Trajectory and Forms of Institutional Participation
Penelope Eckert Institute for Research on Learning and Stanford University
For all adolescents in school, communities of practice form around the need to find a way through and around high school: to engage in common activity that gives meaning to their existence in the institution and provides them with the means to construct viable identities. In high schools across the country, these communities emerge as an apparently infinite variety of adolescent subcultures, or social categories, some of them spectacular and some of them not so spectacular. Up close, however, there is system and structure to the development of these social categories, and of the symbolic activity associated with them. The following discussion focuses on two of these categories, which appear to be structurally primary in high schools across the United States. These are two enduring, polarized communities based primarily on engagement in, and alienation from, the school institution as a whole. Although this opposition is reflected in all aspects of school participation, it focuses most clearly on the school as a social (as opposed to a curricular) institution. People from across the country recognize their names: jocks, rabrabs, collegiates, soc's, and preppies on the one hand; and burnouts, greasers, hoods, stoners, and grits on the other hand. Although the names of these categories and the specific styles that signal their opposition (e.g., clothing, musical tastes, territorial specialization, etc.) change through time and between regions and localities, the fundamental status of this opposition is virtually universal. The apparent multiplicity of subcultures masks the enduring and ubiquitous nature of the opposition between the alienated and the engaged.