Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Tangle of Discourse: Girls Negotiating Adolescence--Quotes

When addressing the weaknesses of the discursive framework that Rebecca C. Raby sets forth in “A Tangle of Discourse: Girls Negotiating Adolescence” she notes that “Discourses are deployed unevenly between adolescents of differing social locations…Similarly, discursive effects are unequal. In particular, the surveillance and regulation of youth is significantly affected by gender, class, and race.”(426) This quote is taken from the beginning of the text, and it is where Raby is noting some of the problems of her own study and studies like hers as well as explaining her decisions in how she conducted her study. Raby notes these caveats so that they are made clear, but she doesn’t take them into account for her own study (which she herself recognizes in the same paragraph as the above excerpt). It is completely understandable for Raby to “set [gender, class, and race] aside in [the] paper” (426); the scope of her study could not incorporate a section on the intersections of gender, class, and race with adolescence. It is unfortunate, however, because there would surely be some enlightening results had she been able to incorporate and elaborate on such an intersection. For example, the way in which young Black/Latino boys are perceived compared to young White males would be quite interesting, particularly when discussing the carceral nature of the surveillance as it applies to these young men.

In her section “Discourses of Adolescence” Raby shares the definition of discourse that she is working with. Raby elaborates upon the concept of discourse that Vivian Burr defines in An Introduction to Social Construction:
Discourses organize how we think, what we know and how we can speak about the world around us. Vivian Burr notes ‘A discourse refers to a set of meanings, metaphors, representations, images, stories, statements and so on that in some way together produce a particular version of events’…Privileging one set of representations over another, discourses tend to claim the status of truth. We are always embedded in discourses. As such, and as discourses work as truth statements, it is difficult to ‘see through’ them to identify how our reality is shaped. (430)

It is important that the reader understands the way in which Raby is using “discourse” because the entire study is built upon the idea of discursive frameworks about adolescents/ce and the way in which adolescents interact with the framework. The definition should seem really familiar to us by now, as it could also be applied to “ideologies”. I posit that the dominant ideologies of society work to create the dominant discourses. We see this in Raby’s own study. For example: Capitalism is an obvious dominant ideology in our society; unsurprisingly, “pleasure consumption” is a dominant discourse of adolescence that Raby identifies. Our consumer culture has been able to manipulate teenagers in a variety of ways. Raby notes that “self-expression and identifications are intricately expressed through certain types of fashion…and body adornment” (437). This is a wonderful example of how the various discourses interact with one another. Rebellion and finding oneself as an individual has become naturalized (these are the discourses Raby labels as “the storm” and “becoming”) to a point these things seem inherent to adolescence. Consumer culture markets specifically towards teenagers, telling them that they can find themselves at the local mall. Telling them that makeup, or certain fashions, will help them make a statement to the world. In order to fulfill the “need” to rebel/express oneself many teens fall prey to the manipulation of consumer culture. This is the pleasurable consumption. It is pleasurable because it fulfills what is perceived as an innate desire.

                Perhaps the most interesting part of Raby’s study, which unfortunately she did not spend much time on, was the ways in which the teens she studied not only accepted but actively engaged with  the dominant idea of what a “teenager” is. Raby noted that “the teens that I interviewed had such difficulty negotiating their occupation and rejection of the category ‘teenager’…All of them easily cited negative stereotypes about teens…Often the young women would cite several negative stereotypes about teenagers, then distance themselves and their friends, often through the separation of ‘good’ teens from the ‘bad’ ones” (441). I find this particularly interesting because this seems to be a common practice in many subjugated groups (as Raby calls teens. Whether or not they can truly be considered a subjugated group is up for debate). It isn’t uncommon to have conflicted People of Color distance themselves from other POC, noting that they aren’t like “those other ____ folk” or people from lower classes using others as an example of what they are not/will never be (see half of the conversation surrounding Honey Boo Boo) These teenagers are both accepting and rejecting the dominant idea of what a “teenager” is. They view themselves as exceptions to the stereotype instead of really reflecting on the fact that perhaps the stereotypes themselves are flawed. I will use a PSA I found on Youtube to close this post. 

It was made by a youth coalition, which is important to note. Because it was made by a youth coalition it seems like it would not be a ridiculous to assume that the teens had a lot of input on the direction of the video. Now, with that in mind, take a close look at the teen who wants beer. She is at once othered by her piercings and desire to drink beer and yet also very much “in line” because of those desires. The other teenagers are exceptions to the dominant stereotypes, look how clean cut they are! And they love root-beer ‘cause beer is totally uncool. It is interesting that these youth chose to make the “bad apple” a girl with obvious physical forms of “self-expression” and “rebellion” (the piercings). It’s clear that in this moment the youth coalition bought into the dominant discourses of what a rebellious teenager is/looks like/desires. 

Questions and Comments:
During the week I would like to discuss ways in which our mainstream media, particularly television shows and films aimed at teenagers, works to naturalize the discourses that Raby identifies. We should keep in mind that many of these shows 'about teen lives' are created by adults. Keeping that in mind will certainly lead to interesting analyses of popular representations of teenagers in media today.

Works Cited

Header image found here
Discourse image found here

Raby, Rebecca C. "A Tangle of Discourses: Girls Negotiating Adolescence." Journal of Youth Studies 5.4 (2002): 425-48. Web.


  1. Firstly, the header image you used is extremely familiar to me, and I think it's because we looked at the image in my Adolescent Literature class (which I note in my post), so more serendipity! Crazy!

    I especially like that you pointed out the connections between capitalism and pleasurable consumption for teens, because I meant to make note of that in my post, but I forgot and now I'm too lazy to go back and edit it in. It's funny (not ha-ha funny, obviously) that Capitalism plays such a prominent role in many forms of stereotyping and down-putting. You know... just an observation... lol.

    My laptop is kinda... not great, so I couldn't enlarge the video (and didn't notice the piercings and such), but I love that you pointed that out, because now I want to rewatch it and look for that.

    Finally, I'm glad that you point out that a lot of the media aimed at teens and about teen life is made by adults, because that is an important aspect we need to consider.

    Awesome post, Andrea!

  2. Andrea-
    Your blog work is thoughtful, intersectional, and thorough. I am excited to see where your work goes this semester. With regards to your questions/comments for class I think you will find that we will address all of those questions throughout the semester and revisit Raby's categorizations in different ways as the course goes on.
    Great visual of the teenage brain- Certainly applies to our course assumptions doesn't it?

  3. your pictures and videos are so on point, and i really liked to see them here! they truly showed the main goal of what this article was trying to get across, which i feel you have grasped completely. the teenage brain visual caught my eye the most, i found myself reading and applying each of the different sections to something in my own teenage life.. LOL. i really liked that..
    the quotes you picked also showed me the argument the article was trying to put across.
    something i enjoyed to read out of your words was your opinion on pleasurable consumption for teens.. this is something i find is really important especially because i find myself spending money on things that the media advertises.