Girls, consumption space and the contradictions ofhanging out in the city

Mary E. Thomas

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Thomas, M. E. (1). Girls, consumption space and the contradictions ofhanging out in the city. Social & Cultural Geography, 6(4), 587–605.

consumption , girls , identity , subjectivity , youth

Geographers have effectively examined girls’ reactions and resistances to adult control in public space, but the ways that girls learn about and rein scribe social differences like race and class through ‘hanging-out’ practices in public, urban space have yet to be sufficiently explored and theorized. Therefore, in this paper I consider the normative productivity of girls’ spatial practices, as well as girls’ resistances to adultist space. I examine the case of consumption space and focus on how girls utilize, create and reproduce myriad social identifiers as they hang out in public, urban space. Consumption space and consumerism dominate the urban spaces and hanging-out practices of teenagers, and while girls complain about the ubiquity of consumption space, girls’ public social-spatial activities inevitably involve consumption space. Therefore, consumption’s symbols and spaces are central to the normative production of girls’ identities like class and race, and of social difference more generally in urban space.

Main finding
The author argues that girls’ socio-spatial practices of ‘hanging out’ in consumption spaces both maneuver around and resist adult social control while simultaneously reproducing the normative social meanings with which spaces are imbued. Through these practices, as found through the participants’ narratives and photographs, girls also assume and reproduce normative identities and social differences which are informed by race and economic standing - thus they form youth subjectivities that move beyond the theoretical adult-control/youth-agency dichotomy. Therefore, hanging out is productive in the sense that it doesn’t merely reflect identities, but produces them. The choices girls make and the act of choosing of where to hang out is, the author argues, the way social identities (gender, race, class etc.) are created and qualified. Through this formation of spatial subjectivities and their relationship with power, raced and classed differences are highlighted, and inequalities exposed.

Description of method used in the article
Twenty-seven girls, from the city or county, were interviewed about their experiences in the city. Twelve of the participants were black, one Asian, and the rest were white, and their economic status was gauged as low, middle, or high depending on their parents’ or guardians’ occupations. The author gave 15 of the participants disposable cameras asking them to photograph places that were part of their everyday lives or held meaning for them - the others did not receive cameras as they were confined to a group home. Seven participants gave second interviews with their photos, five sent in their photos with a personal diary, and three dropped out of the study.

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