The Culture of Adolescent Risk-Taking

Cynthia Lightfoot

Paperback
Paperback
March 14, 1997
ISBN 9781572302327
Price: $33.00
187 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"
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An in-depth exploration of the relationship between adolescent risk-taking and peer group culture, based on extensive interviews with teens themselves, this elegantly written book shows that taking risks is a natural and necessary part of growing up. The author proposes that risks are declarations of the self, worn like badges of autonomy, or defiance, or group membership. With a broad interpretive approach locating human action within the symbolic forms, communicative practices, and shared idioms of culture, Cynthia Lightfoot elucidates the cultural and psychological processes through which risk acquires meaning for teenagers and vividly depicts the drama and daring of adolescent social life.

“What Cynthia Lightfoot has done in this groundbreaking book is first to ask adolescents why they take risks and then to listen thoughtfully to their answers. She refuses to see teenagers as accidents waiting to happen, as people who, under the influence of peers and hormones, lose all recourse to reason. She looks deeper and finds that teenagers do have their reasons: They know well that in this culture, our heroes are expected to take risks, risks that, if they survive, garner them wisdom, love, and fame (and a story to tell). By a thorough analysis of both her data and our own unspoken assumptions—about development, heroic narratives, and risk as play, Dr. Lightfoot shows us how adolescents creatively and dangerously set out to become the heroes of their own lives. The unique and important insight of this book is to remind us that such risks are taken for a positive purpose: It is only through testing the limits that adolescents discover their own.”

—Brian D. Cox, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Hofstra University


“The combination of empirical research and deep analysis is a welcome departure from the traditional perspective that locates adolescent risk-taking as a 'social problem.' The author's data provide a basis for understanding risk-taking as a means of establishing and maintaining a social identity. Risk-taking as a `social problem' has in the past been constructed by adults; the accounts of risk-taking conduct revealed by adolescents tell stories of shaping, maintaining, and enhancing a sense of self in relation to others. The adolescents' own stories tell of risk-taking as a means of transforming identities on the way to adulthood. In preparation for the identity-transforming interpretation of adolescent risk-taking are chapters on 'the interpretive turn' and on 'play' that bring to bear in a fruitful way the contributions of Bakhtin, Vigotsky, Piaget, and Ricoeur, among others.”

—Theodore R. Sarbin, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Criminology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The History of Our Ambivalence

3. The Interpretive Turn

4. Play as Interpretive Activity

5. Adolescent Risk-Taking as Transformative Experience

6. Risk-Taking and the Architecture of Adolescent Society (with Jean Louis Gariépy)

7. Pursuing Depth


About the Author

Cynthia Lightfoot, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State University. Her professional publications and presentations focus principally on sociogenetic and interpretive approaches to human development, with special reference to adolescent peer culture and identity processes.

Foreword by Jaan Valsiner, Ph.D.

Audience

Professionals and students in developmental, adolescent, and health psychology and in anthropology.

Serves as a supplementary text for advanced undergraduate and graduate-level courses.

Course Use

Serves as a supplementary text for advanced undergraduate and graduate-level courses.