Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Socio-Historical Review of Psychosocial Research

My reading of Growing Up Girl (2001) is steeped in my own history as a reader and academic.  All of that I bring to meanings I make and remake with each page, each word.  I am drawn to and put off by this book before I have opened the cover, even before I have selected this title from the other possibilities on the Summer I course syllabus that has brought it to my attention.  Rosenblatt (1995) describes this intertextuality as an active construction of meaning between text and reader.  There is not in this book or any text an inherent meaning.  There is only the particular meaning that I make in connection to the histories I bring to the moment of engagement.  Interestingly enough, the authors of Growing Up Girl, Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody, develop a similar approach to research, in which their subjectivities (meaning making) as researchers becomes primary data of the research and a primary site for psychoanalysis.  In the following review I juxtapose my own reading experiences with an analysis of the methodology of Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody.

Late Fall
Lil emails me with some books she is thinking of using in her spring course on identity.  She particularly wants me to think about this passage from Julie Bettie’s Women Without Class.  She says there is something here that really jives with the thinking we have been doing about identity and performance.  She thinks I might be interested in the whole reading list. 

However solitary I might have appeared or even felt with Growing Up Girl in hand at a table for one at a local coffee shop, I really read this book from within a particular academic conversation, which I am bringing into dialogue with this next text.  I am drawn to the exploration of gender and class that Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody surface.  My interest in gender, class and Marxism, for instance, are part of local conversations in my professional and academic work. 

These concepts have been particularly framed for me by identity and rhetoric studies. Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody, however, are working from another discourse community that crossing somewhere between psychology and sociology.  In a bigger theoretical picture, though, this book works on familiar ground of Marxism and post structuralism.  At times the ways that these are realized, through psychosocial analysis and methodology, distances me as a reader working outside and sometimes in tension with my own academic discipline and the academic conversation into which I have been reading and writing.

Ethnographies and Histories.  I spend winter break reading when I can.  On a plane trip to a conference on the west coast, my friend and colleague Cindy and I are both reading the Bettie book,
Women Without Class.  We keep poking each other across the aisle of the airplane to look at some quote or to talk about how this connects to our work at the middle school.  When the plane touches down we turn on our phones and text our writing group about the ideas we have spinning.

I was very engaged by Growing Up Girl as a response and critique to other research on women (Demos, 1997, in Walkerdine, Lucey & Melody) that erases class differences.  The authors show the erasure of labor and economic hierarchies in the “accomplishment” of (some) women’s rights.  This work puts women’s work and stories of work, both at home, school and in paid labor at the center of its data and analysis bringing issues of class to the surface of a muddied modernist conversation.  I read the use of these stories of class as comparative case studies and the psychosocial analysis as more complicated. 

Even as I look back into Growing Up Girl at this writing I find so many passages that have me nodding my head and taking notes for future reference.  All this, though, is shawled by my reading of other works in identity studies that seem to be in conversation with this book only through me.  There are citations of big names that are familiar: Foucault, Bourdieu, Marx, Butler, but this book is clearly coming from a different disciplinary circle that I have been reading.  While the object of study, political interests and larger theoretical framework is meshing, similar works in rhetoric and identity studies (Bettie, 2003; Cintron, 1997; Lindquist, 2002; Wray, 2006) draw on a history of social constructivism (Vygotsky) and language studies (Bahktin) which sees identity as constructed in social structures with limited permeability. 

Julie Bettie, for instance, in her study of social class in high school girls talks about the groups of girls at Waretown both in terms of distinction used by the girls themselves (Chicas, Cholas, Preps, Mexican Preps, etc) and by descriptors of ways of living (hard-living, settled-living).  The main force of the book is in describing the creation of these social and class boundaries and the moments in which the boundaries become permeable.  She theorizes this in terms of the ways that social scripts for the most part construct categories of differences, and also the ways these scripts are performed and so are changeable at least in limited ways.  She writes carefully of this tension between cautiously possible agency and structure and in so doing creates a complicated, multilayered story and argument about the girls in the study.

Early May
As I read over the course syllabus, I’m sure my father’s lifted eyebrow ruffles across my own forehead as I wonder about how this document is constructing me as a student.  I get ready to play school.  

With this reading of Bettie up next to my read of Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody, I wonder about how the methodology of comparative case study is setting this research up for the problems I am seeing in the hardening of identity categories.  In Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody girls’ class labels are held to tightly by the researchers, in fact with the intention to show the class distinctions beyond the financial and material.  The groupings of girls as part of the method for the purpose of comparison in this way actively seeks out differences between categories, erasing differences within categories. 

The strength of Bettie is the careful striking of the analysis between seeing possibility of agency and material realities of social reproduction.   For Bettie identity is both performed (and so can be chosen) and also performative (since the choices are [very] limited by social structures).  In Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody this intersection between individual and social is met through a different and in my view more problematic layering of analysis.  The social structures in place for the girls are evident in the first two steps of narrative analysis used by the researchers.  The third step in their protocol asked for a very interesting reflexive lens on the data.  In this stage the researchers applied psychoanalysis to their reflexive stance on their own perceptions, reactions, and responses to data and data collection. 

The psychoanalytic tradition does create an interesting mix with the sociological study of structures, however the baggage of the philosophy as not only Western, white and male-centered but also working on the epistemological premise that there is definitive meaning to be found in “the mind” is at odds with poststructural theory as applied to the rest of the book.  The treatments of the researchers’ subjectivities are commendable for being a significant project of this research.  However, the fore fronting of the researchers as subjects diminishes possibility for participants as subjects.  While Bettie shows both the constraints of social structures on identity and the performance-quality of identity in the girls, Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody name the social scripts of the girls and themselves through their narrative analysis, but hand over any potential of individual will or agency not to the women participants or researchers but to the essentialist, deterministic, patronizing hands of Freud (and ilk). 

First I check the reading list.  Two textbooks.  I can likely borrow those from a friend.  (No need to put more money than absolutely necessary into the textbook company pockets.)  And, what?!  A book selection of choice list.  Okay!  There are some interesting titles here.  Oh, Growing Up Girl… sounds like Bettie.  I wonder if I can read that without a chip on my reading glasses?

In my read of Growing Up Girl I saw moves toward the framing of differences along the lines of (researcher) subjectivity.  I continue to wonder how qualitative methods, particularly as tied to theoretical frameworks, construct ways of naming differences.  I have looked at the ways that Growing Up Girl sometimes complicates and sometimes hardens categories of difference.    By putting this work in psychosocial discourse up next to this reader’s history in rhetoric and identity studies, I have considered the ways that methodology and theoretical lenses mesh between reader and writer so that the understanding of the research, even in its final produced form is still forming and formed in transaction with the power structures at work in circulating the text to this particular reader at this locally affixed socio-historical moment.


Bettie, J. (2003). Women without class: Girls, race and identity.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cintron, R. (1997). Angels Town: Chero ways, gang life and the rhetoric of everyday. Beacon Press.

Lindquist, J. (2002).  A place to stand: Politics and persuasion in a working-class bar. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

Rosenblatt, L. (1997). Literature as Exploration.  New York: Modern Language Association.

Walkerdine, V., Lucey, H. & Melody, J. ( 2001). Growing up girl: Psychosocial explorations of gender and class. New York: New York University Press.

Wray, M. (2006). Not quite white: White trash and the boundaries of whiteness.  Durham: Duke University Press.

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