Teaching: Mapping Youth Culture

The culmination of each class I’ve taught includes 2 connected assignments: the creation of a mind map in which you rethink the topics and organization of the course and a 1-2 page essay unpacking the argument and significance of your map.

(side note: You can check out the course syllabus for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture on my Academia.edu page here.  This 8-week online course was offered at Purdue University in the summer of 2015, and had 12 undergraduate students and 1 Masters student.  Most interestingly, it includes the list of readings and films assigned for the course, although I’m always on the lookout for more amazing assignments.  Send your ideas my way!)

This visual exercise frequently stumps my students who have never had to create an assignment like this.  How can you grade it?  What’s the right answer?  How will I know if I’m wrong?  And all I can say is this: “I want you to be brilliantly original and brief.  Show me critical thinking and show me that you engaged with assigned material and discussion topics over the course of this semester.”  It’s a lofty goal, but most of the time it really gets students thinking about how to put all of the puzzle pieces back together.  It encourages students to think about the significance of juxtaposing these ideas, as well as initiates thinking about what topics or perspectives were left out.

For this course, students were asked to create a mind map on American youth culture and write an accompanying explanatory mind map.  I encourage you to check out all of the mind maps on Tumblr by searching for our shared class hashtag #amst201youth.  Here are a few of my favorites as well as my own mind map of youth culture.

Tylor's Mind Map, produced as a final component of his participation in AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Tylor’s Mind Map, produced as a final component of his participation in AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

In his mind map, Tylor broke down the course chronologically by generations (which offered an interesting counterpoint to the course which was organized thematically and jumped from past to present).  Readings or films on each generation indicated distinct characteristics.  He argued that Generation X was ethnically diverse, educated, and “their generation worked to live, and they didn’t live to work.

This generation was the first to not have to live through the segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.”  Generation Y is family oriented, ambitious, and desires to make a difference.  He adds: “This generation is the generation that are into tech, like the software developed today, is the result of this generation, their ambition and desire to make a difference. This was also the generation that experienced the zoot culture. This culture was a good topic in this class, because it showed how different cultures were adopted by teens in order to make themselves more comfortable.”

Finally, Generation Z is focused on technology and entrepreneurship: “Today’s youth are the ones we see with all the new iphones, ipads and all the social media account, such as Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. We don’t know everything about this generation, but it’s gonna be something exciting for us to experience.”

Destiny's mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Destiny’s mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

Destiny chose Prezi as the medium for her mind map, so I encourage you to check it out in order to see it in a better quality.  Destiny chose to construct her mind map on four stages of being in youth culture as seen through the eyes of youth.  In her explanatory essay, she writes about the different sections:

WE ARE GROWING represents the things that youths develop as a result of the environment they are placed in. Like the LA/Salvador, and Dummy Smart articles, youths grow, usually against the grain, and begin to develop their own identities based on the geographic and social location they are in. Usually, they develop a culture and a lifestyle that they can fit themselves in after being rejected by ‘normal’ society.

WE ARE CHANGING meant to represent the different paths that demographically diverse youths take. Some allow themselves to fall into the socially constructed system, while other don’t. Like the podcast on Hispanic youth and the documentary Teenage, new communities, identities, cultures, and social norms can arise when enough regulative pressure is applied to youth populations.”

See more of Destiny’s excellent work at her Tumblr site here.

Ariel's Mind Map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Ariel’s Mind Map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

Ariel’s mind map is broken into four poles: norms, power, identity, and gender (nearly every one of Ariel’s posts offered a thoughtful feminist analysis of gender, so check out her work here). She gives a spectacular analysis, but I’m going to only focus on one of her points to give you an incentive to check out her full essay on her Tumblr.  Ariel argued in her essay that visible aspects of one’s identity (like gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity) shape how the individual is perceived as connected to power and expectations of conformity.

She writes: “As discussed in numerous articles, a person’s race/ethnicity are often a source of power imbalance. As is seen not only in the articles but in everyday life, if you are a part of the mainstream society you tend to have more power in general while being a member of a minority group automatically grants you less power. From this imbalance of power stems the concepts of conformity and rebellion.

There are those who though they do not necessarily agree with the imbalance of power, go along with or conform. Then there are those who rebel against the power imbalance in whatever way they can.”  Ultimately, you can never resist both forces of power and identity, the visibility of your identity (race, gender, sexuality, and even class) and the cultural norms granting certain identities more power.  These forces exist together in an electrified web.

My (Kera Lovell's) mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
My (Kera Lovell’s) mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

I pick up Ariel’s argument in my own mind map for the course.  In thinking about how to visualize the theme of youth culture I couldn’t get away from the course’s initial organization around two oppositional yet overlapping poles: conformity and rebellion.

This course really interested me over time because it revealed how the central themes of youth culture revolved around how teenagers exist in a liminal state – youths are celebrated as beautiful, idealistic, pure, adventurous, and youthful, while they are also denigrated as naive, self-absorbed, dangerous, vulnerable, and juvenile.  Youth culture holds so much power and yet youths are given very little citizenship except for the right to (and expectation to) consume.

Conformity and rebellion are shaped by social and cultural norms, individual wants and experiences, family dynamics (and I would add, historical context), shape behaviors and identities of American youths.  These two tensions between conformity and rebellion shape the essential relationship between identity (who am I and what does that mean?) and citizenship (what power do I have and how are my rights valued in society?).  Nearly every example we encountered in the readings or films demonstrated how youths in ways that both conformed and rebelled.

Miss Representation demonstrated many girls conformed to cultural norms of female sexualization and infantalization by sexualizing themselves.  To engage in this self-sexualization is an act of conforming to norms of women’s sexualization in such a way that presents this self-sexualization as an act of rebellion.  Likewise, in the chapter “Dummy Smart” from Victor Rios’s book Punished, Rios argues that young black and Latino boys engage in practices of creating organic capital in an attempt to define their own identity in positive ways that both conforms and rebels – such as wearing expensive tennis shoes to a job interview.  These attempts, however, are frequently misrecognized as being lazy or disrespectful that, in turn, further reinforce negative stereotypes about youths of color.

Don’t forget to check out the syllabus on my Academia.edu page or check out amstyouthculture.tumblr.com to see more of our discussions throughout this extremely brief yet fun course on youth culture.

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