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Accepted Paper:

'Cheat for chat': gossip as reputation-building mechanism for teenage girls in a Romanian technological high school  
Irina Lucia Savu-Cristea (Free University Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I explore the way peer-gossiping structures teenager girls´ views about their moral values and forges one´s reputation as congruent with success- models. Turning from "culture" towards cognition, I reveal what is culturally catchy among girls while constructing their reputation.

Paper long abstract:

Looking at interests among working-class teenage girls in a technological high school in Romania, I use gossip as a (possible) key for "deciphering" the boredom associated with school experience, and for "translating" social information exchange into possible success models. The informative strain of gossip, as theorized by Rosnow and Fine (1976) can be related to one of the most important functions of language as argued by cognitivists: advertising one's own advantages as a friend, ally, or mate (Dunbar et al., 1997). I suggest that gossip is not merely idle talk among women, or a way of reasserting moral values and splitting people into 'my group' versus 'the others'. For working-class teenage girls it is a powerful tool to build the reputation they dream about, in order to defeat the institutional and cultural forces that forge and reproduce social immobility.

Furthermore, the content of their gossip reflects the sources of what they perceive as good reputations. To achieve success, people tend to imitate either the successful or those similar (Boyd & Richerson 1987, Suls 1977). I suggest that these girls construct their reputation in a constant negotiation between "going with" the ones that succeeded (following capitalist models) and "going against" the ones they are presently living among/with (the familiar ones). Through subtle language abilities, the girls have to build and protect their reputation at every moment. Their continuous self-advertising process challenge that fact that women are seen as inherently collaborative, and less competitive than men (Guendouzi 2001:35).

Panel P084
Cognitive anthropology and cultural transmission; legacies and futures
  Session 1