Adolescence and Youth Subcultures

September 22, 2019
Youth subcultures, whose origin ties in with adolescence, help to establish a sense of belonging. Read more about this phenomenon in the following article. 

Since around the year 1950, a new social phenomenon has risen: youth subcultures. Dynamic in character, these subcultures develop within the context of today’s culture.

Despite their differences, all youth subcultures have something in common. They exist to offer members a feeling of belonging to a group.

Adolescence and the origin of youth subcultures

Adolescence is a stage of life whose concept is relatively recent. Authors like anthropologist Margaret Mead first defined the term at the end of the 19th century. Factors like prolonged schooling, the crisis within the traditional family, and the appearance of the Welfare State all have to do with the birth of the concept of adolescence.

However, it wasn’t until the arrival of the 20th century that adolescence acquired protagonism for society. And, with that, came the appearance of so-called youth subcultures. According to doctors in sociology and information sciences Angeles Rubio and Maria Angeles San Martin, adolescence began to take on an active role in the public scene.

Youth present themselves as a social group through their influence on fashion, new styles of music, and leisure. In other words, teens have acquired a major role in society as consumers.

Adolescence and Youth Subcultures

What differences are there between these youth subcultures?

Youth subcultures express and manifest themselves through different youth styles. Their style may be defined as their symbolic manifestation by means of both material and immaterial items. Members of a given subculture consider these items as representative of the identity of their group.

That said, the styles that each subculture manifests aren’t static constructions. Rather, they receive influences and experience modifications according to the social and cultural conditions that adolescents live.

What are the defining elements of these subcultures?

  • Language. Groups use these forms of oral expression that help them distinguish themselves from adults. What’s more, the jargon of each subculture reflects their activities and particular experiences.
  • Music. This is the central element of youth subcultures, manifesting itself as an emblem that marks a group’s identity. In general, each subculture identifies itself with a different musical style. However, the origin of the music that most subcultures identify with has to do with the birth of rock and roll.
  • Aesthetics. Most youth subcultures have identified with some sort of visible aesthetics. This can include things like haircuts, clothing, accessories, etc. However, as anthropologist Carles Feixa has pointed out, these aren’t uniform standards. Rather, these aesthetics are more the result of creative formation.
Adolescence and Youth Subcultures

Youth subcultures today

The aspects that subcultures among youth present say a lot about their origin. Preps, greasers, and hippies… All are extinct subcultures. However, we can also say that these same groups have evolved so much that they have come to form other subcultures.

The appearance of the internet was a pivotal moment for adolescent culture. Up until that point, youth subcultures were limited historically and geographically.

Today, however, we find punks, otakus, hipsters, etc. all over the world, thanks to globalization. In fact, the existence of some modern subcultures is the direct result of the internet. Such is the case, for example, with YouTubers.

“While subcultures in the past were defined as static and predicatable, in modern times, new changes in youth, individualism, consumerism and the introduction of ICT have made way for new and different forms of sociability and collective identities.”

–Sergio Cabello–

In conclusion, youth subcultures produce a feeling of belonging to a group. But, why are they so important for adolescents? 

Adolescence is a stage where individuals are in search of their own identity. Belonging to a group of people who share their same tastes is no doubt a way to reaffirm their identity.

  • Feixa, C. (2006). De jóvenes, bandas y tribus. Ariel. España: Barcelona.
  • Mead, M. (1986). Adolescencia y cultura. Edhasa. España: Barcelona.
  • Rubio, A. y San Martín, M.A. (s.f.). Subculturas juveniles: identidad, idolatrías y nuevas tendencias. Revista de Estudios de Juventud, nº 96. Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid.