Contextualizing oppositional cultures: A multilevel network analysis of the emergence of status orders across school contexts

Hanno Kruse, Clemens Kroneberg


Sociological observers of modern societies have long noted the tendency of adolescents to develop youth cultures that are often at odds with the official demands and values of the school system. Due to their institutionalized separation from their parents and legally enforced exclusions from key adult domains and rituals, youth come to build an “adolescent society” that tends to develop quite autonomously or even in opposition to the values and norms of the adult society. In particular, youth may develop a status order that does not reward academic performance or at times even negatively sanctions high effort and performance. Different lines of research have argued that specific groups are more prone to develop an oppositional culture in the school context than others, attributing this tendency particulary to boys (“the problem with boys”) and racial or ethnic minorities (“acting white”). We attempt to identify more general mechanisms that allow us to specify the scope conditions of local gender-based or ethnicity-based oppositional youth culture. Analyzing large-scale longitudinal data on complete networks across a large number of schools, we investigate how the composition of school classes affects whether oppositional status orders will emerge and when they will align with gender or ethnicity. To this end, we use stochastic actor-oriented models to examine the social acceptance of high-performing students across contexts, while controlling for other tie-formation mechanisms. The work demonstrates the potential of an ecological perspective that helps to understand the contextual conditions under which oppositional youth cultures become manifest in tie-formation processes.

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