Book Review of McLeod, Julie & Yates, Lyn. (2006). Making Modern Lives: Subjectivity, Schooling, and Social Change. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, (Softcover), 275 pp. by Dr. Vahid Motamedi 

Making Modern Lives: Subjectivity, Schooling, and Social Change by McLeod and Yates is a thorough and detailed description of how young people shape their lives as they move through their secondary school years and into the world beyond. This book explores how attitudes and identities develop over a period of time. As described in chapter 1, the book is also a “discussion about how both the personal and the big picture are significant in researching and theorizing social change, as well as ongoing reflection about how one researches subjectivity” (p. 1). According to the authors, their research is framed by concerns about difficulties in education and the changes therein as well as the impact gender and cultural differences have on individuals. McLeod and Yates pursue different issues (such as national culture and changes, gender and ethnicity, and what is valued and produced by different school settings) throughout the book.

Over a seven-year period (1993-2000), the authors interviewed and videotaped 26 young Australians (14 girls and 12 boys) as they aged from 12 to 18 years, from diverse social backgrounds, and different types of schools. In each interview, twice a year over seven years, the authors asked the participants to discuss their views of self, school, and their future. The authors describe the growth period of ages 12 – 18 as a “quintessential phase” (p. 76) of what they termed as “becoming”; these four phases being teenager, adolescent, youth, and adult. The authors gathered insight into the young people’s daydreams, goals, and future plans as they made major decisions such as “Who I am” or “Who I want to become” (p. 104). The authors also asked students a series of questions on political and ethical issues such as issues currently in the news and their views on cultural diversity and unemployment.

From my perspective as an educator and an experienced practitioner I find that this book has some limitations with regard to how I could utilize it. I was unclear as to whether the book is aimed at the novice or experienced practitioner. If it is aimed at the novice, the book gives some conflicting advice about the use of self-awareness. Theoretically, depending upon the individual, the time, the place, the verbal context, and other circumstances, one may use or react to a given word or phrase with different values.

If the book is primarily aimed at an experienced practitioner then it is a little too prescriptive and does not address the wide variety of the issues that can arise with adolescents such as depression, sexual and peer interaction that can lead to emotional instability. I would like to know how they dealt with variations in group composition, issue of time and space (frequently an issue at schools) and the type of issues the youth could present.

In this study the sample size is small, making the interpretations limited in their application. With large amounts of data, many interpretations are possible, and the more access we have to possible interpretations offered by research participants, the more accurate our analysis can be. The pursuit of different interpretations often turns up one or two good alternatives.
With these limitations in mind, I think that the authors have produced a book that successfully addresses their intended audience. Professionals who have encountered a need for addressing an adolescent age group and who would like to replicate the methods will greatly appreciate the text. The authors provide a step-by-step process. This book would also be useful for a social worker or counsellor with limited experience with adolescents, or for those who would like some new ideas and materials for those adolescents who wish to comprehend and understand the issues that have been brought up by their fellow peers.

                                                                        Vahid Motamedi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Psychology & Education
Tarbiat Moallem University
Mofateh Avenue
Tehran, Iran 15614