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Wannabes, Goths, and Christians

The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status

On college campuses and in high school halls, being white means being boring. Since whiteness is the mainstream, white kids lack a cultural identity that’s exotic or worth flaunting. To remedy this, countless white youths across the country are now joining more outré subcultures like the Black- and Puerto Rican–dominated hip-hop scene, the glamorously morose goth community, or an evangelical Christian organization whose members reject campus partying.

Amy C. Wilkins’s intimate ethnography of these three subcultures reveals a complex tug-of-war between the demands of race, class, and gender in which transgressing in one realm often means conforming to expectations in another. Subcultures help young people, especially women, navigate these connecting territories by offering them different sexual strategies: wannabes cross racial lines, goths break taboos by becoming involved with multiple partners, and Christians forego romance to develop their bond with God. Avoiding sanctimonious hysteria over youth gone astray, Wilkins meets these kids on their own terms, and the result is a perceptive and provocative portrait of the structure of young lives.


“The subjects of this fascinating book are young, white, and miserable. They are drawn to outrageous subcultures in search of status and meaning. In this sensitive account, Wilkins uncovers the inklings of a new sexual revolution.”

Christine Willams, University of Texas at Austin

“This is a beautifully, pungently written book in which telling ethnographic detail and compelling, often entertaining, narrative accounts are deployed in the service of a theoretically sophisticated, well-argued analysis. It is both provocative and riveting.”

Mary Ann Clawson, Wesleyan University

“With deft analysis and vivid ethnographic detail, Amy Wilkins maps the contours of three contemporary youth subcultures. Lucid comparisons of the tangled and often contradictory dynamics of gender, sexuality, class, and race—and of the emotional dimensions of each of these cultural worlds—make this a memorable book.”—Barrie Thorne, University of California, Berkeley

Barrie Thorne, University of California, Berkeley

"Enlightening and provocative. . . . Accessibly written and clearly organized, this sociological study reveals the politics of identity that fuel white youths’ social memberships. Overall, an admirable and important addition to the growing field of youth culture studies."


"[Wilkins] reveals the shared and nuanced cultural repertories and resources each group uses as they engage in the identity work that enables them to resolve the problems of whiteness in America. . . . A fine analysis. Her book will hold much appeal for scholars of various sorts as well as undergraduate and graduate students, particularly those in courses investigating gender and race, youth, culture, and social inequalities."

Amy L. Best | Gender and Society

"Even those readers who are not sociologists by study or trade will appreciate the candor and perception with which Wilkins writes about the subjects of the book, as well as her forward-thinking analysis surrounding the important but often overlooked, intersections of race, class and gender within these predominantly white communities. . . . Wilkins effectively digs to the core of how subcultures are formed and fostered, particularly among young, white, middle-class people."

Kelly Moritz | Feminist Review

"Wilkins breaks new ground by revealing the central importance of sexuality in establishing identities. . . . In addition to its insights about gender and sexuality, [the book] has much to say about identity, authenticity, and young adulthood. Written in accessible language and full of engaging, informative details, it is well-suited for use in undergraduate and graduate courses in women’s studies, sociology, cultural anthropology, and racial/ethnic studies--perhaps especially in introductory courses. . . . Wilkins’s book will find a welcome place on the bookshelves of scholars of gender, race, and class, sexuality, and youth--and perhaps also on the coffee tables of parents concerned about offspring who act like ’those’ kinds of people.""

Laura M. Carpenter | Sex Roles

"The clearly expressed intersectional analysis, substantive richness, and accessible writing make this book ideal for introductory level courses. The thick, engaging description would resonate with undergraduate students and would promote self-awareness and lively discussion."

Jennifer Keys | American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction: Gender, Race, Class, and Cultural Projects

Chapter 2. From Geek to Freak

Chapter 3. So Full of Myself as a Chick

Chapter 4. Just Good People

Chapter 5. Abstinence

Peurto Rican Wannabes

Chapter 6. Why Don’t They Act Like Who They Really Are?

Chapter 7. The Gendered Limits of Racial Crossover

Chapter 8. Conclusions, Contradictions, and Collisions

Works Cited



ASA Section on Race, Gender and Class: Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award

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