Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Social Sciences


Adolescent gifted girls constantly engage with popular culture in their daily lives. All forms of media provide information about appearance, achievement, identity and success. The abundance of this information from visual, printed and audio sources could influence young girls in particular ways as they grapple with identity, and aspiration. Gifted girls face the added dilemma of expectation, both internally and externally, that suggests they must achieve in a way commensurate to their talent potential. Talent development models describe the elements of the process that support the achievement of demonstrated talent. This research set out to explore the lived experience of adolescent gifted girls in rural New South Wales, Australia as they engaged with popular culture, and to evaluate its influence on their development towards achieving their talent potential.

Literature suggests that gifted girls are under pressure to achieve and to demonstrate their ability while being concurrently positioned by society to meet traditional expectations of behaviour and response. While the literature defined particular barriers for all rural gifted students that resulted from isolation, stereotyping and lack of opportunity, the specific experience of rural gifted adolescent girls is largely absent from the literature.

The most prevalent talent development model in education settings in Australia at the time of the study was that of Gagné (2005, 2008). There is no reference in this model to the difference made by gender. Gender specific talent development models or frameworks in the literature have been derived from retrospective studies of eminent older women. None of the models identified popular culture as a significant factor in the talent development process.

Abundant literature is available on the impact of popular culture on adolescents and in particular adolescent girls. Across the literature it was reported that popular culture had a powerful impact on how girls saw themselves, and what they believed they were able to achieve. Little of this literature focussed specifically on gifted girls. Three gaps prompted the research: the dearth of information on rural gifted girls, the absence of gifted girls in the popular culture literature and the lack of acknowledgement of the impact of popular culture in talent development models. The key question to be answered was:

In what ways does popular culture support or disrupt the talent development of gifted adolescent rural girls?

This was supported by a further three sub-questions:

1. How do rural gifted girls respond to the concepts presented to them in popular culture?

2. How does what they say about themselves as ‘gifted’ reflect what they see in popular culture?Mp>

3. How does their response to popular culture change at significant points in their lives?

The research was set in a feminist constructivist paradigm, using embedded case study methods to describe two cohorts of adolescent rural gifted girls. The first cohort was in their first year of secondary school and the second cohort in their fourth year of secondary school. Qualitative data was generated through a series of focus groups, interviews and journals over a period of 18 months. Analyses of the data were undertaken within the frame of the Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (Gagné, 2005, 2008) which suggested a number of catalysts in the developmental process of talent that influenced the process. Using grounded theory methods of data coding and analysis, key themes around relationships, achievement, giftedness, popular culture, and identity were described. A narrative was then constructed to articulate the relationship the girls have with popular culture.

To ensure a set of diverse experiences, two school sites were utilised. Both school sites were in a regional setting in NSW, and both were in the public school sector. Participants were identified through their results in standardised testing that had occurred in the previous year. This identified them as academically gifted, and the identification was confirmed by further anecdotal information from their schools.

Findings from the research identified that adolescent rural gifted girls are influenced in their aspiration towards talent development by a number of external agents, including popular culture. Popular culture was found to potentially both support and disrupt talent development. The importance of a balanced set of influences and a strong sense of identity in managing the impact of popular culture was highlighted. The knowledge gained from the results of the study informed the design of a model that framed the talent development process for rural adolescent gifted girls suggesting that support is required to help girls critically respond to the messages in popular culture, develop their identity as talented individuals and seek role models both within and outside of popular culture examples. A key finding was that, in a world where popular culture promotes global fame, there is a place for localised talent, allowing a rural girl to feel able to choose where she will achieve her talent. An understanding of the concept that talented achievement is not only about global fame in the media, but also about acclaim at local community levels will support adolescent rural gifted girls to aspire to achieve their talent potential.