Berkeley Sociologist Identifies What She Calls a New Subculture: “Getting-By Girls”

RossiMichele Rossi, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, recently presented her research at the annual convention of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco. She studied White teenage girls who were seniors in a well-funded high school and found what she describes as a new subculture, which she has named “getting-by girls.”

These students, according to Rossi, have made slacking off or getting-by an art form. Rossi says that these girls placate teachers and other authority figures, copy one another’s homework, cheat on tests when they can easily get away with it, and avoid academic or intellectual challenges. They are able to achieve decent grades because they are relatively intelligent but choose not to be motivated to achieve high-level academic success. They also do not identify with low-achieving students.

“These girls under-perform academically not because they lack ability, or self-esteem, or good teachers,” Rossi reports. “They underperform because their White lower middle-class culture values sociability, and doing enough to have enough. In a high school context, this culture clashes with an upper-middle class culture that prizes striving and individual advancement.”

“The getting-by girls’ emphasis on fun and cultivating social ties is appealing, as is their resistance to the cut-throat competitiveness and pursuit of self-interest they see among their ‘overachiever’ peers,” Rossi said. “However, in an increasingly polarized job market, where educational attainment – particularly in STEM fields – is the key to ‘good’ jobs, it is not clear there is a place for them.”

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