The Meaning of Meanness

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In a very basic preliminary Sociology module in secondary school; as our group began to look at the broad topic of social behaviour, our instructor felt that viewing the popular American film “Mean Girls” would be an excellent way for us as students to start to understand the examples of how social interaction affects our day-to-day lives. Adapted from the non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabees, (Bradford 2004) which is a guide for parents with adolescent daughters that is based around the life experiences of author Rosalind Wiseman, (Winfrey 2007) Mean Girls highlights many of the same sociological principles that are seen in The Meaning of Meanness: Popularity, Competition, and Conflict among Junior High School Girls by Don E. Merten. The film depicts a clique of four popular females, who rule the social world that exists in their American high school, much like the “dirty dozen” (Merten 1997, p.p. 175) do in their American junior high school. As is evident in the previously discussed works; in recent years, both writers and viewers alike have taken an interest in the phenomenon of “mean girls.” (Chesney-Lind and Irwin 2002) As a group, our module very basically discussed and analyzed the examples of Sociology in the film and compared them to the similar examples we were seeing in the high school we were attending at the time. Unlike the limited examination of the fictional characters in Mean Girls that took place in my secondary school module, the methods of data collection and analysis used by the scholars that were involved in the research described in “Methods and Conflicts” (Merten 1997, p.p. 177) and the following sections that make up the majority of Merten’s work are most appropriate to the principle characteristics of the theoretical framework of interactionism. The examination of small-scale interactions combined with the use of ethnographic research show a definite interaction theory approach to the study. Evidence of an interaction theory approach

Interaction theory originally came about as a more advanced form of the theoretical framework popularized by William James and Charles Pierce, known as “Pragmatism.”(Fulcher and Scott 2007, p.p. 51) Pragmatism was a fairly simple framework that mainly revolved around drawing conclusions from practical interactions. (Fulcher and Scott 2007, p.p. 51) As interactionism began to evolve, its theorists started to observe and analyse the more symbolic interactions and encounters in day-to-day life in order to draw conclusions in the deeper meanings of said interaction. (Marshall and Scott 2005, p.p. 653) These symbolic interactions are observed on a “micro-level” (Macionis and Plummer 2005, p.p. 28) or “small-scale.” (Fulcher and Scott 2007, p.p. 53) Contrary to the work of theorists who focus on large-scale occurrences and structure; instead of examining large amounts of subjects from disconnected venues, the researchers involved in interaction theory commonly make direct up-close and personal observations of their subjects who are often found in much smaller groups or settings. (Macionis and Plummer 2005, p.p. 29) The idea behind the focus on action or “agency” (Marshall and Scott 2005, p.p. 9) is to provide an insider perspective into the understanding of their subjects in order to find meaning in their interactions on a person to person basis, in contrast to the theory that social behaviour is determined. (Macionis and Plummer 2005, p.p. 28) These interaction theorists conduct their research by using tactics such as: experiments, surveys, questionnaires, interviewers, ethnographers, and participants. (Macionis and Plummer 2005, p.p. 55-57) The research described in Merten’s article is done on a very small scale, and is most definitely that of an ethnographic nature. (Merten 1997, p.p. 177-189) The three-year-long study described in Merten’s article engaged the use of three female ethnographers, who participated in extensive training in preparation for...
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