Youth culture and youth subcultures have been a subject of research since the early 1930s. This paper attempts to explore the main changes of youth subcultures during the last twenty years and presents two youth subcultures that have been generated since the 1960s and are both still widely influential today - the motor-bike boys, sometimes known as bikers or greasers and, more recently, the ‘ravers’ and their connections to ‘recreational’ drug use. This paper will focus on some of the past theoretical perspectives and trace the origins and development of youth cultural studies from socialisation and resistance to a more post-modernist perspective. Are these original theories changing in a more contemporary world? Are youth styles today more a form of identification through consumption? Are there any similarities and connections between the two subcultures.
Defining ‘youth’ can be difficult and is described in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as:
“the state of being young, the period between childhood andThis would indicate that youth is described as an age group and people can be distinguished by the different age groups. 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 organization of an age group” (1986:2) 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’. (Oxford Dictionary 1990) This would imply that a subculture is a subdivision of a national culture; it exists between the parameters of certain cultures. Talcott Parsons (taken from Pilkington 1977: 22) 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.
Empirical observation carried out by sociologists find that youth sub-cultures 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 i.e. bikers at race meetings and bars and ravers at dance clubs or outdoor raves. It is then assumed that shared activities reflect shared values. Firth states that “culture is all learned behavior which has been socially acquired” (Firth 1951: 27)
A.K. Cohen (1955:51) saw a major determinant of subcultures among youth as ‘What people do depends upon the problems they contend with’. Ford (1942) states that culture is a ‘traditional way of solving problems, a learned problem solution’. These quotes would imply youth culture has a problem solving function and refers to the way these problems are solved. It describes the values and activities that young people develop to make sense of and cope with their shared experiences. This is a functionalist approach towards youth culture and this has, on the whole, been the American approach to youth culture. Youth culture was seen by structural functionalists as a central aspect of the socialisation process and thus as a mechanism of maintaining social stability rather than bringing about either social change or disruption. (Pilkington 1997:22)
Analysis of youth culture in Britain has been influenced mainly by Marxist thought. Marx believed all cultures are produced by ‘social conditions’ and that these ‘social conditions’ depend upon social class and the problems social class provides; age, according to Marx, was also a contributor. However, it has been argued that Marx didn't discuss other principles regarded as important, such as gender and race. Writing in Resistance through Rituals, Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber criticized other members of the CCCS (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at University of Birmingham) for their lack of attention to the issues of gender and race in both their ethnographic work and their theorising. (taken from Pilkington: 1997:23) This was blamed on both researchers and the media concentrating on male-dominated subcultures due to concern of ‘the spectacular and the violent’.
THE 60s BIKERS
“Deviant styles are, obviously, non conformist and such non conformity is,This would imply there is a shock value to deviant styles of youth sub cultures who wish to look menacing and mean like bikers, skinheads and punks.
Willis’s study revealed that this particular group of bikers’ style, values and activities were equally shared and would match Frith’s definition of youth culture:
“the particular pattern of beliefs, values, symbols and activities thatIt could be said that not all bikers today share the same values and enjoy the same activities as do the 60s style of bikers. This could be because members of the subculture break away from a particular group or never ‘join’ in the first place. Age could have implications here; the transition from youth to adult may determine how long a member stays in one particular subculture.
Willis described their musical taste ‘highly distinctive and very consistent’. (Willis 1978: 35) This was usually early rock n roll of the 50s. Principally Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly as well as some Rolling Stones. However, it could be argued that not all bikers liked these particular groups.
It was clear in Willis’s study that this particular group of bikers did not take drugs. In fact, they ‘despised’ drugs - they were not seen (as was the motor-bike) as ‘the unformed material of excitement, glamour or new experience’ (Willis 1984:14) I would argue that some groups of 60s bikers, and indeed some of today bikers, have and still do take drugs. A bike club I recently visited in Exeter revealed members openly smoking dope and taking amphetamines.
Although bikers, as a subculture, still exist today, it would appear that changes have been made as to the composition of members within the subculture; their values, beliefs and shared activities.
This style of clothing suited excessive body movement, however, this
fashion style began to change. With interest coming from the
fashion industry, the style began to change and evolve. Baggy
clothes for girls were replaced by tight body-hugging outfits made of materials
such as lycra emphasising appearance rather than comfort and practicality.
This shows that ravers are not always identifiable by their clothes.
Brands names like Naf Naf and Kangol soon became high street brand names.
“sea of youth styles circulating and re-circulating in a harsh economic andBikers and, more recently ravers, had all had tabloid front page headlines. In Redhead’s account of youth culture he states that “the mass media had a veritable field day with some of the key features of what it perceived to be a new youth style or subculture, to rival punk in the 70s or hippies in the 60s. (Redhead 1993) These headlines persisted for years telling their own story of the law and order which has taken place:
ACID CRACKDOWNWere the media right to perceive ravers as rivals to punk and hippies? By media turning youth subcultures into front page news, and possibly distorting the truth, it can create a moral panic amongst other ‘law abiding’ citizens. According to Cohen it can create stereotyping and stigmatise those involved. In turn, this can demand quick and often authoritarian solutions.
To summarise, youth culture has become complicated. There are
so many different theories now that they could easily come into doubt.
It would seem that, when comparing the two different subcultures, that
patterns and common beliefs differ and have changed over the last 20 years.
Bikers had a tighter sense of belonging to their subculture than the more
recent ravers. Society appears to be so complex now; there seems
to be a wider social system with changes in class, occupational structure,
neighborhood structure and family and leisure patterns. 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. Style, enjoyment, excitement,
escape from boredom at work or play, being attractive to ones self have
now become central life concerns.
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