"The charming sideshow": Cheerleading, girls' culture and schooling

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Sari Knopp Biklen


Cheerleading, Girls' Culture and Public Schooling

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology


The research study, "'The Charming Sideshow': Cheerleading, Girls' Culture and Public Schooling" uses cheerleading as a window to explore the tensions between peer culture, status and the extracurricula through the experiences of cheerleaders in high school. This study takes seriously an activity that is simultaneously marginalized while being considered mainstream. Usually subject to dismissiveness or a flippant mockery, it is clubbed with soap operas or romance novels, activities considered trivial and associated with women. By moving cheerleading from the sidelines to the center, this study looks at cheerleading as a site from which to examine themes of stratification, and the networks girls create in order to deal with gender inequities as they experience them.

This study provides an insight into how girls relate to athletic activities, the meaning they make of the rituals associated with cheerleading, and how they determine what is important for them in the schooling process. The study is grounded in qualitative research methods involving in-depth interviews and participant observations of thirty cheerleaders at three high schools. To facilitate a greater understanding of the cultural construction of cheerleading, it also incorporates ten interviews with women who were cheerleaders in their school days. The study is located historically through an analysis of historical documents.

This study illustrates that cheerleading, like other forms of popular culture is not a static activity. Instead, the meanings of cheerleading shift and are negotiated by girls across time and around issues of race and class.


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