Thursday, September 27, 2007

Popularity- Definition? and a spanner.

Hey everyone,
I have recently being thinking about what popularity means within the school context. Now, alot of literature that I have being reading suggests that popularity refers to how well liked someone is . However, I was thinking about what the 'popular' group was like when I was at school. The popular group at my school were those who were into partying, boys, fashion, taking risks and always looked good. They seemed to do reasonably ok at school and were quite confident. However, they weren't necessarily liked by their peers but they were idolised. It was strange because although no one really liked them, but most people wanted to be them!

So I'm finding a bit of a clash in definitions. Because I'm getting the sense that the popular kids by definition are the 'good', involved, smart and well liked kids. This could also have something to do with the American literature.

Sternberg (1993) does suggest that popularity is a bit paradoxical.

Here is the quote from Sternberg (1993) about paradoxical popularity
" There are limits to the number of friendships that anyone person can maintain. Because popular girls get a high number of affiliative offers, they have to reject more offers of friendships than other girls. Also, to maintain their higher status, girls who form the elite group must avoid associations with lower status girls.. These girls are likely to ignore the afflilative attempts of many other girls, leading to the impression that they are stuck-up. Shortly after these girls reach their peak of popularity, they become increasing disliked" (p. 183)

This doesn't really solve my dilemma so I thought I'd got your comments about whether the popular group at your school were 'good', involved, smart and well liked kids? or were they a bit deviant? or a bit of both?

Sternberg, L. (1993) Adolescence 3rd ed. McGraw-Hill, Inc. New York.


James Neill said...

Hi Kara,

When initially proposed this topic, my main concern was that 'popularity' would be difficult to pin down and define/operationalise. So, this post of yours is a really important one, showing that you are grappling with the issue, its dynamics, and complexity. Well done. You've raised the paradox in a very understandable way.

You may be interested to read up a bit on 'sociometrics'. This one way in which 'popularity' can be mapped. I suspect popularity is bit like a geographical landscape which looks different to each person. Sociometrics is an attempt to map out social dynamics, basically by getting each person to rate each other person in a group according to certain criteria.

I think there are some studies which use sociometric techniques to investigate popularity e.g,
Peer and teacher sociometrics for preschool children

Clare said...

Hi Kara,
I have to agree with you that the "popular group" was hardly ever made up of the "smartest" or "most well behaved" students. I can see your dilemma with trying to define such a concept. Popularity means so many different things to different people and in different contexts. To me when I was in high school being popular meant wearing “name brands” and by being just a little bit naughty and by no means by doing well in class! The cool kids were the ones who sat in a particular spot in the playground (just out of bounds), the ones who were more advanced in things like dating, dying their hair and drinking alcohol. It helped if you were attractive, but just acting like you looked good was enough. Being popular to me now, is about being a good person, having a close group of really high quality friends and being liked because you are a nice, fun, smart or a kind person. It’s funny how at different times in the same persons life can dramatically change their perspective on what popularity is… Hard topic! Good luck with it!!

Michelle said...

Hi Kara, really interesting topic! I was fortunate to be in a group at high school who were both fun and smart individuals. There were certainly groups like the mean girls (depicted in your clip) however, they were smaller in numbers. Our group was mixed with both guys and girls and was quite large in numbers. Ironically my brother was friends with kids who were my friends brothers and sisters. When we moved to Canberra I made friends in year 11 and ironically my brother made friends with kids who were the brothers and sisters of my friends (and we went to different schools). So thats an interesting take on the similiarities and the social dynamics we share. I would be hard pressed going back to high school these days and keeping up with the perceived 'right clothes, hair, nails, brands, accessories mobile phones, ipods etc' all of this in high school no less. As James said in his posting, he suspects popularity can look different to each person and I believe this to be true. Good luck with your research. Cheers Michelle :)