The Cultural Landscape of Teenagers

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EnJeu(x) - University of Maine (France) and Akron (US)

An international and multidisciplinary conference co-organized by Elisabeth Lamothe, Delphine Letort (University of Maine-Le Mans in France, 3L.AM), and Heather Braun (University of Akron, Ohio) with the support of the regional program EnJeu(x).

Université du Mans, June 15th and 16th, 2016

Designated as a new social category in America after the Second World War, "teenagers" represent an age range that can be tapped as a market of consumers. While teenagers are now offered a diversity of cultural products to choose from, professionals train themselves to deal with adolescents and define parenting and schooling strategies that should allow youth to blossom into responsible adulthood. Youth movements express a sense of rebellion against the coercive norms of society, shaping their own teenage counterculture through experiments, sometimes conducted in gangs. Thomas Doherty pinpoints the specificity of "contraculture" in opposition to "counterculture", opposing the local dimension of the teenagers' gangs to the 1960s' national youth movements that questioned mainstream values by adopting alternative lifestyles (Teenagers And Teenpics: The Juvenilization Of American Movies, 38). The author argues that in the West, teenagers possess their own culture, which is defined in response to dominant culture and developed through conflict.
More recently, however, youth culture has gone mainstream and served as a rallying, trans-generational landmark: a generation's coming-of-age was predicated by the success of the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas, buttressed by popular cinematographic adaptations. Even dystopic literary productions such as The Hunger Games reveal the general public's interest for adolescent protagonists and their perspectives. The genre of Young Adult literature raises a set of issues that are the subjects of debates among literary scholars: who should (or should not) be reading it? Does the genre make for experimentation and participate in renewing those literary and theoretical conventions analyzed by Nathalie Prince (La Littérature de jeunesse, 2010)? From the emergence of adolescent literature over the past century, including classic works such Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger, 1951) and The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton, 1967) to contemporary Young Adult novels such as The Fault in Our Stars (John Green, 2012) and Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell, 2013), the genre has changed over time, providing particular attention to first-person narrators entering, immersed in, or about to leave their teenage years.
This conference aims to shed light on those cultural artifacts that target not only teenagers but an increasingly wider public – including television series, films, young adult novels, among others – and explore the images of teenagers. Although the adolescent poetic and critical perspective on the world is often idealized, the figure of the teenager also connotes a set of issues to be resolved – drug abuse, risk taking, resistance to authority, behaviour problems. We encourage scholars to question how these subjects are dealt with in contemporary literature, music, films (fictional or nonfiction) and other visual arts such as photography.

Possible avenues of research:

- the type of narrative structure adopted in teen series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Melrose Place, Charmed, Misfits, etc.), teen movies (slasher films, fantasy films, etc.); the values they promote through representation (teen girls, sexualization, consumer values, etc.) and the themes broached (violence, gender divide...) ; the spaces associated with adolescence (the classroom, the street, the home, the suburb or the ghetto, the video, the blogosphere...)

- teenage literature as a developing market (chick lit, bit lit) and the questions the latest trends elicit in academia (Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 1999; John Green, The Fault in Our Stars 2012 ; S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders, 1967; R.J. Palacio, Wonder, 2012, etc.) ; their screen adaptations (Gus Van Sant, Paranoid Park, 2007) ; Vadim Perelman, The Life Before her Eyes, 2008) ; Amy Heckerling, Clueless, 1995) ; Josh Boone, The Fault in Our Stars, 2014)

- the development of girlhood studies and their contribution to the study of Young Adult culture and art.

- the adolescent stars (Justin Bieber, Violetta, etc.) and the models they represent (Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls; Emma Watson in The Bling Ring…); teen stereotypes in TV series (The Wire, The Leftovers…), reality television shows (The Voice) and auteur films (Larry Clark, Gus Van Sant, Sofia Coppola, Laurent Cantet, etc.)

- the place and representation of youth in multicultural literature and the issue of biculturality (Anne Mazer, Going Where I'm Coming From: Memoirs of American Youth, 1995; Francisco Jimenez, The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, 1997; Lori Carlos, ed., American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults, 1994)

- transnational youth cultures: the differences between North American and European youth literatures(s) and the ways in which they intersect with and influence one another (Christine Beigel, Jean Molla, Stéphanie Benson in France ; Annika Thor, Johanna Thydell, Arne Sungen in Sweden ; Melvin Burgess in Great Britain)

- life-writings (the graphic memoir, the journal, autobiographical fiction, testimony) and the postcolonial, transnational models of resistance they represent (Malala Yousafsai's I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education, 2013)

- health issues (anorexia, bulimia, cancer, HIV/AIDS) and their inclusion in young adult literature (Janet Bode, Food Fight, 1997; Diana Sharples, Running Lean, 2013; John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, 2012; Courtney Sheinmel, Positively, 2009); sexual violence (Sapphire, Push, 1996)

- the genre of the school story and its transformation across the ages, along with its cinematographic adaptations, from Jane Eyre, David Copperfield and A Separate Peace to Harry Potter, Glee and Beverley Hills 90210.

- the emergence of virtual writing and reading communities via online applications such as Wattpad; does their success compete with or complement printed material? Do they replace traditional journals and diaries? What stylistic and linguistic forms of innovation do they propose?

- the perspective of photographers on the experience of growing up, the transition from childhood to adulthood (i.e. South-African photographer Michelle Sank); photographing young people from different backgrounds and through street photography and collaborative work with youth groups; work on portraits to question much of the public's perception (or misconception) of young people.

300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers in English or French must be sent to both Delphine Letort (delphine.letort@univ-lemans.fr) and Elisabeth Lamothe (elisabeth.lamothe@univ-lemans.fr) by September 15, 2015. Contributors should also send a short biographical note indicating their institutional affiliation.