Youth Subculture

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Sociology Factsheet
Youth Subcultures
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.

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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....
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