participate. When the list got to Kaia, who hadnÂ’t been paying attention, the girls explained the activity to her. At this point, the rule s of the game had been formalized. Once the rules were explained, Kaia was ready to record her choices but was distressed to find they had already been picked. Her inability to come up with a song was detrimental to her status in the group and threat ened the construction of pla y. The girls told Kaia, Â“Come on! You have to pick two songs.Â” The girls may have entrained the game into their own rhythm, but it was no less disciplined than any other imposed rhythm. Kaia wracked her brain and came up with two songs, which drew cheers from her classmates. These cheers came because they loved her new choices, and also because she had fulfilled her role as group member. The tweensÂ’ play redefines the goods and the spaces in which they are living, learning, and playing through thei r own set of strict but spontaneous rules. Eisenberg
183 (1990) writes that a highly de fined structure can be liberat ing (p. 153-154). These strict structures can provide chances for agency. In the game of listing songs for Â“their CDÂ” the eighth grade girls created strict rules regardi ng the necessity of participation and that the songs must be Â“goodÂ” according to the tast es of the group. The Â“goodÂ” standard was met easily by the shared knowledge of the group. However, the game was almost broken by KaiaÂ’s initial in ability to come up with songs that were both good and not previously mentioned. As far as I know, the girls never made this particular CD. However, the process of determining what would go on it was their pl ay. The creation of the actual CD was superfluous to the process of devising it that allowed for bonding, fun, and the serious work of play. They girls subverted the c ontrol of marketers a nd record companies by refusing to purchase the songs or listen to th em as packaged (i.e., as a group on the CD). They also took ownership of the songs by c hoosing them and arrang ing them for Â“their CD.Â” The work no longer belonged to the comp any or artist, and the workÂ’s true value was only found in the creation of a moment of entrained play that evidenced the bonds between the girls. It was play that required no purchasing. Ho wever, another instance of girls playing at the school requ ired slightly more participa tion in consumer culture. For this, one magazine was required. Opinions and popular culture. A final example of the need to be together, to join in, and to play together with very limited means happened at lunch as I sat with a group of sixth grade girls. Ezola was looking at the tween magazine BOP with three other girls. There was no talk of brands, clothes, or other consumer items. Instead, the conversation consisted of Ezola holding court in the middle of the table with the magazine out in front of her lying open. Only she was allowed to t ouch the magazine or turn the pages while the others sat next to her or leaned in from behind. Ezola turned the page, everyone took in the pictures for a second, and then th e group decided who was the cutest boy on the page and how he compared to the other w onderful specimens of teenage maleness with whom they were all familiar. Similar to the rapping and CD creation scenes detailed earlier, it was important to all the girls to have their say in this activit y. The rhythm they created dictated that each
184 girl actively offer her opinion in a timely manner and with co nviction. The girls entrained into a repetitive flow of conversationÂ—f lip, opinions, responses, flip. Deference was given to Ezola, as it was her magazine, a nd this was accepted by all and didnÂ’t diminish anyone elseÂ’s enjoyment of the process. Th is magazine play was ordered and serious. They were bonding over this arti fact of seemingly superficia l feminine tween culture in serious and deep ways. Like the girls in ChinÂ’s (1993,1999, 2001) study they went Â“offlabelÂ”59 and did what they wanted rather than what they were supposed to do with the commodity. Looking at and discussing the magazine wa s important to them as a group and to their overall status as gi rls in their larger cohort. To not know these things or to fail to show an interest in them would mean not having things in common with your classmates. Membership in their group is largely dete rmined by knowledge of various aspects of consumer culture, a knowledge deep enough to render and defend an opinion (Chin, 2001; Pugh, 2009).60 Not only were these teen hear tthrobsÂ’ looks important, but the conversation also required knowledge of how th ey fit into the celebr ity system. What was unimportant were the brands they might be hawking, owning their CDs or movies, or purchase (or discussion) of the produc ts advertised in the magazine. EzolaÂ’s magazine is the only example of any direct buying and toy/commodity use in play detailed here. However, far from the hopes of the magazine to both sell copies to every girl and have their ads utilized, thes e girls had a single copy and paid very little, if any, attention to the ads. In fact, this style of reading magazines was common among the girls, and this was not the only time I witnessed this type of interaction. Their knowledge of consumer culture offers the co mmon structure and rule s in Giddens (1986) and EisenbergÂ’s (1990) senses of the term s while their creativity, perhaps partially brought on by financial limitations, allows for improvisation and fun. 59 Â“Off-labelÂ” is a term used by those in th e medical field to deno te using a medication for a purpose that may be commonly known and done but for which the Food and Drug Administration has not given approval. The tweens use consumer culture similarly. 60 Performed and perceived heterose xuality was also key to this play as the desirability of the boys for both their looks and perceived personalities was the main part of the conversation.
185 In moments of play, the tweensÂ’ minds and bodies are working outside of the dominant disciplining structure even as thei r bodies, and in many ways their behavior, remain within the structure. By creating this liminal space and altered rhythm in their play they subvert the rhythm of the timetable that serves capitalism through timed labor, and the timetable of the school in particular They instead shift from the system that delineates their dayÂ’s tasks by the clock to a system within their play that focuses on a task orientation (see Thompson as cited in Rogers, 1994, p. 226). This task-oriented play does not require the task at hand to be done in a particular time frame, simply to be completed in the way that seems most natura l to them rather from within a Â“time is moneyÂ” framework. To create their own spaces within the system, they must have a practical knowledge of the systems governing their time and behavior and remain compliant, or mostly compliant, to observers. They must be able to disrupt spaces set around them by school without being so disruptive as to ha ve their play stopped. Like with code switching, they must appear to be docile bodies even as they are not being docile according to the rules and norms of the school system. This practical knowledge of the structures that bind their uses of time and space is no less important than the discursive knowledge of consumer culture that allows them to fill their liminal, self-created spaces with play. Again, it is knowledge, itself a form of power, of consumption and popular culture, rather than ownership of consumer goods that allows for these interactions. These knowledges also help form a cultural capital used to create authentic in-group membership. The three previous examples of Sc holastic Middle students at playÂ—rapping, making an imaginary CD, and reading a magazine, have several elements in common that make resistive and subversive moves agains t both the structures of school and larger dominant discourses including consumer cultu re. Throughout these s cenarios the tweens are exhibiting knowledge and therefore pow er; creativity and ownership; and rule creation tempered with freedom and impr ovisation. Through all of this, the tweens actively work against the dominant structur es of school and consumer culture and the creation of docile bodies. Ac ross all of these political momentsÂ—code switching
186 linguistically and through fashion and pl aying without toysÂ—consumer knowledge, creativity, and other knowledges of popular cu lture combine to allo w for subversive and important bonding. Important to all of these activ ities are the ways that this jamming and entrainment, enabled by consumer knowledge and creativity, serve to partition off space and time in order to challenge the docility of the body. Also important is access to the non-dominant capital of the tween s. It is this non-dominant capital that signals belonging in the group. Unfortunately, neither authenti c group membership nor creative use of agency as individuals and as a group is enough to topple the system. Limitations of Subversion The subversive work of the tweens of Scholastic Middle is enabled and constrained by the structures that surround th em. Structures, including consumer culture, offer them both resources and restrictions in their identity and connection work. These enactments of subversion, for all their indivi dual and group creativity, still come from the very system they challenge (Foucault, 1977; Giddens, 1986; Gramsci, 1971). The sources of the rules and constraints are not easily seen; therefore, this power acts fully, constantly, and invisibly whic h increases its domination. Two of the issues I saw limiting these tweensÂ’ subversions were the impermane nce of their resistiv e strategies and an internalized sense of abnormality. Storage of Change To perpetuate the dominant form of power a power with the immediate potential to maintain or change, one must have a relati vely solid place of resi stance, a place within the status quo. In order to ma rshal these resources, one mu st be able to store them. Giddens (1986) argues for the importance of havi ng a distinct locale to control, and says, Â“Of essential importance to the engendering of power is the storag e of authoritative resourcesÂ” (p. 261). Giddens defines storag e as Â“a medium of Â‘bindingÂ’ time-space involving, on the level of action, the knowledge able management of a projected future and recall of an elapsed past,Â” (p. 261) and Â“involving the rete ntion and control of information or knowledge whereby social re lations are perpetuate d across time-spaceÂ” (1986, p. 261).
187 This solid place of resistance is someth ing the tweens of Scholastic Middle do not have economically, socially, or politically in U.S. society or at school. Although no one is able to challenge discipline with impunity, to have no leverage (in terms of age, race, and class) is to be in an extremely margina lized position. To Â“make doÂ” (de Certeau, 1984) with what the system offers by changing it is a constant of the consumer system and, as Bourdieu (1984) argues, the cl ass and taste systems. In a ddition, BourdieuÂ’s concept of habitus, itself a part of the system, creates a limiting effect on what types of Â“making doÂ” will go on. Martens et al. (2004) say, Attempting to overcome the classic stru cture agency antim ony, habitus can be regarded as dynamic to the extent th at it redefines itself according to new experiences as a structured structure. Yet, any change will not be dramatic, as the structuring principles tend to constrain any reorientat ion of habitus due to the internalized nature of dispositions. (p. 163) Without the strategic advantage of ins titutionalized place to locate and refine autonomy, the tactics of the tweens exist in the moment (Abu-Lughod, 1990; de Certeau, 1984; Giddens, 1986). What goes on outside of this moment as a constant disciplining apparatus are notions of abnormality brought on by discourses of inequality based racism, sexism, and classism. Impermanent subversive strategies are not su fficient resources to overcome once and for all the constant defini ng of an individual as abnormal and the subsequent internalization of oppression. Of course, no one ca n do this in a disciplining society; therefore, this fact should not discount the importa nce and impressiveness of the work the tweens are doing. Internalized Oppression Through self-discipline brought about by the constant evaluation, examination, and normalization (Foucault, 1977) of the system, an internalized sense of stigmatized (Goffman, 1959, 1963) and delinque nt (Foucault, 1977) identity still makes its way into the tweensÂ’ consciousness. Many times while ta lking to the tweens at Scholastic Middle I was disheartened by the ways that they ut ilized a white as good and black as bad dichotomy. Even Elois, who was on the front li nes of the sock revolution and one of the creators of the eighth grade girls CD game, articulates this difference.
188 When asked to describe what others would think about her at the mall, she says they might say she is a Â“wannabe white girl.Â” This is because of the class and modesty with which she dresses. Like the other girl s at the school, Elois places a high value on modesty. Despite her and her peers obvious care in dressing modestly, Elois believes that other Black people61 equate modesty, and therefore goodness, with whiteness. Because she dresses modestly she does not dress as if she is a Black girl, but a white girl. When I ask her what a white girl would wear to be ca lled a Â“wannabe Black gi rl,Â” she says, Â“tight Apple Bottoms62 jeansÂ” or Â“a short skirt thatÂ’s like up to here,Â” signaling the upper quarter of her thigh, and Â“a lot of jewelry . gold bangles, big hoop earrings, and strap up shoes.Â” Elois and her peers do not fit this stereotype of blackness and yet she still holds it up in stereotypical ways. Chantoya, limited by an understandable se nse of ontological security provided by having others that share her cu ltural capital and habitus aroun d her, decided not to go to a prominent private high school where she received a scholarship because she will be one of the very few girls of color there. I learn this as the result of a casual question asking if she has heard from any of the high school to which she applied. She says, Â“I got into St. Francis. Scholarship too.Â” As IÂ’m getti ng ready to congratulate her on getting a scholarship to such a prestigious private school, she interrupts. Â“But, IÂ’m not going.Â” Â“Oh, where else did you get in?Â” She answ ers that sheÂ’s chosen a local magnet school, and her answer surprises me. Seeing my expression, she says, Â“I donÂ’t want to go to St. Francis.Â” Eventually she says, Â“I donÂ’t want to be the only Black girl. Vanessa goes there, and they donÂ’t know nothing about he r. ItÂ’s hard.Â” Vanessa graduated as valedictorian of last yearÂ’s cl ass. She is warm and outgoing, a gi rl sure to make friends in any group. As Chantoya goes on to explain, it isnÂ’t th at the other girls at St. Francis are mean to Vanessa, the problem is that she ha s to explain everything about being black to 61 This conversation and others with other girl s shows that they are referring to how they are seen by other Black people, rather than by white people. This is partly because they donÂ’t think white people understand they have a particular style of dress. 62 Apple Bottoms was a controversial brand am ongst the girls. Most hated the brand and thought it inappropriate for girls and women with good ho me training. The brand was begun by rap artist Nelly is marketed to wome n with Â“curvesÂ” and is considered popular in the black youth community. The jeans are ge nerally quite tight with embellishment on the back pockets to draw attention to the butt.
189 them. Chantoya says that the girls are sti ll asking Vanessa about how she changed her hair from braids to short, weeks after the styl e change. It is this pr essure of being one of two Black girls in the school that makes her choose not to take this offer. These examples, by far not the only ones I witnesse d, show the real social, economic, and political constraints of a disciplined societ y that these girlsÂ’ brilliance and creativity cannot always overcome. They work hard to discipline themselves to be modest, smart, docile bodies according to both their own ha bitus and the dominant habitus, however both stereotypes and the fear of being the targ et of those (i.e., the only Black girl) are daunting roadblocks. Another asp ect of their creativity subject to constraint is the care they put into their consumpti on for themselves and others. Subversive Care Showing care for themselves and othe rs through consumer culture goes beyond having interpersonal salience to subverting larg er structures and value systems. The care the tweens of Scholastic Middle show for themse lves and others is a form of resistance. The various forms of care detailed earlier, su ch as receiving and proving home training, denying desire, performing as a team, sharing, an d reserving judgment, can all be seen as challenging the hierarchy of the power syst em. Although the tweens and their families are bombarded by negative images of themselves, th ey continue to show care and respect for themselves and their families. They refuse to fully accept the abnormal, delinquent (Foucault, 1977), spoiled, and stigmatized (Goffman, 1959, 1963) identities that have been assigned to them by dominant culture. Instead, they rely on empathy, standards of non-judgment, and teamwork to provide symbolic and material comfort and care for themselves and others. They acknowledge a nd show respect for those who are minority and poor in a racist and classi st culture. They refuse to examine and negatively rank or stereotypically categorize, even as they attemp t to show themselves in a positive light to both non-dominant and dominant societ y by Â“looking good.Â” They are refusing normalizing judgment (Foucault, 1977). The simple and yet infinitely complex act of respecting themselves, their families, their friends, and strangers are acts against the status quo. They refuse to let their visibility to the dominant culture as pote ntially delinquent, nondocile bodies determine
190 how they care for each other and themse lves. Through code switching linguistically, ideologically, and through fashion; playing with and without consumption; and showing respect and care, the tweens redeploy, revol utionalize, and subvert the social, economic, and political constraints in ways that allow th em to live in their deli nquent identities, gain some sense of control, and have fun. Conclusion These tweens do incredible resistive work everyday and continue to try to chip away at the constraints of the structures th at surround them. However, this resistance is enacted through the resources a nd performances of those same structures and is wielded by individuals with very little dominant cultural capital, making them resilient but not necessarily groundÂ—or structureÂ—breaking. In this dissertation, I have explored ho w Scholastic Middle tweens care for self, receive care from others, care for others, and the ways in which they use care to subvert dominant narratives and manipul ate consumer culture to their own ends. These creative manipulations may not be recognized or fully valued by dominan t culture, but they nonetheless work to help th e tweens with making do and getting through (de Certeau, 1984). The final chapter of this work will focu s on what is potentially unique about the tweens at Scholastic Middle. Could Scholastic Middle be a unique environment that inspires creativity? If there is a difference, might the drama focus of the school create this effect? Finally, the chapter will question whet her these creative subve rsive acts have the ability to alter their lives.
191 Chapter 9 So What?: A Cl osing Picture Shopping Without Skills I stand in the department store, staring. I stand and st are for a long time. A pretty, petite Latina sales associate asks me if I need help. Â“No, IÂ’m just looking.Â” Â“Let me know if you need anything. My na me is Maria,Â” she re plies with a smile. She walks back toward the sales desk, and I c ontinue to stare. The suits taunt me on their organized round racks. Those put together wi th shirts and purses on the mannequins, their shoes lying on the plastic base, lead th e chorus. Â“You donÂ’t know what youÂ’re doing! YouÂ’re going to look like a little girl playi ng dress up,Â” they trill in a singsong fashion. I start to respond; IÂ’m not going to take that kind of rude commentary from a group of suits! I catch myself as my mouth curves to form the words Â“shut up,Â” because of course this is all in my head. I imagine that Maria, who had previously been so kind, would have to call security if I started shouting match with the suits. I turn the word about to escape my mouth into a small yawn, brace myself as best I can, and step over the thin metal molding that separates the tile of the walkway from the carpet of the womenÂ’s suit section. Â“You can do this. ItÂ’s just trying on clothes. You can do this,Â” I repeat sile ntlyÂ—partly trying to c onvince myself it is true and partly to block out the new chorus the suits are singing. Th eyÂ’ve begun to alternate their witty, Â“You donÂ’t know what youÂ’re doing!Â” with Â“YouÂ’ll neve r find something that fits right.Â” It takes effort, but I succeed in (mostly) drow ning them out with my mantra and push the hangers apart on the first rack to get a better view of a gray skirt suit. I havenÂ’t felt like this much of a s hopping fraud since I was a teenager. Having perfected my mall walk (equal parts boredom, hu rry, and critical distan ce, with a dash of passion for the aesthetic) by 17, IÂ’m generally unperturbed by shopping. However, in this moment I am a grown woman who has never bought a suit, and I am lost. DevonÂ’s words in response to my question about why people sh op for brands come back to me: Â“Because
192 they donÂ’t know which clothes to sort out. If they know they like a name brand, that makes it easier to shop.Â” I look up from the gr ay suit IÂ’m contemplating and see a Nine West sign above a rack a few yards away. Given the price range on the sign, I can see that these suits are at once more than I hoped to pay and not as expensive as some of the other brands. I sigh with relief and make a beeline for the familiar brand name. Personal and Political Tween Knowledge Despite our age, race, and class diffe rences, in this shopping moment I am struggling with how to look good to garner positive attention and care from strangers, and, unlike the tweens I worked with, I am not astute enough to do it without the aid of name brands. I utilize this short cut to cove r my own lack of knowledge and style in this situation. I began this work with the question: How do poor, urban, minority youth, who are popularly constructed as the most hedonistic of consumers, create th eir identities through consumption? The students of Scholastic Middle have shown that th eir identities revolve around care, both the attainment and giving of that care. They care for themselves and acquire care from others by looking good and care for others through measured consumption and non-judgment. I have also l earned that they work hard to Â“play the gameÂ” of white, middle-class culture while s ubverting it to avoid Â“s elling outÂ” (Urrieta, 2009). First, far from tying their identities to the consumption of name brand apparel and accessories, the tweens focused their perfor mances of self on Â“looking good.Â” Looking good means grooming oneÂ’s body and making sure that clothes are a ppropriate to the occasion. Clothes must also fit, match, and a dhere to standards set by their home training. For girls, both femininity and modesty ar e important aspects of this home training. Following these tenets is a means to show and elicit care. Looking good demonstrates self-respect through the time and ener gy expended to look good and interact appropriately with others. It also shows car e from parents and othe r caregivers through the enactment of home training provided by those who took the time to care for them. Finally, looking good elicits care from strangers because tweensÂ’ performance as already
193 cared-for by themselves and their families s hows others that they are good people and deserving recipients of care. In addition to showing a cared-for identi ty, the students of Scholastic Middle also expend great effort through both consumption and consumer knowledge to take care of othersÂ—their families, friends, and strange rs. They care for their families by buying for them when possible, but more often by polic ing their desires. They carefully avoid sharing their desires with parent s to protect their parentsÂ’ f eelings. They also show care through sharing, soliciting consumption and car e on the behalf of others, and reserving judgments about friends and unknown others Rather than being simplistic and hypercritical in their assessments of others, the tweens largely refuse to judge strangersÂ’ consumption because they do not feel they have enough information regarding othersÂ’ home training or financial circumstances to make assessments of their choices. Although this dependence on and connection of care with consumption is itself a political act meant to claim and create worthw hile identities (and id entities counter to popular images of hedonism), the tweens al so go beyond these acts to subvert the structures of their school. Thr ough creativity they subvert the rules of Scholastic Middle, engage in code switching, play with consum ption in unprescribed ways and often play without it, and gain some measure of pow er around self-expressi on in their school. Although these subversions have limited lasting effect given the power inherent in the structure, they do have some effect and fulfill the process of structuration and work against discipline and the creation of the docile body (Foucault, 1977). Through an adherence to their non-dominant cultural capi tal and habitus (Bourdi eu, 1984) and some understanding of the dominant habitus (Carter, 2003) the tweens utiliz e various strategies such as impression management (Goffman, 1959) and disidentification (Munoz, 1999) to create worthy identities against the ster eotypes and stigmas (Goffman, 1963) of the majority. These subversions are important to both agency and st ructure and create change, albeit measured and increm ental change (Giddens, 1986). In addition to trying to answer my re search question, I thought that findings regarding poor, minority, urban, youth might have implications for other groups in U.S. consumer culture. It has certainly compli cated the ways that I look at my own
194 consumption and how it factors into my id entity. I realize I have lost something in becoming a member of the staged middle-cl ass and gaining the cultural capital that comes with advanced education. I am no longe r engaged in or privy to much of the Â“making doÂ” work (de Certeau, 1984) that makes these tweens so creative and productive. Also, because of what I have lear ned from them, I am able to more easily recognize the identity and c onnection work I do through consumer culture. It also highlights the care work I could be doing and ho w I could do it with less material tools. I could and should be working to connect furt her with others thr ough both the careful use of resources when I am trying to Â“look goodÂ” and techniques to consume less overall and making connecting with others a priority ( over consuming for myself). This lesson is directly applicable to all those with res ources in U.S. consumer culture. Taking the lessons of utilizing consumer cu lture primarily to show and gi ve care would lead to less consumption for personal gain and have pos itive effects not only environmentally but also within families and other relationships. We might be able to spend less time working in order to consume and more time with othe rs, both in our family and friend groups and working with others through community work (see Putnam, 2000). There are many things IÂ’ve learned fro m the tweens of Scholastic Middle that have not made it into this work. Some, as evidenced by the fact that I make new connections on at least a weekly basis, havenÂ’t yet been recognized. However, one thing not yet discussed that belongs in this work is the potential connection between drama education and the kinds of self-awareness, and critical empathy and thinking I came to know through the students at Scholastic Middle. Performing the Other to Know the Self Among the fundamentals of English, hist ory, science and math, Scholastic Middle offers students additional courses they believ e essential for academic and social success. One of these courses is drama. While I was at Scholastic Middle every student attended drama class and had the opportunity to participate in several performance events, such as a fall production and spring showcase among other smaller events. Although their program is very much a Â“performance as demonstration,Â” and Â“body on displayÂ” use of performance rather than the Â“performance as methodology,Â” and Â“body as a medium for
195 learningÂ” use of performance promoted by cr itical performance pedagogy (Pineau, 2009), it nonetheless offers the students a critical fram ework for their ideas of self and agency. Whatever the approach, the students of Scholastic Middle learn to try on identities in their bodies through drama and become more aware of their bodies through gym, yoga, sports, dance, karate, and ot her physical activities. In many ways, learning to put on another persona makes one more aware of the performances they enact as themselves (see Schechner, 1985, 2002; Turner, 1987, 2001). Si nce we are consistently managing the impressions we make on others in order to perform our identitie s (Goffman, 1959), doing theatrical performance underscores the knowle dge that these performances (both on and off stage) are to some extent ours to crea te and engage. Reflexivity, the key to enacting agency and change in the structure (Giddens 1986), can be enhanced through any type of performance. When put in the hands of cr eative individuals who have an understanding of both non-dominant and domina nt cultural capital, creating a reflexive performance of self becomes more than simply possible but probable. Boal (1979) argues that the theater is a powerful weapon that has been taken from the masses and reserved for the elite. He says th at the actor is able to transform while the spectator is passive. The key to revolutionÂ—the key to crit ical social conversation and changeÂ—is to help subordinate actors transform, rather th an observe, their worlds. Although the students of Scholasti c Middle have never heard of Boal or his view that theater provides a Â“rehearsal of revolutionÂ” (p. 141), they have gained some of this knowledge through the performances they have engaged. Brian is learning about both creating a positive image in the eyes of th e white, middle-class and the limitations of these performances as he dresses his characte r, Byron, to confront the girlfriendÂ’s mother. It is partially this focus on drama, thes e opportunities of becoming another, which allow the tweens to see themselves in different ci rcumstances, give them the ability to code switch, and create the opportunity to critique and analyze dom inant power structures that surround them both in school and the larger so ciety. Perhaps even the most traditional types of performance offer some additiona l tools for both understanding and subverting the dominant structures. The understanding that one can become another in the time and space of the a play on stage may be enough for a group like poor, minority, urban tweens
196 (a group already versed to some extent in mo re than one habitus and cultural capital) to make connections to the opportunities for vari ous identities off the stage. The benefits here are those of understanding how to make way in the dominant culture without paying the price of losing access to the non-dominant culture. Benefits of Scholastic Middle Drama education is one of the many t ools that Scholastic Middle offers its students. I have attempted to write a critic al ethnography. As such, Scholastic MiddleÂ’s foundations, its administrators and faculty, a nd the rules they create and enforce have been heavily critiqued in this work. However, it would be unfair to leave my treatment of this school there. Without the administrators and faculty doing work in this community, these tweens would be educated in schools more concerned with test scores, control, and protocol than education. I believe in the mi ssion and the people of Scholastic Middle, and their system has a great pote ntial for moving these tweens into successful and productive lives. Scholastic Middle is definitively a Â“white streamingÂ” (Grande, 2000) institution. It uses the principles, biases, performances of se lf, moralities, values, and history of white, middle-class culture in its curriculum and disc iplinary structure. Th e school also enacts whitestreaming in relatively unreflexive ways. Scholastic Middle could do more to help students understand their cultura l differences from the Â“whitestreamÂ” as side-by-side differences rather than hierarchical difference through recognition of the importance of code switching and the reservation of normaliz ing judgment at which the students are so adept. However, Scholastic Middle teachers a nd administrators are also doing a job in which society as a whole seems uninterested, and they are successfully meeting their goals. Scholastic Middle is teaching tweens more adept c ode switching and reading and performing dominant cultural capit al among other things (i.e., care). They are not directly teaching them to subvert it, but knowing it is th e first step to doing so. They are serving their students, and they are serving them well. Future Research It is largely the tweenÂ’s advanced empathic and critic al thinking, a recognition of the performative nature of the self, and the re lationship of consumer culture to their lives
197 that leads me to further research questions. Fi rst, only the students who did not feel cared for by their families placed a great deal of value on consumption and name brands. For those who felt their parents cared for them and gave them good home training, brands were superfluous to their core identities. If moving children, tweens, teens, and adults away from commodity-based identities is a productive and worthwhile goal, and I believe it is, and if care has an aff ect on this, how do we show more care for individuals? First, research with other groups such as the wh ite, middle-class, the bl ack, middle-class, and the white, lower classes is in order to see if this negative relationship between perceived care and brand affiliation persists. Second, research with different populations in different settings should be conducted to find out wh at leads to feelings of being cared for and prompts individuals to care for others. Fina lly, we must recognize that without hyperbole or exaggeration we are in a crisis. As the cu rrent economic crisis suggests, our consumer culture cannot be sustained without damage to the human relationshi ps we hold dear and necessary. We cannot be committed to each other if we are committed to stuff. Conclusion It is an overstatement to say that th ese tweens hold the solu tion to our consumer crisis. I began this projec t with the goal of understa nding and explaining why these tweens should not be demonized in media repr esentations. I have f ound not only that they are not hedonistic and violent consumers, but also that these tweens provide concrete examples of what we can accomplish with a different view of consumer culture. They offer citizens of consumer culture many less ons to consider in order in placing our relationships as primary over our consumption. Lynda Barry (2008) says, Â“experience is not explanationÂ” (p. 99). I am a translator who has done the best I can to convey my expe rience with these tweens as they navigate school, family, and U.S. consumer culture. I live in U.S. consumer culture. As I conducted this research, I was 28-30 years old. The tweens were 10-14 years old. I am white. They are Black and Latina/o. I have managed, as many of us do, to minimize many of the most painful moments of my adoles cence and childhood. These memories are also buffered by the fact that I have lived through and past them. These tweens who gave me their time are still wo rking through these moments and events.
198 What I cannot offer in having lived these experiences is offered in my attempts to translate them. One reason I explore the inte rsections of consumer culture, adolescence and identity now is because I lived through it wi thout being able to cr eate explanations. I was and am unable to fully grasp what consum ption meant to my own tween identity and how it affects my adult decisions. Here I try to translate toward an explanation and hope I have done the students of Scholastic Middl e some justice in that translation.
199 Epilogue Living up to Tween Expectations Â“A message came back from the great beyond. ThereÂ’s 57 channels and nothinÂ’ on. 57 channels and nothingÂ’ on. 57 channels and nothinÂ’ on. So I bought a .44 . .,Â” Bruce croons from the IPod station on the dr esser. I understand how he feels. My own issues of excess not being enough have led me to break down and finally clean my closet. A semester packed with teaching, directing a performance, and writing this dissertation has left my closet in a chao tic state. Shoes in a pile on the floor, clothes thrown on shelves, and clothes that remain on hangers being in no order make the closet largely unusable and, judging by the bruise left by st epping on an upturned high heel, dangerous. With three trash bags full of clothes, shoes, and purses marked for the thrift store behind me, I stare at six pairs of black flats. Â“Hmm ,Â” I think to myself, Â“IÂ’ve been shopping for a pair of black loafers for two months because I was sure needed some.Â” I examine the shoes laid out before me and look at the dog sprawled amongst the bags of discarded clothes. Â“Interesting,Â” I say al oud. It seems he doesnÂ’t agree, as he makes no more than the slightest effort to lift his chin from the carpet before giving up and laying it back down. I know who would find it interestingÂ—Jac ynth. I imagine her standing at the door of the walk-in closet. SheÂ’s shaking her head, Â“Miss Edgecomb, this is a disgrace. Whatcha need all this for? YouÂ’ve wasted your money.Â” I know sheÂ’s right. What happened? When I was her age, I had one pair of black shoes. I didnÂ’t even layer my clothes because that seemed a waste. If I layered then I had to wear two shirts in one day, thus depleted the shirts to choose from for the rest of the week. Also, who had money to waste on shir ts you couldnÂ’t wear by themselves? (As I think about this, I try not to look at the newly reorganized rack of tank tops I layer under most everything.)
200 On the one hand, it seems impossible that I havenÂ’t gotten smarter in the last fifteen years. (What is all this schooling for?) However, looking at my closet from JacynthÂ’s perspectiveÂ—from the perspective of any of the tweens at Scholastic MiddleÂ—I can see IÂ’ve lost something. I may not be le ss intelligent, but I am less creative. How many mornings do I stomp in and out of th is closet holding no le ss than 200 items of clothing frustrated that I have nothing to wear? Growing up I had a closet with one rod less than four feet long and tw o drawers in the dresser I shar ed with my sistersÂ—neither closet nor drawers were ever fu ll. And I got dressed every day. The truth is JacynthÂ’s trip into my hea d, my closet, and my consumer life isnÂ’t the first. She gets here a lot, so do her peers. Taite questions my matching skills when I want to wear a patterned scarf and patterned sweater together. Kabira had serious reservations about the short dress I wore to a party a couple weekends ago. Latoya thoroughly disapproves of my habit of ironing only the fr onts of my shirts when IÂ’m in a hurry, and Tahira chastised me just yesterday for not putting enough thought into my momÂ’s Christmas present. The tweens never doubted how interesting they were to me or that they had important things to say. They were and ar e confident in their abilities and knowledge. What I donÂ’t think they know and what is c ontinually reinforced to me is just how profound their abilities to negotia te consumer culture with crea tivity and care are. I sit in my overstuffed, oversized closet no less inte rested in looking good than they are but without the skills they possess. I also realize that my consumption is by no means as caring as theirs. I may not be selfish, but I do not consider ca re in my everyday, repeated consumer processes. I make do when I need to, not because I can. I am working to live up to their standards, and I wonder how they will continue to uphold thos e same standards as their lives change. If they strike that balance between good luck and hard work and make it into the middleclass, will they be able to hold onto their own standards of creativity and care? They have built and nurtured creativity and care thus far in ways vastly superior to my own attempts at their age. Also, they do this in a culture more committed to consumerism than the one I
201 grew up in. Therefore, I have hope that they will continue to, as Devon puts it, Â“Keep it real and not be suckas.Â”
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217 Appendix A: Interview Questions What brands do you like best? Why are these brands inte resting to you? Do you think that what people wear is important? Why? Do you think that other people get a good id ea of who you are from what you wear? What is your favorite way to spend free time? What is particularly satisfying about spending your time doing that? Do you like to shop with frie nds? With family? Why? What is the best thing about shopping? Wh at is the worst thi ng about shopping? What do you do if you canÂ’t buy something you want? What is your favorite thing? Why is this your favorite thing? If I gave you $20 today wh at would you do with it? In what ways does buying things allow fo r connection between you and your peers? Do you think youÂ’re better liked when you ha ve things that are popular in your peer group? What are the similarities across all kids? Do you think that kids bond over what they don Â’t have or canÂ’t afford? Do they do this more or less than when they get together over things they do ha ve and can afford? Is there an important difference between having something and being able to afford it? Is buying you things seen as a financial stre ss on your family? If s o, is the stress that buying something places on you or your family ever discussed? What is the most important th ing to you about your friends? Do you have a best friend? If so, why are they your best friend? If the two of you could go anywhere, where would you go? Why? If you canÂ’t afford something you want, doe s it upset you? What do you do about it? Do you think you could be happy if you didnÂ’t have anything cool? Maybe, no brand name clothes? Why or why not?
218 Are nice clothes important to you? What is an example of a nice outfit? How important is it to dress nice? Do you have your own bedroom? What is your bedroom like? Do you have your own closet? What is your closet like? Is it important to have a closet? Do you think people can tell who you are by what you look like? Wh at impressions do you think they have that are correct? Incorrect? What is consumption? What is consumer culture? Who are you? Why do you buy things? What kinds of things do you buy? What do you want to have a say in th at you buy or your parentÂ’s buy for you? What kinds of things are unimpor tant for you to have a say in? Why do other people buy things? Do you usually get things when you want th em? If not, why do you have to wait? How do you feel about that? What is the last thing that you bought with your own money? WhatÂ’s the last thing your parentÂ’s bought for you? Is there anything in particular that you like to spend your own money on? Do your parents have any rules about the ki nds of things you can buy? Are these rules different than the rules they have for what they will buy you? Do these rules seem fair? Do you like wearing uniforms at school? Why or why not? Do you have a favorite brand? Are brands important to you? To other people? What is your favorite outfit? Why? How do you feel when you wear it? What would you wear to the mall? Are there some kinds of clot hes where brands are important and others that arenÂ’t? Is there a brand or a place to buy clothe s that would get you made fun of? Why? If you were doing this research, what questions would you ask?