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A youth subculture is a youth-based subculture with distinct styles, behaviors, and interests. According to subculture theorists such as Dick Hebdige, members of a subculture often signal their membership by making distinctive and symbolic tangible choices in, for example, clothing styles, hairstyles and footwear. However, intangible elements, such as common interests, dialects and slang, music genres and gathering places can also be an important factor. Youth subcultures offer participants an identity outside of that ascribed by social institutions such as family, work, home and school.

Social class, gender and ethnicity can be important in relation to youth subcultures. Youth subcultures can be defined as meaning systems, modes of expression or lifestyles developed by groups in subordinate structural positions in response to dominant systems — and which reflect their attempt to solve structural contradictions rising from the wider societal context. The study of subcultures often consists of the study of the symbolism attached to clothing, music, other visible affections by members of the subculture and also the ways in which these same symbols are interpreted by members of the dominant culture.

The term scene can refer to an exclusive subculture or faction. Scenes are distinguished from the broad culture through either fashion; identification with specific (sometimes obscure or experimental) musical genres or political perspectives; and a strong in-group or tribal mentality. The term can also be used to depict specific subsets of a subculture, habitually geographical, such as the Detroit drum and bass scene or the London Goth scene. A quantity of scenes tend to be volatile, imprudent to trends and changes, with some participants acting elitist towards those considered to be less fashionable, or oppositional to the general culture although others do endow with mutual support in marginalized groups. In-group behavior can sometimes elicit external opposition. Subcultures that show a systematic hostility to the dominant culture are sometimes described as countercultures.

Features of youth subcultures

Youth subcultures are often defined or distinguishable by elements such as fashion, beliefs, slang, dialects, behaviours or interests. Vehicles—such as cars, motorcycles, scooters, skateboards, surf boards—have played central roles in certain youth subcultures. In the United Kingdommarker in the 1960s, mods were associated with scooters while rockers were associated with motorcycles. Many youth subcultures are associated with specific music genres, and in some cases music has been the primary characteristic of the group, such as with Punks, Ravers, Metalheads, Goths, Gangstas, Emo and Indie.

Theories about youth subculture

Early studies in youth culture were mainly produced by functionalist sociologists, and focus on youth as a single form of culture. In explaining the development of the culture, they utilized the concept of anomie. Talcott Parsons argued that as we move from the family and corresponding values to another sphere with differing values, (e.g. the workplace) we would experience an "anomie situation." The generalizations involved in this theory ignore the existence of subcultures.

Marxist theories account for some diversity, because they focus on classes and class-fractions rather than youth as a whole. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson described youth subcultures as symbolic or ritualistic attempts to resist the power of bourgeois hegemony by consciously adopting behavior that appears threatening to the establishment. Conversely, Marxists of the Frankfurt School of social studies argue that youth culture is inherently consumerist and integral to the divide-and-rule strategy of capitalism. They argue that it creates generation gaps and pits groups of youths against each other (e.g. mods and rockers), especially as youth culture is the dominant culture in the west.

Interactionist theorist Stan Cohen argues youth subcultures are not coherent social groupings that arise spontaneously as a reaction to social forces, but that mass media labeling results in the creation of youth subcultures by imposing an ideological framework in which people can locate their behavior. Post-structuralist theories of subculture utilize many of the ideas from these other theories, including hegemony and the role of the media. Dick Hebdige describes subcultures as a reaction of subordinated groups that challenge the hegemony of the dominant culture. This theory accounts for factors such as gender, ethnicity and age. Youth can be seen as a subordinate group in relation to the dominant, adult society.

Historical theorist Steven Mintz claims that until about 1950, youth subculture as such did not exist. Children aspired to (or were pulled into) adulthood as fast as their physical development allowed. Marcel Danesi argues that since then, the media, advertisers and others have made youth the dominant culture of Western societies, to the point that many people retain what others consider to be immature attitudes far into adulthood. This is further supported by P. Lewis, who claims that youth culture did not originate until the 1950s, with the development of rock and roll. However, other historians have claimed that youth culture may have developed earlier, particularly in the inter-war period. There were examples of new youth subcultures emerging throughout that period, such as the flapper.

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