I have reported the facts as accurately as my memory permitted me. But to what extent did I believe in my delirium? That's the basic question, and yet I can't tell. I realized later that we can know everything about our attachments except their force, that is, their sincerity. Acts themselves cannot serve as a measuring-rod unless one has proved that they are not gestures, which is not always easy.
J.-P. Sartre (1964: 69).


To walk through the school during class inter-sessions, to be in the commons during the day or in the cafeteria at lunch, is to be surrounded by what one may first perceive as a swarm of students, an all but undifferentiated mass. %%bile the student body in Sheffield is not a particularly large one, as far as high schools go, it is one that fills its building to capacity. And while it soon becomes easy to refine one's observations and cane to see students as either younger or older, male or female, well dressed or not so well dressed, tall or short, athletic looking or thin and sickly, it remains that all the students are teenagers, white, well fed and prosperous (from "somewhat" to "very"), essentially "nice kids" as all the teachers would tell you.

After a few days or weeks the impression of homogeneity disappears. As one "gets to know the school" two types of units become significant. They become all the more significant as one gets to know the school more and more as the students know it. These units are, first and foremost, individual students with their personal histories. These units are also the "clicks," with their personal histories too.

That there should be persons in the school may seem so common-sensical as to be unmentionable. That there should be "clicks" may seem more interesting, though not exactly surprising.[ftn 1] Human beings do form groups, and small subgroups within a complex society may be labelled "cliques," /kli:ks/, with the long "e" which will transform a colloquial term into a sociological category. It should then be easy to describe how many cliques there are in the school, what is their membership, how new members are recruited, how they function and how they interact.

The student cliques do seem to possess a tangible organizational reality. One of the first things that we noted in our fieldnotes, both after observation and in reports of things we were told, was that, in the cafeteria-commons, certain tables were occupied regularly by the same individuals. They seemed to defend their right to be there with some jealousy, if not also with some diffidence and apology. There obviously were clique-like things in the school. It took us a longer time to recognize the presence of the embarrassment that most students exhibited when talking about their own clique. Most students would refuse to recognize that they had their own clique. It was all the more easy to miss this process of distantiation for we saw these students constantly together, and other students had no hesitation to tell us "how can you stand these jocks?" "These jocks" did not hesitate either to talk about "the freaks." Individual students could give us even more complex pictures of a slightly fantastic social organization.

As an illustration of the difficulties involved, I would like to let us follow, for a while, the historical process of the investigation. I will first quote from the field notes that one of the field-workers wrote after his first encounter with the students in the cafeteria.

Text 47

I arrived at the school at the end of the first period. I went to the cafeteria. Music was playing. I spoke with the teacher in charge. I went to a group sitting at one of the tables.... They were playing cards. There were three boys and one girl. The group happened to be seniors... One of the boys and the girl were planning to sneak out. (They mentioned that their favorite radio station is one that is known for softer rather than harder rock music)... The next period, I went back to the same table where students were smoking, playing cards. They mentioned that they were more interested in hard rock music. After a while I moved to another table. I sat near one of the students. He happened to be co-captain of the football team. He was filling out an application for college. The other students also talked about college... This group seemed to be fairly involved in college activities, somewhat more so than the college preparatory group I met in the previous period. Later a boy walked in who was state champion in track. He got a lot of good natured kidding from the group... During a later period I went over to another table. Again it was occupied by seniors.... Discussion here concerned soccer versus football. There was a lot of joking back and forth about how the soccer team was always winning and the football team was having losing seasons...

The field worker talked over the course of the day with four groups of students who remained unidentified. Given that presence in the cafeteria was predicated on scheduling, it couldn't yet be ascertained whether these groups were more than ad hoc transient phenomena. The following day things became clearer:

Text 48

The next day, I also went to the cafeteria to talk with students. Marylin Dolby told me that she had met [one of the other field workers] at lunch, but that they had sat at another table. She said she sat there because "well, our friends are there." Next Joe complained about hockey. He plays basketball and was talking about the rivalry between the two sports... Several boys at the table asked Cathy for some paper. These boys were freaks... The next period several boys whom I met the other day (those who play football) walked in. They joked about how they always had to switch tables on Thursdays... They informed me that they had seen (the other field worker) in the area for the lungs...

Now, the fieldworker is talking about "freaks" and "lungs." Something has happened.

He has adopted the student terminology and reified a category. Where did he get the category from? From the students themselves. A few pages later he reports on a conversation he had with a student that same day:

Text 49

I had a rather lengthy conversation with Bobby Christian, and I also found out that he is a football player. Bobby introduced me to the idea of the lungs, namely that is a group referred to as the long hair or freaks. They got their nickname from a Jethro Tull album called "Aqualung" where a freak appears with an aqualung on the front cover. I was informed that the lungs were responsible for wrecking the school lounge and the fact that they wore flannel shirts and jeans. I noticed that Chris Borden a first string football player was wearing flannel shirt and jeans, but he was not sitting with the lungs.

When the field worker wrote his field notes from the notes he had jotted down during the day, he predated, so to speak, his awareness that the students at the next table were "freaks." The easiness with which he did this reveals also how ready he, in fact, was to find such a classification.[ftn 2] But he still remained sensitive enough in his notes that day to report the following two other comments.

Text 50

Some discussion upon my inquiry was made as to senior privileges. Again the seniors expressed the desire for a senior lounge and noted that it was destroyed by the lungs... The guidance office, I was informed, had become a sort of senior lounge. The lungs, though are not allowed in and it's more or less a football lounge. The expression "bad news" was used for any lung who walked in.

He has not labelled "the seniors" that were his source here in any special way. In his next sentence something changes:

Text 51

I take this to be one of the facts that the lungs destroyed the student lounge and now that the jocks have their own, they cannot get into the lounge or some sort of argument might take place.

The fieldworker is commenting, and he is designating the students he is with by a name that appears to apply logically to them--and indeed they were so called by other students--but which they do not seem to have volunteered.[ftn 3] They were willing to talk about "the lungs," "they," as a group. They would not talk in the same way about themselves. They did not refer to themselves as "jocks" or even a "football" crowd. They talked of themselves as of a universe from which a subgroup, "the lungs," seceded.

This is a general point. All the students could, and generally were also willing, to talk about cliques. They could disagree about certain aspects of the actual organization, but they did understand each other.

Text 52

I asked the girls about Sheffield High School's relationship with the township high school. Gloria Johnson said that the kids are richer there and that the kids are not the same. Barbara Fillmore and Sue Marsden said, well no that the kids are the same. Gloria said that she hears that the jocks and the freaks are more extreme at the township school. Barbara said: "How could they be more extreme than they are here!" Gloria explained that she thought that they were more extreme and that the freaks were more "blown out" looking, that their hair was wilder and their clothing and that they did freakier things, but then she added that the jocks and the freaks were less segregated than they are at Sheffield. She said that they seem to get along with each other. She said at Sheffield the people are not as different or as extreme from each other, but that they don't get along with each other very well.

Text 53

Bobby Christian: "There were jock kids who started up the lung bit and then the freaks. Since we're using these kind of terms. The jocks and the freaks in last year's class got in a... didn't get along well, so it kind of left that air in the school. But it's kind of lost now. Nobody really cares.

It would be easy to accumulate such examples. "Jocks and freaks" was one of the subjects which students were most willing to talk to us about. We have many pages of interview transcript on the topic. This predominance is partially due to our interest. It was a very safe topic. There was little emotional involvement and no reluctance. The other two topics that interested us and about which we got less and less is the relation of the students with their teachers and male-female relationships. We tried to make all interviewees talk about the latter topic. Almost all refused, more or less directly.

I will not try to evaluate how "important" cliques were. Various students had various opinions on this topic. The same individual sometimes told us different things at different points in the interview. It remains that the clique experience was a favorite topic of cultural manipulation. As such it is an excellent source of data about rhetorical operations.

Some students had a particularly fertile imagination. One of the most famous was Jack Saario, a senior. He played the role of the "original" actively and self consciously. All seniors knew about him. He was famous for being the type who would take a pornographic magazine to the school, and also for being one of the most academically successful student in the senior class. He was accepted by Harvard and Yale. He was also very good at making clique organization a complex if not baroque phenomenon:

Text 54

Jack Saario: "Now, the freaks are the drama section of the school. Anything to do with drama or even the band and music and art, they are more or less the freaks, the long hairs. The jocks are the athletics, the guys that are going out for all that type of thing, the big muscle builders. Now the confrontation is mostly probably one of antagonism. The freaks don't particularly care for the jocks, but there is, of course, intermingling."

Text 55

"Now, you've got the two main bits of the school. You've got the jocks and you've got the freaks. That is to further subdivide it. Ok, within the jocks there's football, all the major sports, there's the football, the soccer, cross country. Those three. This is fall sports. I don't know how the rest of them go. But they are more or less stable because each one takes a different sport. But in the winter it's different because you've got hockey and bowling. Well, it's different. It sort of juggles out. Anyway, in the football there's George Singer, Henry Stevenson, David Hymes, Earl Parsons. There's a couple more to that too, I guess. Bowlby, yeah. Mark Bowlby. They do their own thing. They are always... They are a clique... They are friends and they're a clique together. They do their own thing like they go out and play basketball. They'll have parties and their broads will be together and that's it."

I: "Who are their broads?"

JS: "I really don't know because it more or less changes. OK, there's Tracy Rivers I mentioned with David Byrnes. But George Singer, I really don't know. He's a fairly good ladies' man. I don't know who he's going with now. But probably the cheerleader type thing. Marty Larson is going with, I don't know her name, but he's going with a creamcheese type too. Those are the fairly smart kids, the smarter ones. Then there's another level. Now these guys, like Willy Brier, he's not tall, but he's big. He's a big guy and he strikes you more or less as the gorilla type. They form together. They're real jocks. I mean they demonstrate their virility doing pushups, that type of thing. That's another clique, more or less. A lot of people would disagree with me and say, oh,
you're wrong, you're right or something, but more or less. Then there's... ok, going into freaks. There really isn't a clique any more. It's like I said. All the freaks are gone. I'm more or less one of the only freaks around. My clique is let's see, Thomas Friedman, Sloan Addison, Robby Thomson, Jimmy Gladstone and a couple of kids in college. They're in college now, but they're still members, but they came back."

Jack Saario was one of the most self-examining student we interviewed. He was also one of the very few who could talk about "my clique" and treat it as the same type of event as other students' cliques. But, possibly because he treats it in a similar manner, he continues to talk of his friends as "they," rather than as "we," as we might have expected. Jack Saario's picture is stylistically typical. Its broad sweep would be recognizable by anybody who "knew the school." There could be disagreement about the details: Who was a clique with whom; how to label the cliques; even how many there were. Roy Carter, for example cane up with still other cliques:

Text 56

"Well, let's see. That shouldn't be too difficult. Cliques are some of the most obvious things in the school... This may sound strange, but the library clique, which is the group of people who work in the library all the time and they rarely associate with anybody else. For example, this would be Rosalyn Jordan, Hamilton Miller is an exception to that rule. I wouldn't consider him part of that clique per se because he's involved in quite a few other things. He has not limited himself to that. Another group, as I said before, would be the go-out-on Saturday-night-and-get-bombed group... Another group, I guess this group is not really as distinctive as it was just even a year or two ago and that would be the drama group; which was an extremely exclusive group until this year. It was characterized by snobbishness and unwillingness to let any non-drama clique become one of the circle. The types whose sports is their sole extra-curricular activity. Well, that will not include Craig Travino in that group because he's one of these people who transcends the line drawn by cliques. He's involved in one heck of a lot of other things besides that clique. Some other people might classify say, William Gregory, myself, Jack Saario and a few others, or as Miss Kennedy says the 'brain trust,' which I prefer not to think of because whether it's true or not I like to think of myself as getting along well with most other groups in the school."

As Roy Carter then told us as a conclusion: "If I thought some more, I could come up with a few more of the larger ones."

Jocks and Freaks: An Overview

I have quoted these statements at length because they are fascinating artifacts. They are fascinating, first, because they belong to a common type of which most anthropologists of American life have collected many examples. Fran L. Warner (1963),to Hollingshead (1949), to Vidich and Bensman (1968) to S. Sinha (1966), any researcher who has asked has collected similar statements from his informants. Indeed, variations on a similar pattern are often produced by the best of American writers. See for example Mrs. Turpin's dream in Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation" (see epigraph to Chapter VIII) when she tries to "name the classes of people" and ends up dreaming of them, as they "moiled" and "roiled" around in her head, crammed together in a box car, being ridden off to be put in a gas oven (1972: 491-2). Another examplecould be found in John Updike's description of the evolution of Tarbox's "society" in Couples:

The people who did throw parties were a decade older and seemed rather coarse and blatant—Dan Mills, the bronzed, limping, and alcoholic owner of the abortive Tarbox boat yard; Eddie Warner, the supervisor of a Mather paint plant, a bullet-headed ex-athlete who could still at beery beach picnics float the ball a mile in the gull-gray dusk; Dock Allen... To Janet they seemed desperate people, ignorant and provincial and loud. Their rumored infidelities struck her as pathetic; their evident heavy drinking disgusted her... The boatyard crowd, a postwar squirearchy of combat veterans, locally employed and uncollegiate, knew that it was patronized by these younger cooler people and suffered no regrets when they chose to form a separate set and to leave them alone with their liquor and bridge games and noisy reminescences of Anzio and Guadalcanal. (1970: 115-6)

The typifying of persons whom one knows well and from whom one is distancing oneself, the increased reification of these types into cliques, sets or classes, as the people the speaker is talking about recede further away from him in social space, are a common feature of the American imagination, whether it is expressed in the daily interpretations of unreflective actors, in literary creations or in "scientific" description.

What we must ask ourselves now is the following: What is the exact relation of such statements to social organization on the one hand and to American culture on the other? In other words, what is the source of these statements? Too often researchers have taken them as direct reflections of social experiences. From Warner to Vidich and Bensman we observe processes of reification which are similar to those that worked themselves through the field-worker I quoted earlier, or indeed through Jack Saario and all the students who placed themselves, or whom the interviewer placed, in the position of ethnosociologist of their own society.[ftn 4]

There is something inherently suspicious in any sociological analysis which duplicates the analysis of the informants--particularly when to do so is not the goal of the research. The verisimilitude of the analysis makes it easy to loose track of the fact that statements like Jack Saario's are the product of a unique position which must be understood in its own terms. This position is not the position of objectivity divorced from any cultural subjectivity, as the participants might say. It is rather a culturally subjective position, the position of /objectivitydivorced-from-cultural-subjectivity/ that is marked symbolically through various means.

When the position of observer is seen as just one of the possible positions which informants can occupy, it becomes easier to account for other aspects of the purported descriptions than the supposed "facts" they contain about who is a jock, or a freak. I talked about the students' diffidence, the recurrent denial of the existence or relevance of the various cliques and the even more radical refusal to consider themselves the full fledged member of any clique. Typical of this attitude was Roy Carter's statement about the "'brain trust' [the quote marks are his] which I prefer not to think of because, whether it is true or not, I like to think of myself as getting along well with most other groups in the school (T51). Carter, in three steps,

  1. affirms the existence of a clique (by naming it)
  2. distances himself ("whether it is true or not")
  3. states his universal openness ("I like to think of myself as getting along well with most...")

and ends up reaffirming that there are groups. Maureen Travers moves back and forth in a similar way in the following text:

Text 57

She said that people have certain interests and so they hang around with each other. She said, however, that this does not really divide people. She said that when she sees jocks and freaks drinking and smoking together at parties, she knows that the so-called division is a fallacy. In school, she said, the jocks and freaks segregate themselves because they are pursuing different interests and therefore would not tend to be in the same place at the same time. Outside of school, however, the jocks and freaks are together. She then noted that all of the people in Sheffield have a lot in common because they are all from the same type of families and the same background.

In another situation, she specifically denied that she and her "loose group of friends" labelled themselves anything. She then told George Singer, one of these friends, that other people knew him as a jock. On another occasion he had told us that he was "nothing." In fact he was also one of the students who had been prevented by the coach from playing on the basketball team. He did dress smartly and expressed conservative politics. He was also seen regularly with the student government president and his friends, who were known by same as "freaks," and who regularly expressed ultra-liberal political sentiments.

There were students who were so universally known that they could not escape the label. Students in the corridor would whisper "jock" when they walked by. Others would read graffitti in the bathrooms about how they should cut their hair and get clean. The star of the basketball team, Paul Taft, was in this position. He was, undoubtedly, a gifted athlete. He was the first student in the high school's history to score more than 1,000 points during his career. In this position was also Abe Stevenson whose hair fell below his shoulders, who never came to school except in dubiously clean jeans and who constantly talked of bucking the authorities. Paul Taft was the jock for anybody but himself and his closest friends. Abe Stevenson was the freak for anybody but, again, himself and his closest friends. Abe Stevenson told us that he was "a loner" who stayed mostly "by himself" and that he was in fact "a jock at heart." Paul Taft told us the same things, in reverse:

Text 58

"But those people that want to get away from it, those that are, you know, use 'the system' with a derogatory tone in their voice, are the ones that are the freaks, the radicals, the outsiders. I don't look at then as outsiders because I am part of that myself. I think a lot of the freaks..."[ftn 5]

All this indicates that several things are going on at the same time here. All the students act, all of them have friends (except for a few true loners). Out of this material they construct the statements which I have been quoting. Moreover, these statements are all built on the same pattern.

The Experiential Basis

Let us first look at the experiential material. Something must be happening in the school which can trigger among the students the impression that a clique has formed. Something must also be happening that supports the converse contention that cliques are, in fact, not present.

To sketch the experiential basis for the clique experience is a very difficult task, particularly if we are to preserve the great fluidity of the systems. At all times we must remember that the students were constantly being reshuffled by the great maelstroms of the schedules and the physical plant. Within any "class" (senior, junior, etc.) all students did get to know about everybody at least by name and by broad reputation. Students who might otherwise not have had anything to do with each other were thus thrown together, they had to meet and talk and handle each other. Conversely no group, however small and cohesive, could be consistently "together." They might make different classes, have lunch during different periods, or not be able to sit and talk in the commons during a free period.

All this meant that a clique was not an immediate reality. A clique did not walk down corridors as a phalanx. It did not have a flag or totem to which only it would be entitled. All the diacritic marks which students quoted as helping in the symbolization of the cliques (long hair, a neat appearance, varsity jackets, blue jeans, suits and ties), could all be used by people who did not belong to the clique that used one of these marks. They might sometimes even be used by members of the opposite cliques: All male students, for example, whatever their clique affiliation were photographed in a suit and tie for the pictures that appeared in the yearbook.

A clique is, thus, always a reconstruction based on a segregation of certain types of relationships as the significant ones. Two things are of major relevance: Outward expression of oneself in terms of personal grooming and presentation of self, and who is seen consistently with whom. Typical of a "clique" situation would be a table in the commons with three or four students facing each other and involved in sane sort of joint activity. On such grounds one can sketch the nuclei of various groups. Let us look at three groups that include boys whom we have already met. One of the most visible of these groupings of students was made up of Paul Taft and Bobby Christian. They were both on the football and basketball teams, they were in many of the same classes and they were consistently together during free periods. Both dressed conservatively, their hair was short, though not quite as short as the hair on many other boys. Both were considered "good" by the adults who gave them many extra privileges. As the assistant principal told us, he did not notice them if he saw them roaming the halls during class time on the assumption that they had a "good reason" for doing it. Both told us that they were each other's "best friend." There were differences between them. Bobby Christian was more conservative ideologically than Paul Taft, less open to other ways than his own. Taft is the student who told us that he was himself "part of the freaks, the radicals, the outsiders."

Craig Travino was often associated with them. He was captain of the soccer team and on the basketball team. He, too, gave an outward appearance of relaxed conservativism. He was also much more successful than Taft and Christian academically (although these two were far from being poor students). Though he was not the best student in the school, he was still considered by general agreement the best "all around" student. Several students told us that these were "the typical jocks." Taft and Christian agreed that this is how they were seen, and that it was unjustified.

Another of these highly visible groupings of students centered around Walt Mason and Bill Silvestri both of whom were the exemplary freaks, an appelation which Mason and Silvestri acknowledged, even though they, too, protested that it was unfair. Mason and Silvestri seemed inseparable. Both had long hair falling over their shoulders, both generally dresssed in a very sloppy sort of way. They cursed and made a point of challenging adults and those students who did not assert themselves in interaction with the adults. This was particularly true of Mason, who, though a junior, already had a very bad reputation. He had had several encounters with the law, including a conviction for grand larceny. He told us that his family was "richer than most." He was also on the football team and at least one informant thought of him as "a jock" while another freak, Abe Stevenson included him in a "trouble-maker" list we asked many students to
make for us. Several other students did too. Silvestri himself was never included. Silvestri was the oldest student in the school at 20 years of age. He had dropped out of school and cane back. He was the one with whom Taft mentioned a link. He also told us that he was "mostly friendly" with Walt Mason and Dan Roberts. This one was in fact at the core of another clique of freaks/trouble-makers among whom were found most of the students who had a police record, who had pulled false alarms and who were also the poorest students--academically and economically. Mason and Silvestri, and sometimes Stevenson, formed a group that could be distinguished from the group which congregated around Roberts.

Another grouping which seemed to have had some experiential reality as a clique in spite of being extremely disparate was made up of Greg Halston, Thomas Friedman, William Gregory, Jack Saario and George Singer. Their personal appearance varied all the way from George Singer's dandyism to Friedman's and Saario's blue jeans, tee shirts and long hair. Their ideology covered the whole spectrum. The only thing they shared was academic excellence. William Gregory collected the most academic prizes at the end of the year and made a speech at graduation. I have already talked of Jack Saario at length (T54, T55). George Singer almost got admitted to Westpoint and was a teacher's aide in German. Halston was a more indifferent student academically, but he was the president of the Student Council in which Saario and Singer were also quite interested and to which they gave a "freakish" appearance.

Interestingly some of these boys were also labelled "freaks," and they sometimes acknowledged the label. But none of them were ever seen by one of us interacting with the other "freaks," while they sometimes were seen with the "jocks." Indeed Singer, was on the football team and was often listed as a jock. It might be best, after all, not to think of this group as a clique but as the "brain trust" as Carter put it, a more or less ad hoc assemblage brought together by a shared interest rather than friendship.

One group was well known to have formed in just this way. It was the "Audio-Visual and Stage Crew." William Gregory was a member of this crew and Saario was often seen in the AV roam. It was universally agreed that members of the AV crew were "loners." This made their reality as a clique a matter of dispute among informants. It was agreed that the AV crew was seen consistently together but that they were not together in quite the same way as the freaks were for the jocks, or the jocks for the freaks, or as any speaker's "loose group of friends" can be said to be "together."

Even after one has taken into consideration the fact that I looked only at what appeared the most "solid" nucleus of the various cliques, and that there were many students at the fringes, plus much movement back and forth and quite a lot of shared history between these cliques, it remains that the students' perception of what were cliques was grounded in some objective experience.[ftn 6] Seating arrangements in the commons, marked encounters in the corridors, invitations to parties or decisions as to whom to roam about with were not made randomly. Even though students consistently refused to look at their association with other students as a manifestation of "clique" behavior on their part, they did agree that they had "friends," good friends and "best" friends.

Not surprisingly perhaps, there was a lot of agreement between our observations of who was consistently engaged with whom, other students' assessments of who a particular student's best friends were, and this student listing of who they were. This agreement was not absolute, though. We were often confronted with much resistance when we probed to get informants to make strict qualifications. Typical is a statement like, "Yes, I am friendly with Jack, but only in school, not out of school." Another student, William Gregory, after he had ended giving a list of students who sat at the same table he did, was asked: "Are these your best friends?"(T54). He answered: "No, not as a group, no not really, but it's difficult to say."

William Gregory has understood the question but he can not answer it by a simple yes or no. It has to be qualified. The situation is not one that can be dealt with unequivocally. We have no example of a student seriously acknowledging membership in a clique. All see cliquishness as a bad thing. Conversely students agree that they have friends and that to have friends is a good thing. The problem is that the experience of friendship and the experience of cliqueishness—an "alleged" experience so to speak since students who can talk at great length about what it consists of will not recognize experiencing it in the present moment—can only be differentiated clearly in the "natural" contexts where one is an insider to a "loose group of friends," or an ad hoc list of people who sit at the same table, and an outsider to several cliques perceived as segregative to oneself. However, the interview situation is perceived by both the (American) interviewer and the student as an "outside" situation where one is reflecting upon experience rather than living it. Thus, a student is forced toconsider his own group as he knows outsiders would look at it. At the same time, he recognizes that this "objective" rendering of his experience does violence to what he experiences "in-situation." Many students dealt with this dilemma by refusing to play the game of objectivity with the interviewer. They knew their "inside" could be seen as an "outside" and they protested, they hedged, or they altogether refused to make a list they knew might be used against them. "Are these your best friends?" "Not as a group." This sentence is paradigmatic of an interpretative style, a rhetoric where groups and the denial of groups are closely linked together in such a way as to be inseparable.

It is for these reasons that the ability of an observer, even a "participant" observer, to make such lists as I drew earlier must be considered suspect. There is no way to arrive at an "objective" outline of the cliques. In order to deal more "naturally" with this experience let us examine an incident that provided a major source for the development of texts among certain students in the school.

The Senior Lounge: A Case Study

One of the first things we were told (see T49 and T50) was that the "lungs" had destroyed the "senior lounge." It had been set up the year before in a hallway with a few second-hand couches and chairs from the teacher's lounge which had just been renovated. At the end of the year things were in a state of disarray, the furniture was "destroyed." The administration cleared the space and the following year the seniors "had no place to go" as some of them complained. The people who complained were not numerous but very visible. They raised the issue at most student council meetings and "senior luncheons" (when the principal talked informally over lunch with a group of seniors). The administration was non-committal. Yes, Foster said in essence, he thought seniors should have a lounge, a nice one in a separate room with new furniture and games, a pool table maybe, or ping pong. But there was no such room available in the school, no money to furnish it and, anyway, the matter was for the School Board to decide. Indeed, a school lounge, and a commons roan separate from the cafeteria were on the plan for an extension of the high school that was being submitted for the Board's approval before a vote for a bond issue was made. Foster did not tell the students that these items had really been added to the plan to allow the board to feel responsible by cutting frills while it still approved what the planning commission really wanted...

So, there was no senior lounge the year we were in Sheffield. The interesting thing in this matter is that the students who did complain were all drawn from the same group of students, girls mostly, many of whom were cheerleaders or friends of cheerleaders, most of whom were "friends with" the athletes even though, as one of them told a field-worker, "It's the boys who are really the jocks." She knew other people would refer to her as a jock. Or, rather, since, jock was a label that was used exclusively for boys, she knew that she and her friends were looked at as a clique that was the female counterpart of the jocks. Except for the girls in that clique, anybody who was interested in the matter, including the male jocks, thought of these girls as the most cliquish group to be found in the school. They were also the same girls who said that it would be "bad news" if freaks lingered in the guidance office, which, during the first part of the year, was used by them as an informal gathering place (until they were kicked out by the guidance staff). By implication, they stated that they were not freaks. But what was it that they presented themselves as, positively?

Let us look briefly at a rather typical thoughsomewhat formal, statement by a student on the issue of the senior lounge. It was written for the school paper by Ken Morrison, a senior and editor-in-chief of the paper. He stood, as far as-his social relationships were concerned, somewhat outside the most visible cliques. This did not prevent him fran being able to talk about the issue in an appropriate style:

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The student body fought for a lounge which they received. For three years the seniors had a lounge of their own. Each class had to bargain for its lounge. The present senior class has not really been given the opportunity to bargain for a lounge. This is due mainly to the record of excellence and cultural activity which has came from the senior lounge. In the three years since its inception, the senior lounge has been a tremendous catastrophe. Many will of course disagree but it is worth looking at the facts. The senior lounge has produced no beneficial results, less than ten percent of the seniors have used the lounge... The administration believes that the senior lounge was a failure... It is my belief that there will be a senior lounge when a good set of regulations which can be enforced and a well suited area can be provided... [Is] the senior lounge only [a] dream? I truly believe that most people do not think this and because of their beliefs they will work for the goal. The lounge , if designed properly, will have a beneficial effect on both the school, and yet more so on the students. Whatever the outcome, the effort will have been worth all we have done to better ourselves.

To talk about jocks and freaks in such a setting would have been totally unacceptable. Morrison had to elevate his style in certain systematic ways. However the picture of the social organization of the participants in the incidents which Morrison draws in this text is fully consistent with the pictures which were drawn by other participants in less formal situations. He talks successively of

We should note that Morrison casts his text within two different frames as the shifts from "description" (signalled through the various realizations of /they/) to opinion or "moralizing" (signalled through various realization of /I/ and /we/). Within the descriptive parts he separates "the administration" from the "students" from "ten percent of the students" (the ten percents who would have been labelled by the proponents of the senior lounge as "the freaks" in any other less public context). Even more important is that no other subgroup within "the seniors" is marked besides the "ten percent." This is also marked by the dichotomy "many/most people." It is certain that Morrison does not intend "many" to refer solely to "the ten percent." It remains that he does not mark that there could be several "many's," several groups of people each holding slightly different opinions on the subject: The "greasers," the "trouble-makers," not to mention the "brain trusts," would probably not participate any more in a lounge marked "for jocks" than they participated in one marked "for freaks". What Morrison does mark is a model of a social system where, on the one hand, a large undifferentiated mass, all of whom share the same universalitic interests, is opposed by, on the other hand, a small group. It is implied that this small group has pushed particularistic interests antithetical to the mass's interest. This justifies an attempt at rejection.

The issue here is not that this particular way of dealing with the incidents hid as much of the reality of the school as it made manifest, though this should always remain in the back of our mind. The issue is that this statement is organized very much as any statements made by an insider are organized about an outside group whose behavior is disturbing. The reader can check back to T48 and T49 and to my previous discussion of the way jock girls communicated their interest in not really having a "senior" lounge as they would always put it, using the universalistic label as their positive identity, but a jock lounge from which freaks would be forbidden. I also suspect that what happened the year before is not that the freaks "destroyed" the lounge but that they appropriated it to themselves and made it freak-like which made it unacceptable for the jocks (and glso for the school administration since the lounge was located in a place where it was the first thing parents who visited the school saw). However, and this is a major theme of my whole study, the socio-psychological "reality" of the senior lounge as it was raised by the jocks did not determine the way jock speakers expressed their needs.

Jocks and Freaks: Organization and Rhetoric

Undoubtedly, there is an organizational reality to the jocks, the freaks, the loners who belong to the AV crew, the trouble-makers and even the "nobodies," viz. those students who were never mentioned by other students and with whom we failed to interact. Out of 181 seniors there were 76 who were mentioned less than five times in our field notes: we just didn't see them. For any one student most students were "nobodies." He had never talked to them. They were an undifferentiated mass, particularly when they were not in their classes. This ignorance is an objective organizational fact. The school is not a "small" community "where everybody knows everybody else."

I mentioned earlier the major ways used by adults to differentiate the students: academic achievement, athletic prowess, attitude, participation in certain sports or clubs rather than others, class, sex, etc. All of these are pieces of the environment. They provide the students with two things. First, they provide them with reasons to meet, to relate and to become visible as a group to outsiders. Second, they provide labels. On some occasions the labels and the situations coincide, i.e. the adults have already labelled the situation. This is particularly obvious with sports. They are social situations that are named as separate, different, and thus real events. Adults may also provide situations which are not labelled as social situations per se: bathrooms and separable tables in the cafeteria would be examples. Adults sometimes also provide labels for groups that are not supported by any institutional structure: "The trouble-makers" was such a label. There was no "trouble-making" team like there was a "basketball" team, but there were jocks, and there were troublemakers.

The broader environment of the students also provide elements to manipulate. Many of these have been well documented and I will not spend time on them: economic means, residence, and life style of the parents, all are inescapable. What is interesting is the process of transformation of these elements into something that can be used in clique formationand labelling. Take the "trouble-maker" label, for example. The mass media per se does not create a group or clique. It does not provide a situation. The media provide models for personal behavior and short hand labels which can transform a range of behavior into a significant unit. The media may suggest that all people who behave that way or who accept the label are a group of sorts ("the hippies...they"). The students can then manipulate these labels. The labels can either refer to all students whom they think exhibit labelled behavior by the same name as if they were a group, or they can limit the use of the word to one clique of actually interacting friends.

They may even do both at the same time. The confusion as to who were the freaks in the school is interesting in this context. There were at least two freak cliques, if not three. Let us label them for the purpose of this analysis the "academic freaks" (Saaario, Friedman, and Gregory), the "freak freaks" (Mason and Silvestri) and the "hard core freaks" (made up of students who were also the poorest, academically and economically). All these students exhibited freakish behavior: long hair, sloppy clothes, dirty language, radical rhetoric and revolt against authority and custom, drug usage, put down of sports and political nationalism. They were not exhibiting all of these things to the same degree but they exhibited enough of them so that outsiders could pick on the performance and say "Ohl so and so is a freak." They might also talk of the "freaks" in a straightforward sense as "all those who exhibit behavior A." But they could be led to assume that all freaks were one clique, friendly to each other. Some students did think that Jack Saario and Bill Silvestri were friends. They were wrong.

The conditions that make the mistakes possible are what interest us here. If ad hoc groupings and organized cliques can be mistaken one for the other in elaborate communication about them, it must be because the elements by which they are marked possess something in common that is very strong. There are no simple mechanisms by which a distinction can be made between a "they" which refers to an ad hoc grouping of miscellaneous individuals and a "they" which refers to an organized set of relating individuals. Only the context, or the direct experience of the interlocutors can tell. Very often the context is muddy and the interlocutors have never shared experiences with the people they talk about.

Let us look in some more detail at a case illustrating something that is midway between a full clique and a pure ad hoc class: the "AV crew." Strictly speaking the "crew" was made up of all the students who were in charge of delivering audiovisual equipment from the storeroom to the classroom where it was needed, and then retrieving it. They had a labelled responsibility, occasions to relate and a territory (the storeroom). Furthermore, they had some influence over the recruitment of new members of the crew (the same type of power the cheerleaders and twirlers had over recruitment into their ranks). In a formal way, they were a proper "they." They could easily have used all of these resources for some of them to organize themselves as a clique. Indeed, the AV storeroom was more than a neutral space defined by its efficient function as a storeroom. Members of the crew used it as the base for social encounters: They attracted to the room people who were not officially members of the crew. The issue for us, but also for the students and the teachers, is the extent to which the students who had established residence in the AV storeroom were or were not a clique.

One of the problems was that there were no national models to provide a clear representation of the crew. "AV" refers to a function or activity, it is not a label of persons as all the other labels are("jocks" is a different sort of label than "football" even though they are associated. A jock is a person, football is an activity which is often performed by jocks). What was experienced was a "difference"--and this difference was real, organizationally. What this difference was was the issue. It came out as "hostility." A teacher told us (I paraphrase): "Peter Kelly isn't liked by many students. In fact all students who belong to the AV crowd are not liked much by the others. They all seem to be strange loners who just get along with each other because they have nowhere else to go. Most of the students in the group don't even like each other." (T60)

Since there is no mass media model, it becomes necessary for the informant to look actually at the interaction of people in the postulated clique to evaluate the extent to which they are friendly to each other, and whether they are seen together in other situations than their official duties. We are brought back to "friendship" as the pivotal factor. Simple interaction, even when it is accompanied by similarity of life style and outlook is not enough. Something else is necessary.
Since the AV crew does not exhibit this other element, the group they form is not recognized, even by outsiders, as a proper clique.

This case is interesting because it illustrates that outsiders to a group can come to doubt the existence of the group as a clique in much the same way as insiders continually doubt the reality of their own group. What is fascinating is that the doubt does not concern the organizational reality of the AV crew. Everyone agreed that they did interact, that they were "the same" and they were listed as a clique by some of our informants in certain contexts. But in other contexts this organizational reality ceased to be relevant.

This is the central issue: The students experience groups, both their own as insiders and others as outsiders, but this experience is indeterminant enough, socially speaking, that it is possible for them to make further distinctions when they have to communicate this experience. The jocks did want a lounge of their own and, in their political maneuvers, they were, wittingly or not, a group. When they got to talk about themselves, their existence as a group was not an overwhelming experience for the opposite experience of themselves was very real too. They were also a loose group of friends where the friendship ties were always in the process of renegotiation.

I, We and They

What it is that the students actually experience, individually is difficult to ascertain. First, "experience" is a totality within which the kinds of matter I am dealing with here form but a limited, though generative, role. No two students experience the school in quite the same way. Nor does the same student experience it the same way across time and contexts. But the goal of my research is not to ascertain what the students do experience, it is to describe the means at their disposal to communicate whatever experience they may have.

Let us look more carefully mw at how the students' reluctance to label "a clique" the set of people with whom they prefer to interact was expressed, even while they agree that there are cliques in the school. In the process we will delineate more exactly the relationship between adult and children performances. To begin this, let us look at a long conversation with Paul Taft (r61). He was asked by the fieldworker to talk about "cliques," "what different groups are like,""the names people apply." Taft agrees to talk about the subject ("the most obvious cliques are the athletes and the freaks") yet rejectsthe initiation of the division on outsiders ("there are certain rules that are set up for [the athletes) by most likely, the freaks"). He is then pushed by the field worker ("how would you describe a freak... physically?). He starts describing the "stereotype" (sic) of the freak ("shoulder length hair or something like that"). He insists that he himself does or has done what only freaks are supposed to do (wear dirty jeans to school, smoke pot, like hard rock music, etc.), "Many of the things they do are things I do, you know." Until then all the "theys" like the one in the last sentence refer to "the freaks," or so it seems. This remark is followed by a request for clarification "Like what? Can you give me an example?" Taft answers:

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"You know, going to parties. Although myself, I'm not really involved with narcotics of that type. Even though my view on marijuana is one where it really doesn't bother me. People that do it, I could care less. But some kids in the high school, the guys that are involved in athletics think a kid does pot--he's a real screwball. It doesn't bother me. My feeling of pot really, you know, is liberal. I'd like to see it legalized because the penalties that are put on to it are really severe to the kids and it really screws them up. So if anyone wants to get high on that, let them. I myself, we go to a party, we drink beer, you know, wine. You know, you go to a concert or something like that, you're going to drink. It shouldn't always be like that, but that's one of the characteristics of it."

This is a verbatim statement which shows that Paul Taft has at his disposal, and can manipulate, the same possibilities for structuring a discourse as the adults have. First, he can extensively vary syntactic means of reference to people who remain in the same position during the course of the utterance (they are all absent "third persons"). Second, Taft manipulates the same rhetorical modes we identified when we looked at adult discourse. There is /I/ and functionally equivalent forms ([myself]), [my views], [my feeling]). There are the functional equivalent of /they/ ([the kids], [them], [the guys that are involved in athletics]). There are the functional equivalent of /it/ ([a kid that does pot is a screwball]). And there are two instances of /we/.[ftn 8]

There is also a /some kids/ which completes the picture Paul Taft is trying to construct. Since we did not deal with /some/ earlier, a brief analysis of the form in its context will help highlight the nature of the operations Taft was performing. Taft is involved in a balancing act during which he describes a state of affairs which must be extensively qualified: "I am not involved in narcotics... It does not bother me."

He then elaborates:

  1. some kids in the high school...
  2. the guys in athletics think...
  3. we go to a party...

The whole description is framed by Taft's /I/. He strongly marks that this description is not a collective performance. What /I/ does, first, is to create by subtraction two ad hoc groups ([people] and [some kids]). It specifies the one quality which each group has in common ([people that do it] and [the guys...in athletics]). What is interesting in the progression [some kids] and [the guys...in athletics] is that the former term is unspecified as to the extension of the group formed while the latter term is over-specified: It can lead one to assume that all athletes share the quality of looking down on drug usage. [Some], by itself, is not quite enough. [The athletes] is too much. The two forms are not equivalent though they are always strongly associated: Use of one necessarily attracts the other as the immediate alternative. As we saw, all participants are aware of the fact that any group can be identified in terms of an activity that appears to be somewhat typical of this group. They are also aware that no activity grouping is homogeneous, that "all who do x" is a true statement only to the extent that it refers to the fact that they all actually do x. They know that all statements to the effect that all x's also do y are necessarily inaccurate.

It is possible, however, to emphasize either the ad hoc character of a group or its broader identification with an activity or a state of being. What are the connotations of each choice? They will appear more clearly after an analysis of Paul Taft's use of /we/. At the beginning, Taft differentiated his self from both "the guys in athletics" and "those kids who think a kid who does pot is a screwball." He is neither one of those who do pot nor one of those who disapprove. Nor is he even one of "the guys in athletics." In the last sentence, he shifts to /we/. Who is we? Later in the interview he makes it clear that they are a subset of (we can assume) the "guys in athletics," an actual clique:

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"The guys that I hang around with are really close. We've been together a really long time. About four or five guys--we are really close even though I think the clique encompasses a lot of guys... No one is hung up on any problems. But there are a lot of guys in the clique who are... They follow everything that was followed before."

"The guys that I hack around with" should be seen as a direct reprise of "some kids... the guys... in athletics." Taft is here again identifying an ad hoc group in terms, this time, of the extent to which the guys relate with him. This leads him to "we." However, by specifying [some] by /I/, Taft, in fact, reinforces the unspecification of "these" guys. They are nobody in particular (for these purposes at least) just as /I/ is never specified. Taft, of course, knows where others place him and he talks about "the clique" but just enough to emphasize that the [guys I hack around with] are a subgroup of this clique. In other words, the clique is placed, in relation to the subgroup, in the same relation the school was placed in relation to [some kids] in T57. In this context [the guys] are /we/ (who are not hung up) and the clique (the athletes) are /they/ (who follow everything that was followed before).

In conclusion, it might thus be said that any /we/ or [some]) are placed in the same position in opposition to they. The difference between /we/ and [some] is that the former is used in direct speech and the other in indirect speech. They both mark the same interactional dimension, the dimension of what can be called "friendship," i.e., the interpersonal dimension where the /I/ of the actors is affirmed as against the generic identification which constantly lurks behind them.

The Semiotic Reality of Cliques

The above emphasizes once again that the external social situation of a participant does not directly determine his symbolic expression of this situation. The fact that Paul Taft, as a top athlete who spentall his waking hours with other top athletes, was, "objectively" and "social" organizationally, a jock, did not oblige him to talk about the jocks as "we" as against the anti-jock freaks "they." Indeed, in the interview, the jocks were "they" to Taft more consistently than the freaks. Let us look at another way of performing the same rhetorical operations.

In T63, Bobby Christian, who was Taft's best friend, had just been asked, "What do you think athletics mean to people in the school?" The interviewer added a comment about an incident Christian had told earlier about a "kid" who had talked to Christian about the need to win. With this, Christian understood the question as being about social organization and he first stated: "...last year the big thing was jock and freak..." He then goes on to deny the present importance of clique segmentation.

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"It was such a war almost going on between the two groups. This year it's in football I didn't hardly associate with anyone because we were always busy at football. Now in basketball we see kids in the school and everything. It seems there's an interest rising now because we're doing well... Karl Cousin and Gerard Dill [the two prototypical freak-troublemakers], they were never really interested, but we're friends with them now and they're interested."

Christian is close to assuming his social place as a jock. But he does this in a rather roundabout manner. He does not say, "We, the jocks did not want to have anything to do with then, the freaks." He says, in effect, "We (an unspecified group) were busy doing something which isolated us but now we are back in school and we are all friends again."

The fieldworker then reminded Christian that "Karl" (first name) had cut his hair and had "gone out" for track. Christian accepted this as proof that "this year...we're becoming better friends" by comparison with "last year" when there were "a bunch of trouble-makers." The field worker then pushed Christian:

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F: "You mean the freaks rather than the jock kids?"
C: "Oh, both. Because there were jock kids who started the lung bit and then the freaks. The jocks and freaks in last year's class got in a...didn't get along well, so it kind of left that air among the school. But it's kind of lost now. Nobody really cares."

"The jocks" have been totally distanced from Christian. He then went on to complain about "some kids that still do that," in particular "three girls who said 'jock' real lightly under their breath" while he walked by.

So, it is not really that there has been a shift in the school. Most of "last year's" kids are "this year's" kids too. There have been few shifts in terms of membership either. What is changing, within the interview itself, is the position Christian is adopting vis-a-vis what both he and the interviewer knew to be essentially the same kids, the "athletes/ jocks." He is either, in the present, with-in a "we, the athletes..." vs. "kids in the school." Or he is, in past with-out "the jock kids who started up the lung bit and then the freaks." Universalistic groups are real in the present; cliques are real in the distance.

Walt Mason and Bill Silvestri, the mainlinefreaks, once had an argument in our presence that also illustrates this process of distanciation. The discussion was about whom they were friends with. It meandered in the usual fashion between "I am a loner" and "I am friendly with so many kids" and "so-and-so is my best friend." At one point, Mason said: "There are no cliques in the school." Silvetri disagreed: "I have been in a lot of them."

"I have been" is in the past. Silvestri did not say "We are a clique," which they were according to any outsider (whether participant in the school or social anthropologist). Structurally, this movement is equivalent to Paul Taft's distinguishing between my four friends" ("we...") and the other guys who are encompassed by the clique "they..." The statement is in the present but some distance has been established, a discontinuity.[ftn 9]


1) There is now a rather abundant literature on the topic of cliques in American high school. All ethnographic monographs have reported their presence. They are suggested in the Lynd's work (1929) and have been directly identified by Gordon (1957), Coleman (1961), Cusik (1973), Palonsky (1975), a list that is far from exhaustive. Coleman is probably most systematic in his treatment of these student cliques. It is to his work that I most often refer.back to text

2) He was still very close to his own high school experience which had included having to deal with cliqueishness. He was also a student in the sociology of education and well versed in the relevant literature.back to text

3) This is a fundamental fact which, as far as I know, has never been reported in the literature. It is certain that nothing has been made of it.back to text

4)Coleman is typical of the observers of school societies who have fallen victim to this illusion. I suspect that he experienced initially a situation rather like the one I have been describing. He decided that the students were referring to some social object which could be measured along various lines. He realized that he could not, in fact, rely solely on the students natural input to produce such objects. So, he operationalized his own definition in such a way as to produce the groups. The first steps are not, in fact, discussed by Coleman who only talks about the last one (1961: 173ff; see particularly p. 183, fn. 4). His analysis is based on the groups produced by the coding of survey answers in terms of the operational definition. The relevance of the groups so created is assumed. I consider this relevance debatable, at the very least.back to text

5) Paul Taft and Abe Stevenson are differentiating between who they are, as individuals, and who they appear to be to outsiders, between their substance and their image, the same structural dichotomy we saw operating in the context of the teachers' evaluation (see pp. 100-111).back to text

6) It is also interesting that only a small subset of the students can easily be made to fit into "cliques." All students have friends, but only some of these groups of friends are acknowledged generally as cliques. As Canaan noticed (1982), "visibility" is crucial: Only the best and worst students are worth a "clique."back to text

7) Notice that this text uses exactly the same devices as the principal's memo about a "Teacher Surplus" (T24).back to text

8) I will not deal with "you" at present so as not to make the picture even more complicated than it is at present.back to text

9) From a broad cross-cultural point of view this process could be seen as another example of what L4vi-Strauss has seen as a fundamental capacity of human "wild thinking" (and a condition of culture): The mythological transtion from continuity to discreteness of which he gives many examples (1966, 1969).back to text