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The wider networks of adolescence

April 12, 2013

I really enjoyed this article of Peggy C. Giordano’s (so I’m trying not to overquote it!).  Each of the sections is interesting, but this one particularly caught my eye in terms of YA fiction – it got me wondering how the ‘wider networks’ function in YA Fiction… all those secondary characters of adolescence…. Giordano writes:

Themes stressed in the literature on close friends and the sheer volume of such studies might lead to the conclusion that most of the developmental action takes place in these intimate circles. However, small friendship groups are necessarily connected to wider networks of peers. In addition, by virtue of direct and indirect communication processes (adulation, approval, gossip, teasing, ridicule), adolescents learn a great deal about themselves, their social worth, and the broader cultural world they inhabit through experiences beyond the confines of close friendship. Although interactions across the wider network are almost by definition less frequent and intimate, relations based in elements of distance, contrast, and difference can also be consequential from a developmental standpoint (Simmel 1950, Cooley 1902). In his influential study, Coleman (1961) documented the presence of well defined crowds that differed in prestige and reputation but stressed how the values of the most popular youth influence young people inhabiting all the other rungs on the high-school status ladder. More recent research in this area adds significantly to this basic observation, by emphasizing how communication processes serve to create, sustain, and even change particular cultural emphases and associated status hierarchies. Eder (1985) focused on gossip routines that can at once help to define who is popular but then serve to derail the adolescent’s social position. She found that popular middle-school girls felt pressure to sustain their reputations as friendly, while avoiding interacting too frequently with unpopular individuals. This tension created further possibilities for these girls to be labeled by those in the wider network as “stuck up” and in effect to lose some of their prestige (creating a kind of “cycle of popularity”).
Brown et al. (1994) also examined links between reputation-based crowds and social relationship processes. They argue that crowds serve an important channeling role, structuring opportunities for interaction with friends and/or the opposite sex and indicating approval or disapproval of particular choices. However, these authors also suggested that crowd boundaries are actually more permeable and changeable than has frequently been assumed, leaving room for the development of relationships outside one’s immediate circle (see also Brown 1999).” (p.267)

Close friendships have been more heavily studied than other extrafamilial relationships, but the wider network of one’s peers and romantic relationships are also important parts of the adolescent’s social world. The latter types of relationships are more apt to encompass elements of distance and difference, in effect constituting a “tougher audience” for the developing adolescent. These social others frequently weigh in on the adolescent’s apparent social worth/identity and engender feelings of awkwardness and insecurity. Nevertheless, they warrant additional scrutiny—movement into such relations of contrast requires a developmental “stretch” that is not as pronounced in the more comfortable world of close friendship. Attention to this full roster of relationship experiences does, however, allow us to gain a better appreciation of the pull of close friendship ties (the arenas of comfort notion) and their critical role as reference others.” (p.275)

Ref: Peggy C. Giordano (2003) Relationships in AdolescenceAnnu. Rev. Sociol. 29: 257–81

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