European Youth Studies

Clarke

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Youth Sub-Culture

Youth subcultures are responses on the problems and challenges young people are facing in their everyday lives. These can be cultural, economical, social, or related to leisure. A youth subculture unites a group of young people who share the same problematic in the same context (historical / economic / cultural / social / leisure). The focus lies on the group aspect. It is situated in a broader context of (sub)cultures and the relations between these different cultures. In this relation structure, a youth subculture has some clear links with a parent culture, with whom it shares the same class and some same problematic. It is subordinate to a dominant culture, that has the hegemony at a certain time on the mental production & power in that given society. Both the parent and the dominant culture can have an influence on the formation of a youth subculture. The rise of a distinctive category as youth subculture meant the birth of a generational consciousness. Age has become a defining element in a youth subculture. On the other hand, young people of the same subculture share internal focal concerns like norms and customs but also external, visible features like stylish aspects, activities, symbolic choices that distinguish them from other (sub)cultures and that define their way of dealing with the changes in the society they’re living in. John Clarke and others argue that youth subculture as such has seen the light after World War II, as a specific category because of the growth of a typic youth market and the young consumer.


Historical context

Subcultures give an expression to the social and material life experiences of a group. That group unites individuals that were born in a certain set of institutions and relations. These make the ‘starting conditions’ from where this group of individuals gives – shared – meanings to their experiences and finds solutions for the challenges they are facing. This ‘raw material’ of life a group gives meaning to by organizing itself in a defined subculture, is specific in each time. Clarke and co. therefore argue that a (sub)culture shows the traject a group makes through history.[1] How the environment looks like, the policies that are taken, the specific artefacts or technological evolutions, the way how social relations are organized, they don’t stay stable through centuries, so a group needs new solutions ta face the changes in reality.

Youth subcultures as an apart category popped up in the post-war period. This is supported by the view of Clarke ea. who claim that what happened to youth in this period is totally different from the decades before. [2] The historical theorist Steven Mintz even claims that until about 1950, youth subculture as such did not exist.[3] On the opposite stands David Fowler, who argues in his book Youth Culture in Modern Britain, that the origins of a specific youth subculture already lie in the twenties of the 20th century. [4]

That specific events or changes in a specific time give different cultures, are shown by Barry Burke. He states that for example in modernism, the advent of capitalism transformed the social order. The modernists believed in the fact that humanity is moving upwards. In Burkes view, postmodernism had its origins in the disillusion of this belief after ’68.[5] Not everything remained possible anymore and this created a new culture, way of giving meaning to the evolutions in society. Some other examples are found where the historical context is relevant in the creation of a (sub)culture in Clarke & co. where the birth of a youth subculture in the UK in the 1950’s is explained by specific historical features, like the increased importance of the market, the arrival of mass communication, the end of the war, the Education Act of 1944 [6]

Hegemony

Hegemony is the political, cultural or economic power exerted by a dominant group over other groups and can be considered as the moment when a dominant class is able to coerce and exert social authority over a subordinate class (Gramsci). A hegemonic cultural order attempts to ensure that existing power relations are reproduced and reinforced. These relationships can exist at an intergenerational and intra-generational level.

As cultures are differentially ranked, they can stand in opposition to one another, in relationships of domination and subordination[7]. The distinct ways of life, meaning systems and modes of expression of youth sub-cultures are formed within this context.

Although power relations of dominance and subordination are enduring, they are not irrevocable. Therefore, hegemony can not usually be sustained by a single class stratum meaning that the dominant culture is never homogenous; it is based on an alliance of those in positions of relative power. Theoretically hegemony can be challenged by those in positions of relative subordination. It is the tensions that result from dominant and subordinate relationship that create impetus for challenge and innovations in thinking.

Youth subcultures can be considered as real, symbolic or ritualistic attempts to challenge and influence the equilibrium of power relations. This challenge may involve consciously adopting behaviour that appears threatening to the establishment (Jefferson and Hall). Youth subcultures may draw on strategies such as coexistence, resistance, struggle, mobilisation, politicisation and organisation in order to challenge dominant cultures and highlight structural contradictions within society. In doing so, youth subcultures enable young people to win ‘space’ be that political, economic or cultural. However, youth subcultures have also been inherently consumerist and integral to the divide-and-rule strategy of capitalism.

Generational Consciousness

Human life is inherited from older generations and is passed on to younger generations – good and bad. This intergenerational contract involves the transmission of learning, lifestyle, attitudes, philosophy, value systems, experience, wisdom etc [8].

Structural contradictions such as short-term unsustainable economic growth, social exclusion and inequality that may have been inherited or created by one generation are recreated and imparted to the next generation. Disillusionment of young people with the political and cultural systems of a society is the decisive factor affecting the intensity of generational conflict [9]. And therefore the mere existence of contradictions in society can provide an impetus for the formation of youth sub-cultures.

Without access to legitimate means of power, sub-cultures may adopt behaviours, attitudes or ways of being that are deemed as deviant, criminal, or subversive by the dominant culture. For example, in the UK the majority of media focus during student protests against increases in tuition fees was on the criminal activity of a minority, rather than on what student’s would have articulated as the substantive issue; a tripling of fees implemented by politicians many of whom had benefited from a free university education system and who had made manifesto commitments to abolish fees.

Although superficially members of a sub-culture may walk, talk, act, look ‘different from their parents and from some of their peers: they belong to the same families, go to the same schools, work at much the same jobs, live down the same streets as their peers and parent [10]. The ideas, thoughts and development of youth sub-cultures are a product of the environment and system conditions in which young people are brought up.

If as suggested by generational consciousness is a realisation that the current state of humanity is both a product of history and a seed for the future [11], then youth subcultures may provide insights and information on the contradictions that exist within society.

Subcultural Style

Although the youth subculture arises through real tension and problems around the life circumstances of the young people, the solutions offered by the subcultures are mainly of symbolic nature. “They solve, but in an imaginary way, problems which at the concrete material level remain unresolved[12]. The subcultures are formed mostly around common leisure time activities, social rituals and cultural spaces and supported by an expression of a subcultural style. This special style consists of dress, music, argot, and rituals, which creates the meaning, forms the identity and express the values of the subculture.[13] . But expressing “not the real relation between them and their conditions of existence but the way they live the relation between them and the conditions of their existence; this presupposes both a real and an imaginary, lived relation. Ideology then, is ... the (over determinate) unity of the real relation and the imaginary relation...that expresses a will, a hope or a nostalgia rather than describing a reality.” [14]. It seemed it the subcultural space is functioning like a shelter for the youth to find there a feeling of peace and understanding, which is created around a certain group style and common activities, but this subcultural space is mainly symbolic and not offering concrete solutions for the problems of the youth. The group shared identity, the common meanings given to reality and the ideology behind the way of life in the subculture is supporting mainly the emotional stability of their members and offering a common sense of belonging toward the outside world full of problems.[15]

Youth market

The consumers market specifically geared to youth was an important factor for the development of the youth subcultures, they provided the needed raw materials and the gods. But they did not produced a certain authentic style and when they tried they failed. The objects have been offered by the market but the use and transformations into concrete style was done by the groups. The meaning of the object arises through the social use, they get a new cultural meaning in process of interaction within the subculture. “They mean only because they have been arranged, according to the social use, into cultural codes of meaning, which assign meanings to them.” [16]. The natural meaning of the product is often rearranged, developed towards a new meaning related to the values of the subculture. Important is also to underline that the youth market as such is associated with the dominant culture, the commercialisation and profit making around their culture, which is often not responding to their values. This often leads to adaptation rather than implementation of products offered by the market and instead of creating trends for the subcultural style the market is running behind them. Of course this autonomous approach towards style creation refers just to the authentic subcultures. There is a lot of copying from the subcultures by youth market, which is taking over certain parts of the style without referring its meaning and values and sells it as a product. The interference between subcultures and the commercial market is also supported by the modern media culture: internet, social media, movies, advertisements and music industry are influencing the development of the subcultures and their style. . Through this changes the local development of a subculture is today much more related to a global intercultural dialogue than just appears in a concrete local and national socio-cultural context. [17]

References

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  1. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp.10-11
  2. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson p.15
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youth_subculture
  4. David Fowler (2008), Youth culture in modern Britain, c. 1920 - c. 1970. From ivory tower to global movement. A new history. Hampshire: Palgrave McMillan
  5. Burke, Barry (2000) 'Post-modernism and post-modernity', the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-postmd.htm
  6. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp.17-20
  7. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp. 9-16, pp. 30-33, pp. 45-57
  8. Ntuli R., (2008), Defining Generational Consciousness - The Institute for Generational Dialoouge. [http://theigd.blogspot.com/2008/03/defining-generational-consciousness.html
  9. Laufer R. S. (1971) Sources of Geneartional Consciousness and Conflict, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science May 1971 vol. 395 no. 1 80-94
  10. Clarke Clarke, J., Hall, S., Jefferson, T. and Roberts, B. (1976), ‘Subcultures, Cultures and Class: A Theoretical Overview’, in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp. 9-16, pp. 30-33, pp. 45-57
  11. Ntuli R., (2008), Defining Generational Consciousness - The Institute for Generational Dialoouge. [http://theigd.blogspot.com/2008/03/defining-generational-consciousness.html
  12. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp. 48
  13. “Subculture: The Meaning of Style”, Dick Hebdige, Routledge, 1979
  14. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp. 48
  15. (“Inside subculture: the postmodern meaning of style” David Muggleton, Berg, 2000
  16. Clarke J., Hall S., Jefferson T., Roberts B. (1976), Subcultures, Cultures and Class in S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson pp. 55
  17. “Youth media”, Bill Osgerby, Routledge, 2004

Further Reading

David Fowler (2008), Youth culture in modern Britain, c. 1920 - c. 1970. From ivory tower to global movement. A new history. Hampshire: Palgrave McMillan

Dick Hebdige, “Subculture: The Meaning of Style”, Routledge, 1979

David Muggleton, “Inside subculture: the postmodern meaning of style”, Berg, 2000

Bill Osgerby, “Youth media”, Routledge, 2004

External Links

http://youth-com.org/ycs.pdf (Youth culture, subculture and the importance of neighbourhood) http://www.kirkarts.com/wiki/images/a/af/Hebdige_subculture.pdf (The Function of Subculture, From The Cultural Studies Reader. ed. Simon During, 2nd ed.. New York: Routledge, 1999. 441-50.)