Topic 17: Postmodernism and youth cultures

  • Created by: zoolouise
  • Created on: 02-05-16 08:52

Approaches to youth cultures

Bennett and Hetherington state that class, ethnicity, gender and social experiences are irrelevent in cultural terms for young people. They differ from most of the earlier subcultural theories. Along with functionalists, they claim that youth is a social construction; social and economic changes mean that 'youth' lasts far longer than it did in the past. This is because people may be dependent on families, attend university, travel or put off settling down until their 30s. They can pick and choose their friendships and social groups based on a need to fill time and enjoy leisure. These associations can change according to a person's needs at a given time.

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Most of the cultural work in the 80s and 90s was of club cultures which formed in cities such as Manchester and Newcastle. Clubbers were found to be more interested in dance than anything more substantial in terms of politics or meaning. Young people in the 70s and 80s appeared to have a deep commitment to a particular single set of styles and values in which they'd idenity themselves with. Bennett found that clubbers in the 90s might be binge drinking or leisure drug using at the weekends, they'd slip back into the boring predictability on Monday when they went to work. Bennett describes this loose grouping of people as a neo-tribe, using Maffesoli's concept of modern tribalism. A neo-tribe is united by shared tastes and styles. Neo-tribes share consumer choices, and have a similar state of mind and lifestyle. This is supported by Hetherington (1998) who found that New Age travellers shared moral convictions rather than social class background.

Ted Polhemus refers to the supermarket of style. We all have a wider range of choices than ever and we create cultural fusions. 

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Modern youth culture is meaningless

Reimer claimed that youth culture and neo-tribes have something in common, single-minded pursuit of fun and excitement and that's more significant than issues of class and gender. Not all postmodernists agree that youth cultures are meaningless and empty styles. Kahane argues that fusion styles are meaningful as they represent the choices of the present. Thornton argues that modern youth cultures are often commerically produced for mass consumption by the media and some young people deliberately change them and make them original in ways not thought of by music and fashion interests. They need to move fast to keep ahead of commerical interests. Louise Archer stated that often these industries look to street style for inspiration.

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Globalisation, postmodernism and youth culture

Hebdige has moved on from the Marxism of the CCCS and argued that the internet has resulted in virtual youth cultures developing where ideas from a number of cultures are adapted according to local tastes and music. These youth cultures are interesting as there may not be much physical interaction between indiviudals. Luke and Luke suggest that cultural influences are global and cite the significance of American culture of young people around the world.

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Assessments of postmodernism

  • Not all sociologists are convinced that class no longer shapes the lives of young people. Archer (2007) found significant and meaningful style differences between middle-class and working-class youths in her study in London.
  • Harriet Bradley (1997) makes a similar point when she says that postmodernists ignore the fact that there's structural differences in what people can afford, which limit their style and lifestyle choices.
  • Postmodernism has no value as all it can do is describe society and social problems, it can't help us to solve the issues young people face in the modern world.
  • Chomsky has criticsed postmodernism for being vague and difficult to understand. Hebdige says it's simply a buzzword for almost anything including art, literature, home decorating or a style.
  • Marxists say that postmodernism doesn't address the real issue of inequalities of class, ethnicity and gender that lead to the formation of youth culture and youth rebellion so it ignores issues such as racism and sexism in society, pretending they don't exist. 
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