danah boyd writes on the the division of American teen culture by class as she looks at the differences among users of MySpace and Facebook. She notes that while the use of social class as a construction in other countries (England and India being two examples) is accepted practice, 'class' is not an easy term to apply in American culture and is not the equivalent to socio-economic status. Class divisions in the United States have more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income...
The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.
She uses this self-segregation, or social aggregation (it's your POV), to make the point that the technology allows these social gaps to become clearer even as we (as a society, as harbingers of a unified social norm) try to ignore them. When she notes how the military banned use of MySpace by the troops, but protected Facebook from the same treatment, it was case closed for me.
Read her article and ask yourself when you are working with a health issue how often it involves people from varying socio-economic and demographic backgrounds and how often does it REALLY involve differences in class? How much of the fatalism, lack of control and other 'barriers' we perceive among people engaging in risky behaviors is due to racial/ethnic and income level and how much is really a function of underlying class differences? What makes it relatively easy to stigmatize certain behaviors and then make them so resistant to change? And how often are we paying attention to these class attributes when we develop programs with one audience versus another? When we use 'tribes' to describe some groups of teens we are beginning to come to grips with the issue. But especially in public health the notion of focusing on tribes as priority audiences, and not some epidemiological defined segment of the population, seems to hit a nerve we'd rather leave unexposed - to whose detriment is the question we can discuss more.
As a society, we have strong class divisions and we project these values onto our kids. MySpace and Facebook seem to be showcasing this division quite well. I wonder how often we do it with our social marketing programs?
Sigh: and I wish we had more ethnographers to help us develop the insights to break away from the rationalistic, individualistic, and reductionist paradigms enshrined by the epidemiologists that, I believe, are among the strait-jackets for doing great social marketing.