Thursday, 18 January 2007

A roadmap.

A roadmap is inherantly contentious. Time honoured road-trip tradition dictates that a roadmap should cause more problems than it solves, inflame where harmony is required. Who doesn't argue in cars over directions on a map? Anyway, I'm going to solve this problem for myself by simultaneously driving, AND navigating. That way, if I get lost, I can shrug at myself and say "If you got us here, I'm certain we were meant to be here. Let's go get a beer."

Please tell me if you notice I'm holding the map upside down, or am about to plow into a scholarly embankment.

On a more serious note, the partial reason for this preamble is that Michael wisely suggested that I tone down this title to allow for detours or to prevent lapses into flamboyancy. You'll soon note that the working title has become a tool to defining the perametres of my research. Certainly they will require further crafting, and I welcome comment as I continue to meditate on them. I will propose a blander title for public consumption.

The most succinct elucidation of my aims in this research project are therefore:

In reaching this methodological and contextual definition, I have also been able to loosely draw apart my approach to the work, stated simply as practice emerging from, or responding to my analysis - an artifact.

The definition is constructed carefully of the most key of terms of reference shaping my methodology:

Some additionl thoughts:

The term "Tween" is a frightful marketing neologism, and I baulk at including it, but it's crucial to differentiate between social statistic, and a marketing construct. The tween phenomena is interesting in that it's a relatively new catagory for the shilling of consumables, but pre-teens, as a demographic, has always existed. What is curious, or perhaps not curious at all, is that business, having grappled with teenagers to the point of redundancy has seemingly stepped aside, exausted, and sized up other parts of the population, with a view to herding them into a quantifyable consumer cluster. Manditorially, the group woud possess either disposable cash, or the power to influence purchasing, and succes would mean sculpting them into consumers of goods they didn't know they wanted yet.

The pre-teen segment must have seemed particularly vulnerable to marketing suggestion prior to the piecing-out of the group for direct and finely crafted targeting. They not only have pocket money to spend, but the influence household spending through the rather dire capacity for "pester power".

More telling though, is the emotional vulnerability of the group attributable to naivité woven tightly with aspirations of independence; desparate to be adults, or at the very least, teenagers, they are physically, emotionally, psychologically still children. They will purchase early and often to express themselves and generate solidarity with peers, who become increasingly important through adolescence.

The obvious challenges: How much of the understanding of Tweens is imposed, and how much is truth? In a context where the notions of harm, innocence, belonging, societal shifts and exploitation continually arise, how much of the stage is universal, developmental? How much is contextual? What are the implications?

The Design, growing out of research with tween girls, and textual exercises and analysis, will address directly the conventions of the media currently available, and consumed by Tweens.

The obvious challenges: I really need to give some serious thought to the nature of design in this context. What do tween girls like? The relevant stores are certainly awash with pink cuteness - do girls of this age inherantly like this look? Do they buy it because it's the only thing on offer? A bit of both? How dangerous is it to shift sideways from this aesthetic? What are the best tools for extracting taste data from girls? I need to design some exercises and problems which will loosen the mystique for me. I suspect some personal reflection here could be handy.

Certainly in a research setting with girls, I will need to think of ways to come at the information I need laterally. Why do I feel that way? Why is this even necessary? Are girls communicated to when they purchase tween consumables, or aspire to communicate utilising the products? A bit of both? What are kids buying anyway? Is there scope to bust out of the framework, or do I have to operate within the existing paradigm? A bit of textual analysis, particularly with the print media on offer may help crack the code.

Key to my research is the notion of santuary to tween girls. An interesting exercise is to watch toy advertising during children's programming in television. While the play of boys invariably inhabits fantasy realms (a jungle, the outer limits of space, a speedway), the play of girls is depicted as a cosily domestic occupation, taking place mainly in the girl's bedroom. It's pretty quaint, when you give it consideration. Why is this?

In spite of this, I know that I want to create an inhabitable space - and I mean emotionally inhabitably, not physically. For reasons that I will elucidate as I go along, I believe a protective, nurturing "space" in fiction, can help a girl to undertand the strength of relying upon their own resources. It's quite a different concern from girls engaging in tidy, home-bound play; it's more of a mindset. When I frame "santuary" as a concept, I mean in part the santuary of self - self-development, self-reliance, the ability to care for and support oneself, to create one's own fun. The internal bedroom of creative play which can sustain a woman - I know because I spend a great deal of time in the bedroom of my own psyche, tinkering with ideas. But only because I was encouraged in it. It sustains me even now. I believe the inner life to be important to tween girls.

The girls of my definition are English-speaking Australian girls because I need to study girls living in Sydney, this year, 2007, to answer so many of the questions I've already raised. The product of the generational phase will be an annual project, renewable, revisable and visible every year. But that's only if everything goes well. I will not be considering them in my study. My eventual hope is that on some level I can speak to girls passing through this developmental phase in the English-speaking world, indefinitely. A large plan, certianly. Delusional? I really care about girlhood. Like a passage you walk down to arrive somewhere else entirely, it's ingenerately fleeting, and crucial to happiness and health in womanhood, as all formative experiences are.

Girl culture is particularly well established in Japan, for more subversive reasons pertaining to different cultural ideas around adulthood. While young girls in the English-speaking West crave maturity, associating it as they do with freedom, fun, personal expression, and an avenue to personal fulfillment, Japanese concepts of adulthood are more encumbered with duty, career path, and responsibility to others, such as husband or elderly family members. Staying childlike and cute in Japan is an act of rebellion and refusal. Interestingly, this throws up some fascinating design concepts - there are simply so many women aspiring to girlhood in Japan, that a "girl industry" is more thickly populated with products, images and messages than anywhere else on earth. Obviously, I'm preoccupied with this movement in Japan - it fleshes out some aspects of the investigation by providing and entirely inverse view. Contextual analyisis and comparision is vital, I think.

This process of defining my parametres has really begun to open up the research experience to me - I can see now the sort of questions I need to ask of my thesis, in order to know what questions I need to ask, about which questions I need to ask. A degree of immediate clarity which indicates the magnitude of the complexity ahead, but gives me the first footfall in a direction. Which direction? Not sure yet.


michael.hill said...

In terms of the naming of your thesis/project one suggestion I would make is to compose your title largely from a collection of the keywords that describe and drive your research.

michael.hill said...

Concerning the marketing and availability of goods for your target group I noticed in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that David Jones are taking legal action to deny claims that they marketed 'eroticised' clothing to pre-teen girls last year. It may be worth your while to monitor this case as it may well generate a wealth of key terms and concepts as it unfolds.

Kell said...

The five or so keywords are isolated in my title there, but I have been mindful of your comments regarding the unfortunate razzamataz this title holds, so I will work to that title, and present under something blander. The title discussed in this post is the truest expression of my aims as I see them.

Kell said...

I read the report that they took issue with last year - it was entitled "Corporate Paedophilia" and was prepared by the Australia Institute. I think the title is designed to shock, and is likely to be at the core of what DJs are taking issue with.

But I have to agree with the assertion of the report that the sexualised exploitation of children in advertising materials is a very harmful thing, and serves few but businesses. I thought the report timely.