Reconciling childhood and deviance: an historical analysis of media depictions of young 'deviants'

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Amanda Lynn Ireland (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Gwen Hunnicutt

Abstract: The shared meaning and value placed on children impacts how institutions respond to juvenile "deviants." This study explored ways in which news media constructed images of young "deviants" and corresponding conceptions of "childhood" across two key historical time periods. The key areas of focus included: first, the ways in which the print media reconciled the contradictory notions of "childhood" and deviance; second, power dynamics across sociocultural contexts; and third, how depictions of young "deviants" were reflective of their historical context. Data consisted of 157 newspaper articles from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, ninety from 1960-65 and sixty-seven from 1980-85. Dual methods of content analysis and critical discourse analysis yielded telling results. First, there was a distinct shift in focus across the two time periods from older juveniles to younger ones. The age of the "deviant" played a role in setting the tone of the articles regarding institutional responses and punishment approaches. Second, use and types of predications were found to be important tools across both time periods that contributed to negative depictions of young "deviants" while also trying to individualize and normalize them. Third, the attribution of responsibility was used to reconcile "childhood" and deviance, where the power of the family and social class were significant factors. Lastly, an emphasis on workforce involvement was used across both time periods as a romanticized concept and as a way to gauge a young person's societal value. Such an emphasis was shown to reconcile deviance with adulthood. Similar findings from both time periods were specifically interesting considering their differing sociocultural climates towards juvenile "deviants." This study also provided useful knowledge regarding narratives about "deviants" provided by the media and the importance of critically analyzing them.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
Childhood, Deviance, Juvenile, Media
Juvenile delinquency $x Public opinion.
Juvenile delinquency $x Social aspects.
Deviant behavior in mass media.

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