Contemporary scholarship on young femininities alerts us to the ways in which representations of girls' agency have proliferated across a number of cultural sites, and how these representations are linked with neoliberal incentives to be self-determined, responsible and, for girls in particular, 'caring' and ethical members of a global citizenry. These forms of agency are increasingly normalized and expected of all girls, despite their obvious links with class privilege, and also particular constructions of whiteness. This paper seeks to historicize ideas about contemporary representations of young feminine agency by exploring the way in which girl citizens are constructed within the cultures of elite girls' schools. The paper draws on recent empirical research n in elite schools in the UK and Australia, as well as archival material from related Girls' School Associations. Two particular citizenship issues will be explored: social service and the global community. These dominate the schools' horizons and appear to coalesce in the expected subjective performances of these girls as 'concerned global citizens'. The paper will explore how these aspects of citizenship are practiced, encouraged, promoted and performed both in school and in the lives and subjectivities of girls attending them. The girls' and the schools' perceptions and negotiations of travel, charity, social justice and global community relations are of special interest.
By comparing historical texts with contemporary examples, we specifically seek to problematize the idea that a neoliberal 'risk' society has generated entirely new representations of young feminine agency. Instead, we explore how in contemporary western societies, representations of feminine citizenship in elite girls' schools take on a particular resonance, and significance, because they are now part of a broader cultural context in which class and race difference are spoken without being named, through the figure of the successful, agential young woman, and her less successful 'other'.