Download Full Text (10.1 MB)


This ethnography provides description and a cultural interpretation of American adolescent life. Based on anthropological fieldwork among adolescents in a small high school and its surrounding co-unity, it presents a description of their social life, an interpretation of the cultural ethos reflected in their lives, and a discussion of procedural and personal dimensions of conducting ethnographic research.

Many adolescents expressed their desire to "get along with everyone," "be independent," and "get involved." Reflecting American ideals of egalitarianism, inner-directedness, and competition, respectively, these aspects of the adolescent ethos affected their relationships with family, peers, school staff, and community members. Many adolescents not only recognized these ideals as favorable guidelines but made conscious efforts to live them. However, few young people succeeded in observing these ideals in their "pure" forms. In their daily lives, they sometimes demonstrated opposite ideals of elitism, other-directedness, and cooperation. Depending upon situations, the adolescents pragmatically negotiated a middle course within the duality of the contradictory ideals, locating their positions along the continua of egalitarianism/elitism, inner-directedness/ other-directedness, and competition/cooperation. Social pressure--in particular, peer pressure--discouraged young people from expressing either extreme.

Finally, this ethnography addresses issues involved in humanistic anthropology, in which the ethnographer, as a female adult, Korean horn, non-native speaker of English, analyzes her experiences with American adolescent informants in terms of examination of self, dynamics between self and others, the inequality of languages, and continued friendships with informants after the fieldwork.

Publication Date


Document Type



University of Oregon


High school students, interpersonal relations, adolescence, adolescent psychology


Secondary Education


Chang, H. (1989). American high school adolescent life and ethos: An ethnography (Doctoral dissertation). (Order No. 8918939). Retrieved from

American high school adolescent life and ethos: An ethnography