Although enjoying a period of renewed government policy interest and favourable research funding, youth studies has recently come under considerable intellectual attack, much of it from within. A common theme is that the major conceptual approach of most British youth research over the past twenty years - the sociological study of youth transitions - is not helpful in approaching 'the youth question'. The paper locates these recent critiques in terms of the development of 'two traditions' of youth research in the UK; a development which has served to separate structural and cultural analyses and so to limit the theoretical potential of the field.A recent qualitative study of young people growing up in Teesside, Northeast England is then discussed. Close analysis of the biographies of two of its participants are used as the basis for a reconsideration of the nature of transitions amongst 'socially excluded' youth and a discussion of some of the limitations of recent critiques of youth studies. The paper argues that the sort of research, methods and analysis employed here provide one example of how interests in the cultural and structural aspects of youth might be integrated. It concludes by reasserting the theoretical value of a broad conceptualisation of transition in understanding the social, economic and cultural processes that define the youth phase.