In Defence of Subculture: Young People, Leisure and Social Divisions

Tracy Shildrick, Robert MacDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

217 Citations (Scopus)


This paper represents a further contribution to recent debates in the Journal of Youth Studies about subculture theory and 'post-subcultural studies,. Specifically, we argue that the particularised focus of the latter on youth culture in relation to music, dance and style negates a fuller, more accurate exploration of the cultural identities and experiences of the majority of young people. Celebratory and broadly postmodern theories have been utilised as a means for understanding the 'scenes, 'neo-tribes' and 'lifestyles' that 'post-subcultural studies' describe. Such studies tend to pay little attention to the importance, or otherwise, of social divisions and inequalities in contemporary youth culture. Almost unanimously, post-subcultural studies reject the previously pivotal significance of class-based subcultures, as theorised by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at Birmingham, in their attempts to explain new forms of youth cultural identity. We argue that this critique of subculture is premised on a partial interpretation of the theoretical objectives of CCCS and that, in fact, some of the theoretical and methodological propositions of the latter remain relevant. This argument is supported by a brief review of some other, very recent youth research that demonstrates the continuing role of social divisions in the making and shaping of young people's leisure lives and youth cultural identities and practises. In conclusion, we suggest that the ambition of the CCCS to understand not only the relationship between culture and social structure, but also the ways in which individual youth biographies evolve out of this relationship, remains a valuable one for the sociology of youth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-140
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number2
Early online date16 Aug 2006
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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