The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion (2006) brings together decades of field research by Marjorie Harness Goodwin conducted from the vantage point of linguistic anthropology.
The latter discipline deals with how what we say shapes the realities that we co-create with peers and others. Like many other disciplines, linguistic anthropology deals with sense-making (and sensemaking: no hyphen) and the construction of meaning. It deals with how storytelling shapes events.
With regard to research findings – from neuroscience and other disciplines – about storytelling, Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self (2014) offers an excellent overview. In the latter study, Jennifer Ouelette speaks of the neural synchronization that occurs between the brain of the storyteller and the brains of listeners as a story unfolds.
Linguistic anthropology addresses how we are socialized from an early age “through language and to use language.” The latter quotation is from the opening paragraph of Chapter 16, entitled “Peer Language Socialization,” by Marjorie H. Goodwin and Amy Kyratzis, in The Handbook of Language Socialization (2014)
In the quotations that follow, I’ve broken longer paragraphs into shorter ones, for ease in reading.
Erving Goffman kept some views to himself
As I understand, Erving Goffman did not engage in social critiques.
In that context, I was interested to read the following passage in the above-noted review:
“Goodwin’s attention to co-constructed turns-at-talk reveals the myriad ways through which the girls indexed forms of social class distinction.
“She thus provides a critical lens into how these informal peer networks were an emergent product of contradictory late capitalist social relations as well as an agentive collectivity that derived and inflicted both pain and pleasure as they reproduced their ‘high capital’ (Ortner 2005) positioning as elite, near peers within the hierarchical structure of school.
“In this way Goodwin’s analysis of how social class stigma is infused throughout the daily rhythms of middle class girls’ quotidian peer forms of socialization achieves a social critique that her mentor, Erving Goffman, was loathe to realize in his own critical work on total institutions, social stigma, and the presentation of self in everyday life.”
[End of excerpt from review]
Goffman left the judging of the story to the reader
His working method – which can be characterized, among other things, as a non-judgemental approach to scholarship – may be among the reasons that Goffman has reached such a wide audience.
Goffman’s approach reminds me of comments by Richard J. Evans in the preface to The Coming of the Third Reich (2004). In the latter discussion, Evans addresses judgement as it relates to the writing of history.
He prefers, he notes, to focus on the presentation of historical narrative, based on the available historical evidence, and to leave the judging of the story to the reader. This is, perhaps, similar to the approach to the study of social interaction that Goffman adopted as a sociologist.
This is conjecture, on my part. It’s a working hypothesis, a starting point for further thought and study, including a focus on what the term “social critique” entails. Related topics concerns debates related to new media, and the attempt to transform “neoliberalism” into a more useful analytic tool than is currently the case.
Critique of essentialist social scientific construals
The reviewer, Jennifer F. Reynolds, also refers to Goodwin’s “critique of essentialist social scientific construals of boys’ and girls’ experiences and behaviors that dualistically render girls prosocial, but lacking ‘legal sense’ and boys assertive individualists, oriented to abstract rules and principles.”
This is a valid critique. As Goodwin notes, more longitudinal studies are required before broad statements are made regarding the ways that girls and boys behave in social settings, and what that tells us about the differences between the genders.
Review at Association for Feminist Anthropology website
Another review of the book, also of interest, can be accessed here.
Definition of bullying
Chapter 7, “Constructing Social Difference and Exclusion in Girls’ Group,” documents the linguistic and nonverbal resources by which social exclusion and ridicule is manifested in the spontaneous play of girls aged 10 to 12.
The chapter, that is, examines forms of bullying, which Goodwin defines (p. 210) as “negative actions occurring repeatedly [emphasis in original] over time on the part of one or more persons.”
[It may be noted that some writers on the topic of bullying, such as Barbara Coloroso, argue that a single instance of a negative action can, in fact, constitute bullying.]
In her description of what bullying entails, Goodwin adds the following comments:
- Negative actions include many diverse behaviors, including direct verbal aggression (name calling and threats), indirect aggression (spreading rumors), as well as nonverbal aggression (often taking the form of stares).
- This chapter provides among the first documentations of the embodied language practices children use to perform the activity of peer victimization; the few qualitative studies available rely on focus groups or interviews for data collection.
[End of excerpt]
Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig
An article that I wrote some years ago about research – including survey-based research – related to bullying can be accessed here. It may also be noted that Debra Pepler of York University and the Hospital for Sick Children, and Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, have done extensive research related to bullying in Canadian schools. They have used video recordings as a key part of their research. Further information about research – and evidence-based programs that seek to effectively address bullying in schools – is available at the PREVnet website.
An Oct. 27, 2014 Metro Toronto article is entitled: “Generation Change holds annual candlelight vigil to honour victims of bullying.”
Definition of cliques
The Hidden Life of Girls (2006) highlights the activities of a clique made up of popular girls at an elementary school, as they interact with other students, and with adults, in a wide range of settings in a school environment, over an extended span of time.
According to Goodwin, although gender differences in bullying are often brought forward in the literature, the evidence for such differences is less than overwhelming.
Adler and Adler (1998) describe cliques as “friendship circles whose members tend to identify each other as mutually connected” (Goodwin 2006: 76). The latter authors argue that cliques 1) maintain a hierarchical structure; 2) are dominated by leaders, and 3) are exclusive.
Goodwin also notes that Eder and Parker (1987) assert that cliques include the most popular children, who are most respected by those of their age grade.
She adds that Adler and Adler (1998) argue that cliques in peer groups constitute a culture that is unique in its own right, and that at the same time serves as a “staging ground for future adult behavior.”