Beyond consumption: belonging and the everyday social worlds of tween girls
thesisposted on 23.02.2017, 00:31 by MacDonald, Fiona Josephine
In recent times, the global marketing concept of the Tween has emerged, identifying girls aged between nine and fourteen as a potentially lucrative age group with distinctive needs and interests. At the end of the 20th century advertisers, marketers, producers and retailers (consumer-media) combined to construct and then target the tween girl with products, services and experiences specifically designed to respond to her uniquely tween desires. The targeting of this gendered group of children resulted in widespread outcry and debate in Australia and other western nations, as girls were seen as being pressured to consume and in particular ‘adopt sexualized appearance and behaviour’ (Rush & La Nauze, 2006a, p. 211). However, these debates made clear the complex interweaving of highly localised social and cultural influences with the global consumer-media in tween girls’ lives. The need for research which explored the significance of these other social and cultural influences such as family, friends, school and neighbourhood, alongside the consumer-media, in the life of the tween girl was apparent as Government committees struggled to disentangle the multiple influences in tween girls’ lives. My research was designed to address this multiplicity by exploring these important local influences and to introduce tween girls’ voices to enhance our understandings of how they negotiate the everyday lived experience of being 'tween'. This thesis is based on an ethnographic study in a Melbourne Primary School of thirteen 11 and 12 year old girls in Year 6, their final year of primary school. Data for this study were collected over an entire school year and included observations, field notes, reflections, interviews, focus groups and informal discussions. The aim of my ethnography in the girls’ primary school environment was to explore and understand the significance of the tween girls’ local, everyday social worlds, including family, friendship groups, school and the neighbourhood, in their negotiation of tweenness. While the concept of Tween has focussed our understandings of tween girls primarily on their consumption activities, their social worlds and the ambiguous position of the tween age group between their childhood and teenage years are also critical aspects of their gendered consumption, and attention to these social worlds suggests that new sociological frameworks are required to develop our understandings of this age group. In this thesis I shift the focus away from consumption and introduce new frameworks to illuminate the influence of family, friends, school and local geographies in the life of the tween girl. I focus on the important understandings to be gained from the girls’ ordinary, everyday behaviours in their local environments. Ultimately, the concept of in-betweenness exploited by Tween marketing is explored and reframed in the concluding stages of this thesis with a focus on how tween girls themselves understand their position as Australian Year 6 students located in-between their childhood and teenage years. My analysis of family, friends, the institution of school and the neighbourhood, and of girls’ ordinary, everyday practices in these networks and contexts, has been framed by Alison Pugh’s concept of the economy of dignity. Pugh’s economy of dignity suggests that children assign a value for particular goods, services and norms that enable them to negotiate ways they can belong within their own social worlds. In my thesis, I use this concept to illuminate the tween experience as fundamentally about finding strategies for belonging within their social worlds, and show how Tween goods, services and norms can be constructed and drawn upon in this process. My findings reveal the extensive and constant work and effort that goes into the tween girls’ considerations and negotiations of belonging; which suggests the need to move beyond limited notions of tweens simply as inappropriately sexualised consumers. My findings suggest that the tween girl’s desire to belong, and her recognition of her own in-betweenness, forms an essential and complex part of her everyday life that should not be underestimated.