Laddishness and self-worth protection Lancaster University
ESRC Funded Project
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Summary of Findings

The research has advanced understandings of ‘laddishness’ in a number of ways, two particularly significant ways are flagged here. First, both boys and girls display ‘laddish’ behaviours, and for girls as well as boys, working hard in school is seen to be ‘uncool’. Second, motives for ‘laddishness’ are not single, but multiple, shifting, and operating at various levels of consciousness. Importantly, these motives are underpinned by both academic and social concerns.

Academic concerns

In many cases ‘laddish’ behaviours amongst boys and girls are motivated by fears of academic failure. Fears of academic failure are relatively common in contemporary secondary schooling; the high value attached to academic ability combined with the current, regular, high-stakes ability testing programmes in schools is a potent recipe for fostering fears of academic failure. These fears may then prompt a range of defensive strategies that act to protect a student’s self-worth by providing ‘explanations’ for academic ‘failure’ that deflect attention away from a lack of academic ability onto other, less damaging, reasons. For example, students can explain ‘failure’ in terms of lack of effort rather than lack of ability. These defensive behaviours include, amongst others, an overt rejection of academic work, messing around in class, and prioritising social over academic pursuits – the same set of behaviours that are labelled as ‘laddish’. These strategies hold substantial appeal for students who fear looking ‘stupid’ as a result of (actual or potential) ‘poor’ test results. However, in the long-term, defensive strategies may lead to problems both for a student’s academic attainment and experiences of schooling. Overall, there is a strong case for arguing that ‘laddish’ behaviours are motivated in part by fears of academic failure, but that is not the sole motivation.

Social concerns

‘Laddish’ behaviours can also be motivated by social goals because ‘laddish’ ways of performing masculinity or femininity are generally regarded as ‘cool’ and earn pupils ‘popularity points’ amongst peers. In other words, some students may behave ‘laddishly’ in an attempt to be popular, or to avoid being unpopular. Social relationships constitute a crucial component of school life, and the consequences of social failure - frequently marginalisation and/or bullying - can be extremely distressing for students. Fears of social failure motivate many pupils to try to ‘fit in’ because they are afraid of the consequences of becoming unpopular.

On their own, neither academic nor social concerns can explain ‘laddish’ behaviours. However, by considering pupils’ social and academic goals in combination, we are able to interpret and understand a broader range of ‘laddish’ behaviours.

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