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Act Your Age Intro and Ch.1

Mehtab Mann

EDIS 5011

27 September 2012

Act Your Age! A cultural construction of adolescence

Lesko, N. (2012). Act your age!: A cultural construction of adolescence. (2nd ed.) . New York, NY: Routledge.

Introduction and Chapter 1 Summary

Main Idea:

The introduction discusses four “confident characterizations” that Lesko asserts lead to a demeaning view of adolescents. These are that adolescents “come of age” into adulthood, are controlled by raging hormones, are peer-oriented, and that adolescence is defined by age. Lesko will “take a close look at these ‘troubling teenagers’ as stock characters in popular narratives, scientific discourses and educational programs via endlessly repeated stories-clinical and anecdotal- of instability, emotionality, present-centeredness, and irresponsibility” (1).

The overall argument of the book is that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, adolescence as a concept became a convenient social space for modern society to worry about the possibilities of social change. In essence, the concept of adolescence is culturally constructed by society. In opposition to biological and sociohistorical views, Lesko presents the postmodern view of adolescence that “examines the reasoning about adolescence and situates that reasoning within broader social and political crises and scholarly knowledge” (7). According to Lesko, the way we think about adolescence is racist and sexist. “We see and think adolescence as always a technology of whiteness, of masculinity, and of domination” (9).

Finally, she defines important terms such as discourse, genealogy, government, postmodernism, postculturalism, subjectivity and technology.

In Chapter 1, Lesko discusses the 1893 World’s Fair and the distinct hierarchy that was laid out there placing “white European men and their societies, norms, and values at the pinnacle of civilization and morality” (17). At the same time, in public discourse, adolescence “became an embodiment of and worry about ‘progress’” (18). The preoccupation with racial, gender, and national progress were the central preoccupations through which “adolescence became an identifiable, important, but ever worrisome modern construct” (18). Lesko goes on to describe the cultural climate in America at this time, discussing racial, social, and gender dimensions. At this time, science took over cultural leadership as “the unbiased, nonpolitical arena of knowledge” (26) through which society could “know” other peoples. Recapitulation theory (the idea that child development parallels the development of civilization, which arrests at different points) established a parallelism across children, savages and animals. At this time, “adolescence was signaled out as a crucial point at which an individual (and a race) leaped to a developed, superior, Western selfhood or remained arrested in a savage state” (29). Adolescence became a marker of civility, so long as it’s expression was in line with sociocultural norms (ie white, male, heterosexual, self-restraining).


1. What changed with the establishment of modern civilization that gave rise to the modern concept of the adolescent? How is the definition of adolescence changing as civilization continues to change?

2. How relevant is a historical look back on the origins of modern adolescence? What is the value of Lesko’s postmodernist approach to the construction of adolescence?

Media example:

I chose this article because it discusses sex education in public schools in Tennessee and includes view points from several concerned parties. It made me think about the impact that constructions of adolescence have on policy and parenting. It also made me think about how universally accepted some constructions of adolescents are (ie adolescents can't make good decisions when it comes to sex so we have to either decide to keep them ignorant or teach them how to make their bad decision in a less hamrful way). 

DMU Timestamp: September 21, 2012 23:54

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