Topic 15: Youth cultures and Marxism

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  • Created by: zoolouise
  • Created on: 01-05-16 15:30

Marxism and youth culture

Functionalism was the dominant social theory until the 1970s. Many sociologists rejected functionalism as it didn't explain social conflict or the spectcular youth cultures of the time. Feminism and Marxism became more popular as an explanation for social relationships. The CCCS was formed in Birmingham University in 1964.

Marxists see society as being based on the domination and exploitation of the working class by the capitalist economic system. They say that capitalism is able to maintain its domination through the use of power and legal systems. They suggest that the working class accept their class position because of the way that capitalism passes on values and ideology about society through social control via agencies such as the media and education.

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Marxism and neo-Marxism

Marxists claim that inequalities of wealth and the mechanism which holds society together, they lead to class conflict and differences in power between various groups. Writers who use Marxism as a starting point are known as neo-Marxists. 

Neo-Marxists look at classes, but suggest that people from different social classes view the world in different ways. They experience different social pressures and so respond in indiviudal ways. The study of social symbolism is known as semiology. Semiologists believe that there's hidden meanings in everyday objects and behaviours, so an item of clothing could just be used to cover the body.

Phil Cohen (1972) first used semiological techniques to look at subcultural styles in the East End of London. He stated that youth cultures were a response to a loss of traditional community life and their styles could be 'read' as responses to that loss. 

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Resistance theory

During the 70s and 80s, the focus of study was on deviant subcultures. The general perception was that working-class youth resisted the ideology of capitalism through anti-social behaviour. Stuart Hall claimed that young people joined subcultures with norms, values and dress codes that were antagonistic to mainstream cultures. 

  • Hall and Jefferson (1976) looked at Teddy boys and claimed that their style was an expression of contempt for middle-class values
  • Cohen (1972) and Clarke (1976) looked at skinhead gangs, they argued that the aggressive racism of skin was simply an attempt to preserve a traditional but threatened working-class identity. 
  • Paul Corrigan's (1979) study of aggressive and hooligan working-class males in Sunderland suggested they wre looking for excitement because they were bored in school. Thus, violence was a way of expressing frustration and capitalism.
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Magical solutions

Mike Brake (1984) claimed that youth cultures provided magical solutions to the lives of their members. Young people are relatively powerless in society and cannot alter their social world. Membership of a youth culture allows people to believe that they will be different from their parents generation. It's a magical solution because it has no basis in reality. Further writers within the Marxist tradition used the idea to suggest that some youth cultures 'magically' or symbolically recreated working-class culture through their styles and symbolism.

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Assessments of Marxism and the CCCS

  • Len Barton (2006) and feminists in particular have criticsed the CCS for romanticising some rather unpleasant youth groups, seeing evidence of working class resistance to capitalism among young people who wouldn't have recognised themselves in the descriptions made by the writers. Groups such as the skinheads were overtly and violently racist, sexist and homophobic; points that were noted in the studies but not really explored.
  • Feminists have complainted that the CCCS had a malestream bias. This means they've only looked at youth cultures from a male perspective. 
  • The attraction of violent youh culture is that it's exciting and fun to participate in. Many of the CCCS authors noted this in their studies, but again it is an idea that isn't explored in detail.
  • The extreme subcultures were described and explored so that conformist young people were overlooked. 
  • Muggleton points out the CCCS assumes most of the youth cultures of the 70s and 80s were working class in origin. Many youth styles were originated in art schools and among wealthier young people who could invest in clothing, style and music and thus gain culutral capital from their knowledge of youth style
  • Postmodernists have found that recent neo-tribes and subcultural groups come from a range of backgrounds. Sarah Thornton even goes so far to suggest that class is irrelevant as mots youth cultures are media-generated anyway.
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