Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The "Out" Crowd: Resisting the Stereotypes of High School and Teen Culture

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The "Out" Crowd: Resisting the Stereotypes of High School and Teen Culture

Article excerpt

High school is a pivotal time in teens' lives, as it is the time they begin to form their identities outside of their families. They often look to images in the media in order to find out how teenagers in high school are supposed to act, and thus begin to engage in those activities. Alcohol, partying, gossip, and keeping up with the latest fashion trends become the pinnacle of high school life, because those are the issues the media chooses to depict as "normal" teenage concerns. High school, as an institution itself, perpetuates these images through the emphasis placed on the status of individuals and their group of friends.

I, however, had a very different experience of high school due to my group of friends and the activities that we participated in. My group rebelled against what we were being told was teen culture, and further, twisted some of those elements to retain a new meaning for our group. Also, we looked for ways to oppose the school as an institution by participating in activities that not only protected our group identity, but were also implicitly recognized as taboo according to teenage culture. Unlike many other teens, we did not think that high school was a living hell, because we were always having fun and finding new ways to rebel both against the school, and against the stereotype of what high schoolers should be.

There are three theorists who have informed the way I frame my high school experience. Murray Milner Jr., James Scott, and Julie Bettie have all examined how institutional forces affect social interaction, with both Milner and Bettie focusing specifically on high school. (1)

Milner views high school as the ultimate institution of hegemony in which the ideological power of the school becomes so ingrained in the students that they accept this influence as both natural and universal. (2) For Milner, high school is a deferral mechanism that affords students no independence. Therefore, the social interactions among students are solely determined by the constraining structure of the high school itself. As a result of this rigid structure, student relations are based on consumerism and status differentiation. Further, students constantly engage in activities with one another in order to compete for the coveted positions at the top of the status hierarchy they develop within the school. Milner, however, ignores, or misses completely, the ability for teens to gain agency within the institution of high school.

Scott, on the other hand, examines the forms of everyday resistance in social interaction between dominant and subordinate groups. (3) Unlike Milner, however, Scott awards agency to subordinate groups. Scott rejects the Gramscian view of hegemony, claiming instead that subordinate groups achieve symbolic aspects of resistance, even when they appear to conform to the dominant ideology. For example, Scott uses the term "hidden transcript" to refer to the discourse that occurs "offstage," away from where power holders can observe the speeches, feelings, and actions that are expressed. Further, he claims that it is strategically beneficial for subordinate members to perform as if they adhere to the dominant ideology, whether or not that is actually the case. The hidden transcripts, coupled with performance, play important roles in maintaining this anti-Gramscian agency. For Scott, subordinate groups are less constrained ideologically because they can express themselves freely and safely within the hidden transcript, even though they may be more constrained in action due to their limited options and the repercussions for any actions as a result of their position in the power structure. By consciously manipulating pre-existing norms that outwardly appear to legitimize the dominant ideology, subordinate groups find agency to rebel in environments that seem to have no available agency, precisely because they appear to conform to the hegemonic notions of the institution. …

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