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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dressing the part : girls, style & school identities Pomerantz, Shauna


In the early 21s t century, girls are represented as in-trouble and out-of-control through a variety of discourses that position them at the centre of crises, syndromes, and catastrophes. But these portrayals often ignore how girls use cultural practices to make sense of the world around them and how such practices take on a life of their own within a given context. This ; research thus focuses on one specific cultural practice—style—and how it was used by girls as a tool for identity negotiation within one particular school. I conducted a year-long ethnography at a multicultural, urban, and largely working-class high school in Vancouver's east side. I interviewed, observed, and hung out with twenty girls of varying races, ethnicities, classes, and curricular tracks in order to trace the school's symbolic economy of style and highlight the significance style had within the school's postmodern social world. My findings suggest that style functioned as "social skin," or an extension of the body that made girls socially visible. As social skin, style acted as one of the most accessible and malleable ways for girls to indicate subjectivity and belonging. It also acted as a form of agency, where girls understood how they were positioned within discourses of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, and used style as a means to re/position themselves. By situating this research at the fruitful crossroads of feminist sociology of education and girls' studies, I link a sociological understanding of girlhood as it is constructed within the institution of the school to the texts of girls' culture as they are used by girls to negotiate that construction. As well, this research seeks to highlight the complexity of girls' identity negotiations in order to counteract current representations of girls as drowning victims and cultural dupes. Finally, this research aims to make connections between style and the broader social projects of education and feminism, two fields that must become more fluent in girls' cultural practices in order to combat the current backlash against girls' newfound social visibility.

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