"Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however is to change" - Karl Marx

This blog is my interpretation, I will do everything I can to change the world along those line

Friday, 22 January 2010

Youth Culture

I haven't made a post for awhile so I have decided to post one of my recent essay's as I beieve it could be the starting point for an interesting discussion. The essay is not a definitive answer to the question by any stretch of the imagination as ever with academia I was limited by time and space as well as by the nature of the question it self.

Nevertheless I feel that this could be a good starting point for a discussion on the changes of youth culture and its relationship with capitalism.

The question of youth, is one that is ever changing, by the very nature of youth being a stage of life that everyone goes through. A question however of great importance for a very obvious reason pointed out by Giroux 

Any discourse about the future has to begin with the issue of youth because more than any other group, youth embody the dreams, desires, and commitment of a society’s obligation to the future.
(Giroux, 2004)

However the youth are not simply developed in isolation from society as something to mould it in future. On the contrary young people are born into a society already in existence moulded and developed by the material realities around them as explained by Pierre Bourdieu

 '’youth' has been an evolving concept, layered upon layers with values which reflect contemporary moral, political and social concerns'

(cited in Jones, 2009)

It's for this reason that the question of youth cannot be discussed in isolation of previous events that have moulded and developed them and their outlook and expressions. I will explain here how the collapse of the Soviet Union along with the destruction of the manufacturing industry led to a major crisis in youth culture in the early 90's through the rave culture that had developed. Due to the increased alienation and lack of a ideological outlet. The Rave Culture emerged as a political act of defiance, creating their own society their own norms their own values, with sheer disregard for the laws accepted by society as a whole. But as this died down through the enforcement of the Criminal Justice Act and the rise of the legitimate club scene there arose a conflict in youth.

The crisis which arose was on one hand a dual fragmentation into the overtly political in the form of the anti-capitalist movement and the apolitical with the development of chav culture, both of which in reality were very political reactions to the alienation felt most acutely by young people. Alongside this was a stark contradiction, the young people were further fragmented, lost without their own identity, simply holding the identity that had been thrust upon them.

The big change, in fact probably the biggest change which will have changed youth culture forever, is the spread of the internet, which has opened up contemporary as well as historic ideas, values beliefs and norms to a generation who grew up with the internet as the norm. This coupled with the biggest economic crisis for nearly 100 years has had a profound effect and leads to major changes to come.

As the 1990s began the Berlin Wall had fallen and the rest of the Soviet Union had either collapsed or was on the verge of doing so. Their followed a huge ideological extravaganza that capitalism was the only way forward in which society can be run. Encapsulated by the Wall Street Journal which in 1990 simply declared as the headline 'We Won' (cited in Taaffe, 2009). This did not however match the reality of the experiences of young people at the time.

During this period of the so-called global triumph of capitalism the manufacturing industry in Britain had begun to decline and replaced with service sector jobs or unemployment (REFERENCE) in the recession of the early 90s. Leading to increased alienation, as Marx explained they do not see their work as part of their life but merely a way in which to gain the earnings necessary to for subsistence and leisure. (Marx, 1999) Hannah Sell brings this into a modern context by showing that young people were further alienated

The description of working life would apply just as much to the workers in McDonalds. Tesco, call centres on modern building sites or in factories, as it ever did to the weavers and labourers Marx was describing. Instead of making life easier the increase in automation has reduced ever more jobs to mind-numbing repetition and boredom.
(Sell, 2002)

 All this happened in the backdrop of the ideological offensive that capitalism was the only way. Young people had been cut off from a political voice by the closure of the Labour Party Young Socialists in 1988 which previously would have filled out with working class youth.Young people who were alienated and denied a political voice, being told that this was the only way and growing up in Thatcher's Britain to be told 'There is no society' set out to create their own society. In both a form of escapism from the mundane routine of employment or lack of and a political response to their own space, or norms, own values etc. In essence they tried to create their own society and so the burgeoning rave scene filled out.

It was a movement of the abandoned who found a space for themselves in the spaces and gaps left by society in the wake of abandoning a generation.
It occupies the ‘cracks and vacancies’ left by the state, including abandoned industrial complexes, - the detritus of Euro-American post-industrial society. As manifestations of the TAZ, raves are utopian social formations temporarily convened in Turner cracks, crevices and interstices of social structure - in the margins of society.
(John 2004)
It is clear from this that the emergence of the rave culture was an attempt to reinvigorate the abandoned and betrayed areas of society which had alienated young people so much. However this was not simply a case of young people trying to re-establish the forms of society that had been destroyed this was a case of young people trying to create a new society based on their own norms and values as Steve Redhead points out.
It can be used and usually not affect the person’s ability to work the next or the following day. It is associated with politics of pleasure, a hedonism (in hard times) – a pleasure for its own sake in times when moral regulation of youth is pervasive and deep economic crisis is rife.
(Redhead, 1993)
Whilst functionalists would argue that this deviance is necessary in order to maintain a functioning society even going as far as to say 'anomie does not cause deviance, it is deviance which is the solution to anomie' (Blackman 2004) I would turn this on its head and say that the isolation is both the cause of the deviance and that the deviance is also the solution to isolation. Not however that this is the only way in which society could function, but simply that this is the only way in which the current order of society can be maintained. It was for this reason and that the rave culture was seriously questioning the power and authority of society that it was eventually controlled and stamped out. Through the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act which clamped down on illegal raves and through the legitimisation of rave culture in the commercial scene. 
It was through this discourse that young people were conflicted, the young were fragmented and no dominant sub-culture was there to encapsulate the hopes and dreams of a generation. This can be summed up by the rock band Pitchshifter, who point out the alienation felt by youth and the searching for a voice, for a generational statement.
The jobs we get when we graduate from school are stupid, boring meaningless and a dead end to insanity..... Every generation has a statement they wanna call their own, tattoos, piercings, that’s for mums and dads.
(Pitchshifter 2000)
It is in this period which prompted Steve Redford to proclaim that youth as a genre is fast becoming a cliché (Redhead 1995). Whilst this was partially true there was also during this period two phenomena’s that changed things forever.

It was around this period in which the anti-capitalist movement developed, due to the lack of political organisation in workplaces but the relative political freedom and individual wealth that had developed an unique situation developed where young people alienated from society decided to fight back against the capitalist order directly
The kind of workplaces that young people work in often do not have unions. Politically-conscious youth are expressing their politics outside of work, through anti-fascism, through defending their right to party, through involvement in a counter-culture (in which the internet plays a large part). The internet gives young people contact with the world. They form ideas about their place in the world, without attending meetings. The internet makes it possible for young people in the UK to define themselves in relation to struggles for emancipation in Korea or Mexico, without the mediating role of an organisation in their home town or even home country. Lots of internet kiddies know more about the politics of the Zapatistas than they do about the political systems they live under. The Zapatistas are exciting rebels, even the best of the politicians available at home are either dreary careerists or patently unserious.
(Workers’ Liberty, 2001)
This clearly displays that young people are clearly and overtly searching for a political alternative to run society and this happened because of the spread of the internet opening up global ideas to a lost generation who now have the ability to search out those very ideas. It has led to the development of a youth culture with is anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist in nature and one which embraces and even celebrates their differences. This can be summed up in a nutshell by the anti-capitalist musicians Sonic Boom Six who point out that the differences between then are in essence meaningless it’s just about finding your own identity in a failing world. 
Well I remember at the party, a couple years ago, when I saw an MC. He ripped the mic and passed it to me. I learnt a little lesson he helped me to see. It’s not about choosing guitar or the decks it’s about doing it yourself that get’s the respect. So punks say Oi! B-Boys say Bo!
(Sonic Boom Six, 2006)

This form of culture amongst youth has undoubtedly developed because of the rise of the internet which encapsulates all the history and culture available and the click of a button which has led to the acceptance of other styles of youth culture.

Conversely however this was a dual process and the other main trend to flow from this was the emergence of chav culture which has also been a political reaction by this change has occurred in a covert nature. Chavs have also taken an anti-authoritarian stance but one of intimidation coupled with a desire for commodities previously adorned with the middle class. (Atkinson, 2008) ‘Chav culture’ has taken the alienation and frustration of young people in a consumer society and manifested itself in a disregard for authority and a yearning for those consumer goods which they see as defining their status.

Both these dualities which have appeared in youth culture over the last decade are a reaction to the alienation and abandonment felt by young people in the modern world.
One of the worst things of all experiences in capitalist Britain is to be a young person who cannot get work – to have been thrown on the scrap heap before your teens are over.
(Sell, 2002)
Yet these different sub-cultures have manifested themselves in opposing forms. One seeking to change the world and one seeking to simply change their own circumstances. These differences are likely to be exacerbated in the next few years as the economic crisis will further beat down on an already battered generation and it is for this reason that the subject is so interesting as the ideas and objectives of the youth will be the ideas and objectives of the future. 

I have outlined here the developments of youth culture in the last two decades, starting from the conflict in young people, alienated from a society that they were told was the ‘only way’ which manifested itself in a merger of cultural resistance and of a political response in the form of rave culture. But once this began to disseminate there was a crisis in youth. There appeared a young generation angry and disposed with their isolation but with no obvious outlet neither political nor cultural. But this began to change with the fast paced spread of the internet opening up the world to young people and a duality in youth developed. 

Young people were increasingly isolated from society and manifested themselves into to opposing ways, one in which they attempted to change society and another in which they attempted to change their own position in society. These differences are likely to exacerbated in the next few years as the looming economic crisis deepens and the dominant ideas which emerge amongst the youth with be the dominant ideas of the future leading to more changes.


  1. This makes very little sense Glyn. How can rave culture reflect the collapse of the USSR and increased alienation (undefined) when Punk, and before it the mods, adapted very similar and even more extreme lifestyles of drug taking and hedonism. This is very mechanistic.

    How can alienation have been 'increased'in the 1990s when we consider the rise in living standards, greater access to higher education and leisure which market the period 1992-2009. You have to provide some measurement of this rate of change in youth alienation, as well as going further into what Marx meant by alienation (also what he meant by this at different times and in different concrete situations/processes).

    This critique of functionalism is fine so far as it goes, but falls into the trap of objectivism or processism-seeing a movement as a counter culture/ counter hegemony simply on the basis that is is independent of an 'other'. This fails to account for both the ease of suppression of the rave scene, and its co-option into a big business framework of super clubs

    Enjoyed reading.


  2. The main problem counter-cultures always face is the risk of being turned into a market. Look at the way the capitalists cashed in on the rave and grunge cultures, so they were diluted into a mere image of rebellion for us to buy into.
    Buy the latest iPod Revolution and be a rebel just like everyone else. Buy the Virgin Mobile 'Freedom Pack' with a picture of Che on it. Buy the £500 ripped jeans, make yourself look tatty and nonconformist. Buy all these things, but do not think for yourselves or question authority.

    We still have a strong anarchist/anticapitalist underground, which I'm happy to report is well out of the reach of capitalism. Capitalists can't touch what they can't see, and you can't buy into a world without image. And one of my favourite artists Alec Empire continues to find new ways of provoking from beyond the markets.

  3. I forgot to mention that he's right the youth are alienated - they are alienated every time their culture is marketed.

  4. As i said I was limited by both time and space so it is not a definitive answer, as such I was unable to explore alienation in full. However I think it would be fair to say that this period of the late 80's and early 90's can be saiid to have further alienated youth, whilst this was folowed by a period of inscreased leisure etc. Does not neccessarily result in less alienation as the change in working conditions and types of work done also impacted on this.

    Whilst punks and other previous sub-cultures had also developed simiiar cultural practices none were the same and were caused by other factors, once again as i was limited by space it wasn't possible to discuss those at that point.

    However it would be a good discussion to have, around the subject or culture vs counter culture and what it represents etc

  5. That is sort of the point though Glyn, you do not make any effort to compare the different contexts, making the claim to uniqueness of druggy rave culture a mute example of alienation.

    To be fair though I am not the man to have much to say on this subject due to a deep seated conservatism which would happily see this dreg trend locked up in a labour camp.

  6. unfortunately the question didnt allow for comparisions pre the late 80s in aany real way such is the restrictive nature of academia in this form.

    Curious of your position though, whilst there were many negatives about the rave culture in this period there were also many positives in my view, you obviously don't see it the same way though. Could you expand on that?

  7. I caught the fag end of the rave culture as an adolescent. Can't say as there seemed much of utility or progress at the time, perhaps a case of looking back through shit smeared spectacles of a tied down late 20s bloke though.

    There is always the possibility and reality that youth may well rebel against what amounted to slave conditions. The popularity of rave culture is not the only example; The Stone Roses-who had very political lyrics and 'fuck you Thatcher' method of performance, would also exemplify this.

    Your point is generally correct though, both concerning the restrictions of academia (is it all fucking worth it I hear you cry as you complete these restrictive essays) and the absence of progressive political alternatives making rave culture go down the nihilistic path. I would have linked this more to the failure of Marxist groups to build real movements, with a few notable exceptions (Poll Tax-Mili Tend) and real parties. I would have traced this failure to the auto-labourism of most grps, which meant that when the LP died a death in the late 1980s there was massive decline organisationally, numerically and in terms of optimism on the ostensibly Marxist left.

  8. I think the key point there is that you caught the end of it as an adolescent. Any social or cultural movement loses alot when it begins to tail off and I think that fits well with what I have written, that the rave culture as it developed split and fragmented because of contrasting ideologies involved.
    Whether it was progressive or not is an entirely different matter, the point I would argue though is that it was viewed by many participants as a politically progressive reaction, although obviously not solely in this way.

    I think you are right about the failure of the marxist left in this period for a number of factors, the closure of the LPYS played a huge factor and something which marxists did not adapt to quickly enough.
    But I would say that the collapse of the soviet union and the 'capitalism has won' propaganda played a part as well, again I don't think marxists reacted quickly enough to this in the way they projected themselves although in many ways this was beyond thier control. Which is seen the the anti-ideology ideology which has become so prevelent in the 'anti-capitalist movement'

  9. there are a couple of kinda marxist accounts of youth subcultures worth checking out (if you haven't already) by people associated with the now defunct birmingham centre for contempory cultural studies

    RESISTANCE THROUGH RITUALS by Stuart Hall et al is very interesting accounts of youth subcultures such as punk, rastafarianism, mods, rockers, gangs, hippies and so on and attempts to relate them to class in post-war britian. read it a very long time ago so memory hazy (but remember it being very good), but i think one of the themes was how working class 'space' was being encroached upon by capital and youth resisted by creating space through rituals and their own cultures (but the resistance was only symbolic), also it was very good in understanding the internal logics of the subcultures and alert to the meanings that youth themselves bring to their actions.

    SUBCULTURE - THE MEANING OF STYLE by Dick Hebdige is a kinda semiotic-marxist analysis, summary here: http://machines.pomona.edu/marxwiki/index.php/Subculture:_The_Meaning_of_Style

    uses concepts like 'bricolage' the way subcultures rip an everyday mundane object out of its capitalist culture and re-define it. for example, the use of the safety pin in punk.

    i also recall reading an attempt at a marxist class-analysis of hippie subculture by Jock Young (now a left of centre) criminologist, he explores the difference between working class hippies, lower middle class and more affluent hippies, and the tensions that arose from dropping out of capitalism, but discovering that capitalism wouldn't let you drop out.

    young was at that time a member of the international socialists and one of the authors of the seminal 'the new criminology') it was in one of the books of essays linked with the 'national deviancy conference' (a radical seventies intellectual collective) edited by laurie taylor

    adam j


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