Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption

By Murray Milner Jr. | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Intellectually, I came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York City. It was a time when radical thought, especially various forms of Marxism, stressed the fundamental significance of material factors-property and force-for the organization of social life. I was not persuaded. While I had no doubt that control of these played a crucial role in shaping what went on in the world, these seemed to me to be derived from a more fundamental form of power. To effectively exercise force or to control property you need the moral support of significant numbers of people. That support may come from only a small minority, but it is crucial.

I saw this most vividly during the students' occupation of the buildings of Columbia University in the spring of 1968, and the resulting police action to remove them. 1 Force or economic resources were of little importance in the students' ability to bring the university to a standstill for a week and to cause it to cancel one of its major construction projects. Nor did these play a role in gaining the attention of much of the world, or in eventually bringing about the removal of the university's president and provost. More striking was that once the police action to remove the students began, university, city, and police officials often had little control over what the lower-level officers did. The result was the indiscriminate beating of anyone who happened to be in reach, including conservative students who were protesting against the occupation of the university's buildings, press reporters, and people who just happened to be coming out of the 116th Street subway station. When superior officers were complicit, they were usually ignoring or violating the orders that were being given by their superiors. That is, at some level those who supposedly were in charge had no moral authority over their subordinates-and whatever force or economic sanctions they could exercise on their own were irrelevant.

This experience and other things caused me to focus much of my intellectual efforts on trying to understand the nature of the residue of power that was not directly due to force or material sanctions. I came to see that this form

-xi-

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Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Part I - The Puzzle and the Tools 1
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter One - Why Do They Behave like That? 13
  • Chapter Two - The Tools for Understanding 27
  • Part II - Explaining Teens' Behavior 37
  • Chapter Three - Fitting In, Standing Out, and Keeping Up 39
  • Chapter Four - Steering Clear, Hanging Out, and Hooking Up 61
  • Chapter Five - Exchanges, Labels, and Put-Downs 81
  • Part III - Why Schools Vary 97
  • Chapter Six - The Pluralistic High School 99
  • Chapter Seven - Other Kinds of Schools 131
  • Part IV - Teen Status Systems and Consumerism 153
  • Chapter Eight - Creating Consumers 155
  • Chapter Nine - Consuming Life 171
  • Chapter Ten - Conclusions and Implications 181
  • Appendix I 203
  • Appendix II 217
  • Appendix III 223
  • Notes 239
  • Bibliography 285
  • Index 299
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