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Coming of Age in the Bubble: Suburban Adolescents' Use of a Spatial Metaphor as a Symbolic Boundary


Direct all correspondence to Yuki Kato, Department of Sociology, Tulane University, 220 Newcomb Hall, New Orleans, LA 70118-5698;


This article explores how suburban middle-class adolescents use a spatial metaphor, “bubble,” as a symbolic boundary. The narratives about the bubble, collected through focus group discussions and ethnographic observations, show consensus among the teenagers about the socioeconomic and cultural superiority of the community, but they also reveal opposing views on its moral status. I also find that the teens use the same metaphor to draw moral distinctions among their peers, based on whether they align their identity with the norms and values the bubble symbolizes. I argue that the adolescents living in this community develop a strong place identity, even when they identify flaws with it, because their mundane references to the bubble provide them with an opportunity to critically examine the implication of their middle-class status.