Consuming Identities: Response, Revision, and Reimagining in Adolescent Transactions With Branded Young Adult Fiction

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Adolescent Literacy
Adolescent Literature
English Education
Youth Culture
Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education
Elementary and Middle and Secondary Education Administration
Liberal Studies
Secondary Education and Teaching
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While children’s and young adult literature has always been a product marketed and sold for profit, the past two decades have seen a dramatic upsurge in young adult literature that is transmediated and commercially “branded” (Sekeres, 2009), positioning these books as only one product of many sold in a franchise. Despite the popularity of branded young adult fiction, little is known about how adolescent readers are navigating and valuing the myriad commercial products that are part of their reading experiences. The growing popularity of young adult literature, its increasing commodification as branded fiction, and concomitant concerns about its diminishing literary quality and implicit consumerist socialization of youth make the present an especially important moment to learn more about the literacy practices of adolescents engaging with branded young adult fiction. This dissertation study investigated how a group of Hispanic youth read between and across print, media, and material branded young adult fiction texts, critically analyzing how participants made sense of these texts through social interactions and considering the ethical and political implications of their engagement in the literature. Drawing from intersectional, feminist research traditions, this qualitative study is grounded in a conceptual framework of critical, sociocultural perspectives of literacy, resource orientations toward youth culture and identity, and transactional theories of reader response. Eleven ninth grade students participated in a weekly afterschool group in which they collectively engaged in an inquiry into branded young adult fiction. Additional data were collected through focus groups, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, survey, and artifact analysis. This research provides insight into possibilities for branded young adult fiction to occupy multiple and contradictory spaces in adolescents’ lived worlds. Participants’ transactions with these texts reflected the ambiguous positioning of print novels within franchises, contested traditional notions of reader, author, and interpretive authority, and suggested pedagogical opportunities for conceptualizing reading and reader response as embodied and materially situated. As participants engaged with branded fiction, their negotiations offer new understandings of the agency enacted by youth as they, through their entanglement with popular culture and prevailing consumerist forces, take critical positions, audition different identities, and create and inhabit multiple worlds.

Vivian L. Gadsden
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