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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Producing ‘out of school’ working-class girls : urban space, place & value Skourtes, Stephanie


At a time when individualized narratives have replaced structural explanations like social class to account for inequality, the material conditions of girls who are marginalized economically, politically, and socially are being reproduced through the uneven outcomes of globalization. Young women who are on the fringes of social change are under valued as contributing members to a futuristic individually oriented society, and often not included in academic and mainstream definitions of ‘girl.’ This study addresses these epistemological silences through an empirical investigation of girls between the ages of 16-23 who are in various ways marked as a ‘problem’ by dominant social discourse. This research considers the structural organization of working-class girl subjectivities and seeks to broaden our understanding of contemporary girl culture in the changing nature of the ‘new global city’ (Sassen, 2001). I conducted an eighteen-month ethnography of working-class, urban female youth who are living on the margins of the post-industrial city of Vancouver, Canada. Utilizing a materialist theoretical framework, which draws heavily from theories of social and cultural space, along with multiple visual ethnographic methods the ethnography took place in a provincially funded drop-in social service center for youth, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Analyses revealed how class as culture operated along with other classification systems like gender, ethnicity, and sexuality to inscribe the girls as ‘abject.’ Utilizing a theoretical intervention to retrieve ‘use-value’ as separate from ‘exchange-value’ I suggest that the girls’ narratives describe alternative value systems that provide collective significance and at times economic value to the girls. I also uncover the affective economies operating as the present expression of the girls’ collective histories to reveal the structures in place and historicity that produce the abject girl. This study will advance the fields of youth cultural studies, ethnographic approaches, and the sociology of education by deploying materialist accounts of young, female working-class lives. The consideration of use-value (Skeggs, 2004a) and affect (Ahmed, 2004) as a demonstration of structural constraints provides a compelling approach to reposition socially marginalized young people and is key to understanding the processes and effects of urban change.

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