Flying my Freak Flag: A Grounded Theory of Oppositional Crowd Identity Development

Open Access
Pezalla, Anne E
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 07, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Fred W Vondracek, Dissertation Advisor
  • Fred W Vondracek, Committee Chair
  • Sherry Erhard Corneal, Committee Member
  • Michael J Rovine, Committee Member
  • Michelle E Day, Committee Member
  • peer crowds
  • oppositional groups
  • adolescent identity
  • identity development
Affiliating with a peer crowd in adolescence is an important step in identity development. Yet the role of oppositional crowds in identity development has not been assessed. The current study addressed this gap in the literature by focusing on the Goth, Punk, and Emo crowds. Using processes of analytical induction, the current study analyzed interview and observational data from 16 ninth- through twelfth-grade adolescents who self-identified as Goth, Punk, or Emo, and generated a grounded theory of oppositional crowd identity development that includes phases of exploration, commitment, constriction, and reconsideration. This theory suggests that a period of exploration precedes a commitment to oppositional crowd ideals, characterized by unique styles of dress, musical tastes, and ideological worldviews, as well as self-injurious behaviors. These commitments appeared to serve a variety of functional purposes, albeit short-lived ones. When oppositional crowd identity commitments began to be seen as unoriginal, feelings of constriction arose. Those feelings, coupled with shifts in popular culture, increased school-based extracurricular involvement, and self-esteem, prompted a reconsideration of oppositional crowd commitments. These findings offer a framework for understanding the dynamic and multidimensional qualities of oppositional crowds. They also complement recent efforts, guided by the developmental contextual framework, to expand the traditional identity status paradigm. Findings encourage further testing and refinement of this model on other oppositional crowds, and call for greater scaffolding and support for their devotees.