In other cultures, the transition from childhood to adulthood is more clearly marked with no period of ‘youth.’ In some cultures, individuals may undergo a ‘rite of passage’ (a social event or ceremony) to indicate their new status.
This Factsheet will be useful for the topics of youth and crime and deviance on the Sociology specifications. This Factsheet will explore the reasons behind the development and existence of youth cultures in previous years and the current variations in contemporary youth subcultures. It will allow you to develop your own argument on how and why the range of youth subcultures of today have developed.
Youth can be difficult to define but the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as: ”the state of being young, the period between childhood and adult age” It is therefore seen as a period of transition between childhood and adulthood. In contemporary Britain, youth is recognised as an important stage of development in which individuals begin to leave the dependent and powerless world of the child and enter the world of the adult. However, it could be questioned that not all children stop being children at the same time. Frith describes youth as “not simply an age group, but the social organisation of an age group” Sociologists of youth, according to Frith, describe youth culture as “the way of life shared by young people”. Subculture, as defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is a ‘cultural group within a larger culture often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture’. This would imply that a subculture is a subdivision of a national culture. Philip Aries in Centuries of Childhood (1962) argues that ‘youth’ is a relatively modern concept. He argues that it was only from the mid 17tth century that ‘young people’ started to be seen as both dependent on adults and as having special characteristics of their own (e.g. innocence)
Youth as a social construction
Sociologists argue that the experience and definition of youth is socially constructed. Therefore, society constructs the way we understand and experience youth. Empirical observation carried out by sociologists find that youth subcultures have a distinct individual style. They have certain ways of dressing (i.e. shoes, clothing and hairstyles), speaking (i.e. slang), listening to music and gathering in similar places. These shared activities reflect shared values. Frith states that “culture is all learned behavior which has been socially acquired” We can see evidence of how youth is socially constructed:
Key changes during youth
• • • • May leave education and enter employment May become independent of the family Increased status in society May become involved in adult activities, such as drinking, driving a car
• Through history Children had a very different experience of youth in the past. The concept of the teenager did not emerge until post war Britain and Victorian children would often be working at the age of 5 in coal mines, sweeping chimney etc. Today, British society places a high value on childhood and protects children through various laws.
However, it is difficult to identify when youth begins and ends. In Britain, we can get married at 16 with parental consent, we can drive a car at 17 but drink alcohol and vote at 18. Some researchers suggest that children in Britain are growing up more quickly in terms of their attitudes and expectations e.g. attitudes to fashion. Equally, young people may continue to be partially dependent on their parents into their twenties. It is not precise when youth begins and ends and therefore the stage of youth seems to be getting longer.
• Cross culturally Depending upon the culture we belong to childhood is also experienced in different ways. Many societies have ‘coming of age’ (rites of passage) ceremonies for their young; in some the child becomes an adult overnight. In contrast the transition from child to adult contemporary western society is more prolonged. Our 16th, 18th and 21st birthdays are all significant in allowing various adult responsibilities and rights.
32. Youth Subcultures
History of Youth Subcultures
Prior to World War II, young people in Western culture had little freedom or influence. The concept of the teenager emerged in post war Britain and has its origins in America. Some reasons for the emergence of the teenager are: • The post war baby boom – after the war soldiers returned home and started families • Affluence and women in work – the general standards of living were rising including pay. More women also began to work and giving many families a dual income. Consequently, young people were not expected to give all of their working wages to their parents and had disposable income for the first time. This meant they could spend money on having fun and being young before they had to take on greater responsibilities. However, Abel-Smith and Townsend in ‘The Poor and the Poorest’ (1965) suggest that the idea of a general affluence amongst all sections of society in Britain was largely a myth. • Rise of consumer culture – Throughout the 1950s, the growing numbers of young people began to influence music, television and cinema, spurring the explosion of rock and roll in the late 1950s and a full blown youth culture in the mid 1960s, partly in the form of subculltures such as mods, rockers and hippies.
As teenagers created their own identity and their expendable income increased, marketing companies focused their efforts on them. The tastes of young people began to drive fashion, music, films and literature. Companies adapted to this by devising marketing strategies, creating magazines such as NME and eventually their own TV channel, MTV. Soon a mass of fashion stores, coffee houses, discos, music and other commodities rose, all targeting the affluent teenager. Through advertising, they promised a new, exciting world for young people – that could be experienced through the consumption of their products and services. The growth of capitalist culture and leisure industries has meant that all young people have access to the cultural resources they need to engage in ‘symbolic creativity’ in their leisure time. Therefore, the media and consumer industries played a large part in creating an identity for teenagers. • Independence – young people also started to get married later, move out of their family home before they married, and due to the introduction of contraception, have pre-marital sex. Range of styles available – Willis argues that the age of spectacular subcultures are gone for good.
This is because there are so many style and taste cultures which offer young people different ways of expressing their identity. He claims that there is too much diversity for any single youth subculture to dominate society. Extension of Education – The creation of youth cultures was accelerated by the introduction of public money for schools. In 1875, the Supreme Court made a decision that public money could be used to fund school education. This meant that adolescents and children were gathering together daily, creasting their own identities and culture However, this fails to explain the behaviour of all teenagers. Why, for example, do some conform whilst others rebel? As a result of these changes there many different youth subcultures have developed Exam Hint: it is a good idea to show an understanding of the history of youth cultures with an explanation of why they have developed The 90’s and the subcultures of today cannot be described as the same as the 60’s or 70’s or even the 80’s.
The Increase of Youth Subcultures
A number of factors account for the increase in the number of subcultures in society today
A. The Size of the Society Charles Kraft in Anthropology for Christian Witness says: “larger societies will also develop more subgroupings. These subgroupings are usually referred to as subcultures.” B. The Rate of Change in the Society In societies with a slow pace of social change the transition to adulthood goes smoothly and youth are similar to their parents. There is a unity and a solidarity between the coming generation and the generation of parents. In societies undergoing rapid social change, a smooth transition to adulthood is no longer possible and there is a strong dissimilarity with parent generations. Here an individual cannot rely on their parents identity patterns as they no longer fit into the social context. Because youth realise that they cannot learn from past experiences, they search for new identities that are relevant. In fact, the greater the change in a society the more intense and stronger the subcultures as people identify more with their subculture in order to find identity and security.
C. The Globalisation of the Society The rate at which cultural objects and ideas are transmitted in large parts of the world today is a significant factor in the number of youth subculture groups that are identified. Where a society is connected through communication technology, they experience simultaneous pressures to unity and fragmentation. D. The Position of Youth in the Society People who are marginalised or deprived make their sense of loss known as they resist the dominant culture. Where youth are connected to the centre of the dominant culture they do not need to rebel or form counter-cultural groups. E. The Generational Size in the Society The size of a generation impacts on youth subcultures because the overall age structure within a society influences the social, economical and political make up of age groups. When the number of youth entering the market place drops, then youth as a portion of the total labour force also falls. This decline in youth as a market force, both as consumers and producers will significantly alter the social and political visibility of youth.
The extension of education to 14/16 years led to young people seeing themselves as ‘different’ i.e. going through a ‘special phase’ in their development. This led to the development of specific types of youth culture that reflected the ‘special importance’ that society gives to this period in their life.
32. Youth Subcultures
The Features of Youth Subcultures
Looking at various writings on youth culture the following features are noted (some of which may well overlap): style; language, music, class, rebellion, gender, art, rebellion, relationship to the dominant culture, degree of openness to outsiders, urban/rural living, etc. The following insights were gained from class interaction on youth subculture groups:
Style, enjoyment, excitement, escape from boredom at work or play, being attractive to ones self have now become central life concerns. In today’s society there does not seem to one dominant youth subculture. There seem to be a range of subcultures including, emos, chavs and goths.
A. Class and Youth Subcultures It was found that within different socio-economic groups subculture groups take on different characteristics and are based on different factors. Within the working class communities youth tend to have more interaction with parents and therefore don’t seem to rebel as much against their parents as youth in middle to upper classes. Youth subcultures in working class communities will show a greater amount of gang activity, with subculture groups being defined around gangs in some areas. In middle class areas youth seem to form their subcultures around interests, such as sports. B. Music and Youth Subcultures Most subculture groups could be identified with a specific music genre and in some instances music was the defining characteristic around which the group was formed (such as Ravers, Metalheads, Homeboys, Ethno-hippies, Goths, Technos, Rastas and Punks).
In other subcultures music is a key feature, but another factor would be the key characteristic, such as with Bladers, Bikers, Skaters, Surfers, etc. C. Family and Youth Subcultures In working class families, we noted that families tend to have closer interaction and youth do not seem so intent on being different to their parents, whereas in other communities youth may deliberately choose a certain subculture group to reinforce their independence and even opposition to their parents. In upper-class communities (or among youth from upper-class homes) youth are given a lot more disposable income with which to engage in sports, computers, entertainment, etc. So they are able to engage in a greater diversity of pursuits – so there are possibly more subculture groups in middle to upper-class communities.
D. Fashion and Youth Subcultures Fashion plays a role in all subculture groups and some are more strongly defined by their fashion, while others take the clothing that relates to the music or sport to define the subculture group. Working class youth tend to place greater emphasis on fashion as it is the one way in which they can show off what they own, whereas middle class youth have other things to show off, such as homes, smart cars, fancy sound systems, etc. Exam Hint: show that you understand how and why youth subcultures develop and why they are so different.
Emo The term emo originated in the 1980s to describe a genre of music stemming from the hardcore punk music scene in Washington D.C. The term has become broader with time, and now is loosely understood to mean ‘rock music with emotionallybased lyrics or effect’. Emo is now often used to refer to a person’s fashion, personality or both, as well as a musical category. Emo clothing is characterised by tight jeans on males and females, long fringes often brushed to one side of their face, dyed black, straightened hair. Tight t-shirts which often bear the name of rock bands (or other designer shirts), studded belts and black shoes. Chav This refers to a subculture which originated from within the working class culture of England. Chav fashion is derived from American hip hop (African American) and Guido (Italian-American) fashions and stereotypes such as gold jewellery and designer clothing combined with elements of working class British street fashion.
The defining features of the chav clothing is the Burberry pattern (notably a nowdiscontinued baseball cap) and from a variety of other casual and sportswear brands. Tracksuits, hoodies and baseball caps are particularly associated with this stereotype. Lauren Cooper who is played by Catherine Tate in the Catherine Tate show, is a stereotype of a chav female. They aspire to the latest mobile phone and other accessories. They tend to have a dislike of goths and emos as well as other ‘alternative’ subcultures. Goth The Goth subculture began in the UK during the 1980s in the gothic rock scene, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. Gothic music encompasses a number of different styles. Common to all is a tendency towards a lugubrious mystical sound and outlook. Styles of dress within the subculture range from death rock, punk, medieval, some Victorian style clothing or a combination of the above, most often with black attire, make up and hair, including black eyeliner, black fingernails. Exam Hint: Use everyday examples to show that you understand how different youth subcultures have developed
The Variety of Youth Subcultures
As a result of these factors a number of youth subcultures are evident today
Youth subcultures in today’s society Today’s youth subcultures point to an interweaving of style with gender, class and age which follows a more contemporary outlook as opposed to some of the classic theories. Under post-modern conditions, identities appear to be in a constant state of change: individuals move freely from one sub-cultural group and enthusiasm to another; they mix and match what were formerly distinct categories like the 60s bikers.
32. Youth Subcultures
Theories of Youth Subculture
Early studies in youth culture were mainly produced by functionalist sociologists. Functionalists have a positive view of the structures and systems in society and believe that youth culture has a positive role to play. Functionalist sociologists Eisentadt believed that youth culture had two key functions:
1. To manage the transition from childhood to adulthood This transition can be a difficult time and young people can provide a support network to help each other. Being part of a peer group can help young people become independent from the family and develop a separate identity. Talcott Parsons saw youth subcultures usually having important positive functions in easing the transition from childhood to full adult life in marriage and occupational status. It would appear that the majority of people leave these youth subcultures at some latter point, often at the point of marriage, therefore Parsons theory could be justified. 2. To help manage the social pressures young people face This is particularly related to education. Youth culture provides a relaxed world away from the meritocratic education system where hard work is expected and competition is encouraged. Youth culture does not judge its members on the basis of their qualifications or ability to do well in school.
Evaluation of Functionalists
• • • Young people are not a homogenous group but have very different identities. It can be argued that there is no one youth culture in society, but many youth subcultures Youth is often associated with social disorder, so do functionalists overestimate how positive a role youth culture has? Functionalists only look at the functions of youth culture and do not offer any explanation of the meanings behind it
These account for some diversity in youth cultures because they focus on class rather than youth as a whole. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (1993) describe youth subcultures as symbolic or ritualistic attempts to resist the power of the bourgeoisie by consciously adopting behaviour that appears threatening to society.
Stan Cohen argues youth subcultures are not coherent social groupings that arise spontaneously as a reaction to social forces, but that the mass media imposes an ideological framework for young people to identify with. Exam Hint: You can use one theory (e.g. Functionalist) and then use the other theories to evaluate it. This will give you AO1 marks for the explanation and AO2 marks for the evaluation.
Acknowledgements: This Sociology Factsheet was researched and written by Rosie Owens. Curriculum Press. Bank House, 105 King Street, Wellington, TF1 1NU. Sociology Factsheets may be copied free of charge by teaching staff or students, provided that their school is a registered subscriber. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other means, without the prior permission of the publisher.