15 | Youth: Part 4

Although the concept of “youth culture” – a ‘shared way of life’, with its own distinctive roles, values, norms, beliefs and practices, common to young people and different to other generational groups (such as the elderly) – has a certain face validity, it’s not one that has a great deal of sociological currency in contemporary societies (for reasons we’ve previously outlined and explored).

Similarly, the concept of youth subcultures is one that has, it’s probably fair to say, fallen out of the sociological mainstream in recent times, partly because of the dramatic decline in its “spectacular” forms (the mods, hippies and punks of your parents (and possibly grandparents) generations), but mainly because even in these spectacularly overt forms there is actually very little evidence of subcultural organisation – such as the ability to socialise new members or reproduce the group over time, for example.

While “youth subcultures”, in other words, are seen as behavioural forms that are, by definition, defined by the overwhelming presence and participation of “young people”, there’s arguably little evidence they constitute subcultural groupings in the generally-accepted use of the term.

It’s Dead, Dave. They’re all Dead

Youth culture and subculture are, in this respect, sometimes called “zombie concepts” -explanations that, while they once had some form of life, have long-ago ceased to have any real meaning, currency or relevance for our understanding of young people’s behaviour. They’re dead, but they just don’t know it (although they can still be dangerous because they cloud the way we think about youth).


If there’s one area where the notion of youth subcultures might have limited – but none-the-less significant – credibility, its secondary education. This follows for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, schools are a social space which large numbers of young people of a similar age and situation inhabit for a relatively long period.

Secondly, the fact that it’s compulsory makes schooling a potential breeding ground for a range of forces that may coalesce around shared experiences: those both responsive to and antagonistic of, schools and schooling.

This chapter on The Experience of Youth in Education, therefore, examines the idea of youth subcultures within the education system in terms of a range of ideas. The initial sections explore some of the background to the possible development of different types of subcultural responses to schooling while the final sections explore ideas about school and education subcultural development, plus possible alternatives to conventional forms of education.

1. Class, gender and ethnic factors surrounding the experience of schooling, including the formal and informal curriculum

2. Perspectives on schooling – Functionalist, Marxist, Feminist and Interactionist

3. Patterns and trends in subject choice – specifically in terms of gender and class

4. Pro- and anti-school subcultures

5. Pro- and anti-education subcultures

6. Alternative education.

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