Disputas: Mari Rysst

Mari Rysst ved Sosialantropologisk institutt vil forsvare sin avhandling for graden ph.d. (philosophiae doctor): “I want to be me. I want to be kul“: An anthropological study of Norwegian preteen girls in the light of a presumed ‘disappearance’ of childhood


Prøveforelesning ble avholdt 16. oktober med oppgitt tittel
“Intergenerationality and constructions of 'traditional' and 'modern' in public gender discourses”



1. opponent: Emerita Professor i Sosialantropologi ved Universitetet i Oslo, Ingrid Rudie
2. opponent: Adjunkt, PhD Sally Anderson, Institutt for Pædagogisk Antropologi, København

Professor Elisabeth L’orange Fürst, Sosialantropologisk Institutt, Universitetet i Oslo, har vært koordinator for kommisjonen.

Leder av disputas:  Professor Marit Melhuus

Veileder:  Signe Howell


This study is inspired by the media debates surrounding young girls dressing and acting “older than their age”. Furthermore, it explores and discusses whether a ”sexualisation of childhood” is taking place. Childhood is believed to ”disappear” if children engage in activities related to sex, drugs or violence, from which many western societies strive to shelter children. This study explores these childhood issues in two Norwegian school settings located in the eastern and western parts of Oslo during 2002-2004 (Østli and Vestdal). The research involves the analysis of ten year-old girls’ gender constructions, (junior) sexuality and peer relationships. The study postulates a dialectical relationship between physical maturation and cultural practices, by virtue of the fact that clothing-fashion codes and sexual practices change as the girls grow older. For instance, the ten year-old understanding of being kul and of being girlfriends/boyfriends is initially influenced by junior sexuality as ten year-olds, but increasingly by senior sexuality as they enter puberty.

The study emerges from experience-near anthropology involving the application of theoretical approaches and concepts that aim to resonate with ”the native’s points of view”. This requires the study of gender and gender constructions based in anatomically sexed bodies as males and females, or boys and girls who experience themselves as such. However, girls do gender in relation to other girls and boys, which is shown to be influenced by the ”heterosexual hegemony”. The main theoretical concepts are ”doing gender”, ”femininities” (“masculinities”) as variants of multiple ”subject positions”, such as ”kul”, “soss”, “berte”; ”junior” and ”senior” (hetero-) sexuality; ”experiential structures” and ”experiential spaces” (“social contexts”’). The study is primarily informed by theories of childhood, girlhood and gender.

The study cites family discussions and negotiations between mothers and girls, as well as the latter’s construction of gender in relation to material items and participation in organized leisure activities. It also aims to show variations in the doing of femininities and how these are hierarchically organized. The minority of dominant and popular girls at Østli are interpreted to be increasingly inspired by teenage culture, by being kul and wanting clothes and other items from fashionable and more expensive shops than the low-price chains. The study shows how this may pose a problem for those girls aspiring to be integrated into the “kul” category who live in non-privileged families of non-western origin. However, the girls at both field sites are first and foremost engaged in different forms of play and sports activities, and strike a balance between being either too childish or too much like teenagers.

In addition, the research shows that peer and parental norms are inspired by a developmental discourse – that of not engaging in certain activities ”before their time.“ The children live in fear of being teased should they do so, and this prevents them from behaving in too grown-up a fashion By means of participant observation of their everyday practices, the study outlines characteristics in their same-sex and opposite-sex peer relationships. These were found to incorporate gender segregation, best-friend girl circles, socio-cultural (ethnic) segregation and, most importantly, ambivalence towards mixed-gender contact. When opposite sex interaction occurred, it involved minimal physical contact. As such, a sexualisation of childhood does not manifest itself in the practice of being girlfriends and boyfriends. The social context of romance is heterosexually oriented and may rather be classified as ”play” because of identifiable ”rules”’. The study demonstrates that there is more continuity than change in juvenile mixed-gender interaction, in spite of the girls’ many social contexts, which also include sexual symbols derived from advertising, fashion and popular culture. As such, the answer as to whether a sexualisation of childhood is occuring in Norway today is both ”yes” and ”no”, depending on the social contexts involved.

Publisert 7. mai 2009 11:21 - Sist endret 4. feb. 2014 09:15