In this interdisciplinary course on cultural representations of 20th- and 21st-century adolescence in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, we challenged traditional definitions of young people "in transition." Although discourse around adolescence frames teenagers as victims of biology and peer pressure, these associations often stem from the ways adults imagine teenagers as fundamentally other. Adolescence is a locus for numerous adult anxieties, including historicized concerns about race, gender, class, difference, and "becoming." Students in this course explored the ways adolescence is a process that forms primarily through the conflicting actions and desires of human beings. 

 

A few of the questions we considered: 

 

  • What's the relationship between the founding of the Boy Scouts and the beginnings of Western adolescence? 

  • What role has music--especially hip-hop, pop, and grunge--played in supporting/subverting teen agency in the 20th century?

  • Why do we conceptualize adolescence as "becoming"? What are the implications of that framework?

  • How have sex and sexuality been historically depicted in adolescent media?

  • To what extent has adolescent "rebellion" been commodified?

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Cultures of Adolescence

First edition of the Boy Scouts of America handbook (1911).