Rethinking the Youth Question

  • Phil Cohen


By the early 1980s two things had become clear. The project of finding a replacement revolutionary subject for the ‘proletariat’ was doomed to failure; and youth cultures were extending their range of bricolage into new domains of race and gender, whilst becoming ever more fully integrated within the dynamics of what was variously described as post-Fordism or post-industrial capitalism. These developments inevitably affected youth research. Marxists, such as Paul Willis,1 still held on to a basically functionalist model of social and cultural reproduction to explain the restructuring of youth labour and school transitions, whilst subculture theory went post-modern in the work of Dick Hebdige and others2. In the case of the youth research programme funded by the ESRC; the brief flirtation with theory and critical ethnography was over3. There was a determined return to empiricist studies which tracked school-leavers’ transition routes, measured their aspirations against qualifications, quantified their consumption patterns and correlated the lot against crude indices of gender, age, race and ‘class’.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Paul Willis (1990) Common Culture (Milton Keynes: Open University).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dick Hebdige (1988) Hiding in the Light (London: Comedia).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. Bynner (1988) Young People — Employment, Culture, Identity (London: ESRC).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Robin Cook, ‘Why Labour needs kidology’ in the Guardian, 9 December 1983, and the overview by David Smith, ‘The Labour Party and youth policy’ in Youth and Policy, 1, 2. For an historical analysis of the problem see Chapter 8 in this volume.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The debates on the political implications of structural and cultural change within the working class has, unfortunately, not begun to embrace the youth question. See, for example, M. Jacques and F. Hobsbawm (eds), The Forward March of Labour Halted (London, 1981), G. Stedman Jones, Languages of Class (Cambridge, 1983) and Raymond Williams ‘The end of an era’ in New Left Review, 181. All of these contributions take the process of political socialisation for granted, as either a quasi-automatic process of cultural transmission or the inert effect of of political ideology. In this respect these studies have scarcely advanced beyond the crude readings of empiricist social science, which reduce political socialisation to the influence of political parties, the mass media or family traditions on voting behaviour. For a discussion of this field see T. Tapper and B. Salter, Education and the Political Order (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Much of what follows is based on material presented to my research seminar at the Institute of Education (1985–7). I am especially grateful to my students for their many helpful comments and criticisms.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    One of the best critiques of Stanley Hall and Social Darwinism is to be found Carol Dyehouse, Girls Growing Up in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (London, 1981). See also the overview by John Springhall, ‘The origins of adolescence’ in Youth and Policy, 2, 3. Unfortunately the author of Youth, Empire and Society (London, 1977) does not here explore the connections between Woodcraft ideology and adolescence in the rational recreation movements or juvenile literature of the period. But as readers of Wind in the Willows can testify, the connections between taming the wildness within (Toad’s adolescent passions) and civilising the wildness without (the proletarian ‘jungle’ inhabited by stoats and weasels) could be made most direcdy in the hunting and gathering of Good Deeds, preferably in the Great Outdoors. On this point see Norbert Elias, The Civilising Process (Oxford, 1994) (Vol. 1) and also E. Dudley and M. Novak (eds), The Wild Man Within (Pittsburgh, 1972).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Mannheim’s classic text ‘The problem of generations’ appears in Essays in the Sociology of Knowledge (London, 1952). In Britain his influence on the sociology of knowledge has been far greater than on the sociology of youth. One notable exception is the work of the late Philip Abrahams. See ‘Rites of passage — generational conflict in industrial society’, reprinted in Historical Sociology (London, 1982). In Germany, Mannheim’s influence was quickly eclipsed by that of the Frankfurt School (see note 32). For a good critique of Mannheim’s historicism see J. Hood Williams, The problem with the problem of generations’ (mimeo).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Parsons, ‘Age and sex in the social structure of the United States’ (1942) and ‘Youth in the context of American society’ (1963), which, despite the ‘particularism’ of the titles, attempt to develop a general sociological model of youth. The most detailed application of Parsons’ framework is to be found in S. N. Eisenstadt, From Generation to Generation (London, 1956). For an overview of this approach see D. M. Smith, ‘Structural-functionalist accounts of youth’ in Youth and Policy, 1, 3 (1983) and for an account of recent research within this problematic see L. Rosenmayr and R. Altenbeck, ‘Youth and society’ in Current Sociology, 27, 2–3 (1979).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The influence of sociobiology is paramount in the work of Peter Marsh on football ends, territoriality, and other aspects of male working-class youth culture. See his Rules of Disorder (London, 1976) and Aggro (London, 1979). For an alternative explanation of these phenomena see Chapter 3 in this volume. For a general critique of sociobiology see Lucy Bland ‘It’s only human nature’, Schooling and Culture, 10 (1981).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Psycho-history draws its inspiration from the early work of Erik Erikson, and in the 1970s produced a spate of studies of childrearing practices in middle-and upper-class families in Europe since the 16th century. Perhaps the best of these is David Hunt’s Parents and Children in History (New York, 1972). In cruder hands, e.g. Lloyd de Mause’s History of Childhood (London, 1991), we get an obsessional detailing of early toilet training and anti-masturbation devices coupled with speculations about their effect on adult personality. Much psycho-history still depends on the old ‘culture and personality’ models of Mead and Kardiner in the 1940s. All this must be distinguished from the methodology of Aries and the French Annales school, where changing structures of feeling in parent/child relations are always analysed in terms of the social totality, political and economic realities, etc. For an overview of psycho-history see T. Rabb and R. Rotberg (eds), The Family in History (Cambridge, 1971), especially the essays by Kett, Kenniston, Hareven and Demos.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    In addition to the work of Peter Marsh (see n. 10) perhaps the most florid example of ‘back projectionism’ is to be found in two early American anthologies edited by Louise Adelson: The Universal Experience of Adolescence (Chicago, 1964) and Juvenile Delinquency for a 1,000 Years (Chicago, 1966).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See George Duby, Warriors and Peasants (London, 1975). There is an interesting chain of association between the initiation practices described by Duby, the ritual enactment of ‘Wild Man’ cults, and the youth abbeys described by N. Z. Davis in Society and Culture in Early Modern France (London, 1975), but it will not be best traced by lumping these forms into a residual category as ‘traditions of youth misrule’.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    This is broadly the argument of Lewis Feuer in The Conflict of Generations (New York, 1978). The best account of German youth politics in the interwar period is still W. Laqueur, Young Germany (London, 1962). The most detailed account of the rise of Hitler Youth is given by H. J. Kock, in the book of that title (London, 1975). A good source book on the American student and hippy movements of the 1960s is C. Adelman, Generations (London, 1973); a critical reading of this material is to be found in C. Lasch, The Culture Narcissism (London, 1980).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Both the early attempt by F. Musgrove, Youth and the Social Order, (London, 1964) and the more sophisticated project of J. Gillis, Youth and History (New York, 1974) flounder on the unresolved relation between demographic regime and cultural practice in determining changing forms of class reproduction. Sometimes demographic change becomes the sole motor of youth history; elsewhere it is linked to a principle of’ stratified diffusion of ideology’ (or, what student youth get up to today working-class youth will do the day after tomorrow). Neither adequately locates youth history in a specific field of struggle, viz. between conflicting strategies of reproduction. For an alternative model see W. Secombe, ‘Marxism and demography’ in New Left Review 137 (1983). Also from a non-Marxist perspective see J. Kett, Rites of Passage (Chicago, 1977). The most sophisticated account is to be found in M. Mitterauer, A History of Youth (Oxford, 1992).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    For example, the forms of truancy documented by Steven Humphries in Hooligans or Rebels? (Oxford, 1981) can all too easily be abstracted into a ‘transgenerational’ continuum of resistance to schooling. This is exactly what occurred in the TV programme by History Workshop with the same title. Local oral history projects rarely address the theoretical problems involved in constructing a valid inter-generational framework of comparison. For a critique of this see E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1992).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    It is the overwhelming virtue of Geoff Pearson’s Hooligans — A History of Respectable Fears (London, 1983) that it unravels the various ideological threads in the civilising mission to youth as it crystallised in the 1880s, even though the attempt to explain their principles of articulation falls back on many of the arguments criticised here.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    The most influential exponent of settlement sociology in the postwar period was J. B. Mays, author of Growing Up in the City (London, 1954), Education and the Urban Child (London, 1962), The Young Pretenders (London, 1968). The Institute of Community Studies took its distance from his attempt to combine urban sociology with moral reform. See P. Willmott, Adolescent Boys in East London (London, 1966). David Downes’ The Delinquent Solution (London, 1966) was the first to explicitly break with this whole approach.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Longitudinal studies have now gone out of fashion, largely because they take so long and cost so much to carry out. Moreover, although studies like those of J. W. B. Douglas Home and School (St Albans, 1973), All our Future (London, 1971) did offer a statistical snapshot of the distributive effects of class inequality at different moments in the life cycle, they shed very little light on the actual mechanisms of their reproduction, let alone on the sexual and generational relations involved. The latter were bracketed off in a series of studies spawned by the mid-1960s moral panic about the permissive society and teenage promiscuity. See E. and E. M. Eppel, Adolescents and Morality (London, 1966). M. Schofield, The Sexual Behaviour of Young Adults (Harmondsworth, 1966), D. J. Stephenson, The Development of Conscience (New York, 1966).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    The extent to which cultural relations between skilled workers and the labouring poor hardened into these moral categories in late Victorian Britain, and the reasons for it have been much studied and debated by social historians. See, for example, H. MacLeod, Religion and Class in a Victorian City (London, 1978); P. Bailey, Leisure and Class in Victorian England (London, 1978); A. P. Donajgrodzki (ed.) Social Control in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London, 1977). But from our point of view what is important is the way these intra-class divisions were connected with sexual and generational ones. What role did different types of youth provision play in this? How come that artisans and costers sons had their own exclusive territorial codes, whereas their sisters remained confined within protocols of public propriety? Did this double standard in defining rough and respectable sexuality also powerfully disenfranchise ‘youth’ within the body politic of the labour movement? This is a largely unexplored area, but for some preliminary remarks see Chapter 8 in this volume, and also the contributions of M. Bommes and P. Wright to R. Johnson (ed.), Making Histories (London, 1983). There is much interesting contemporary data on the relations of moral economy and political geography in R. Jenkins, Lads, Citizens and Ordinary Kids (London, 1983).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Previous theories reduced all kinds of working-class culture to the status of sub-culture, and sub-cultures to juvenile delinquency and street crime. The attempt to problematise these connections came from two directions: radical criminology (c.f. S. Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics (London, 1973) and radical community studies. This project demanded that the relation between class and culture be thought beyond the prevailing Marxist base/superstructure model. As discussed in the Introduction to Chapter 2, this was accomplished with the help of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, Althusser’s theory of ideology, and Levi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage — a synthesis most fully realised in the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and more especially S. Hall and T. Jefferson (eds), Resistance through Rituals (London, 1975). For an overview of this whole development see M. Brake, The Sociology of Youth Culture (London, 1980) and J. Mungham and G. Pearson, Working Class Youth Culture (London, 1976).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    The shift towards the work of Barthes, Foucault and the post-structuralists is most interestingly observed in the work of Dick Hebdige. See his Sub-culture: The Meaning of Style (London, 1979) and Hiding in the Light (London, 1979). The distance between the semiology of style and the sociology of subculture can be judged by reading D. O. Arnold, The Sodology of Subculture (1970) as a contrast to Hebdige. For a review of the wider intellectual debates in the field of cultural studies see the contributions to T. Bennett et al. (eds), Culture, Ideology and Social Process (London, 1981).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    There are important differences in reproduction theory between the correspondence model of education/economy developed by S. Bowles and A. Gintis Schooling in Capitalist America (1976), the relative autonomy model of Althusser’s ‘Ideology and ideological state apparatus’ in B. R. Cosin (ed.) Education, Structure and Society (London, 1971) and the multi-level model of Bourdieu, Reproduction (London, 1981). The transition studies influenced by these models tend to emphasise the common structural features of working-class resistance to schooling, though for P. Willis, Learning to Labour (London, 1978) these are to be found in cultural forms, while P. Corrigan Schooling the Smash Street Kids (London, 1980) locates them in the role of the state.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    A vast literature of empiricist transition studies has accumulated over the past twenty years. Most of it deals with the job placement rates and patterns of school leavers, and provides a snapshot of the current state of local youth labour markets, and/or the effectiveness of careers guidance agencies. An interesting and more critical approach is to be found in J. Maizels, Adolescent Needs and the Transition from School to Work (London, 1978). The growth of youth unemployment through the 1980s has produced a new ‘generation’ of studies in much the same vein, but now of course focusing on ‘transitions’ to the dole queue, the hidden economy and the performance of youth training schemes. The most comprehensive of these is K. Roberts, Transitions into Labour Markets (Sheffield, 1991). A critical review of this literature, together with an alternative reading of the economic and institutional changes it documents is to be found in D. Finn, Training without Jobs (London, 1987) and R. Holland, The Long Transition (London, 1990).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    The family is central to the account of school transitions given by R. W. Connell in Making the Difference (Brisbane, 1980) and also to my case study of a group of school leavers in South London in Chapter 10.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    For a general feminist critique of youth culture research see A. McRobbie, Feminism and Youth Culture (London, 1991). See also the chapter by M. Nava on the impact of feminism on youth work in Gender and Generation (London, 1984). For a feminist reading of schooling and girls’ transitions, see R. Deem (ed.), Schooling for Women’s Work (London, 1980) and D. Spender and E. Sarah, Learning to Lose (London, 1980). Also M. Stanworth, Gender and Schooling (London, 1983) and A.-M. Wolpe, Some Processes in Sexist Education (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    For the debate on the status of the concept of patriarchy see V. Beechey, ‘On patriarchy’ in Feminist Review, 3. For a feminist reading of generational relations see D. Leonard’s study of working-class families, Sex and Generation (London, 1980). See also the contributions to A. McRobbie and M. Nava (eds), Gender and Generation (London, 1984), especially the chapter by Barbara Hudson on ‘Adolescence and femininity’. The best account of sexual and generational divisions in the labour process is A. Poliert, Girls, Wives, Factory Lives (London, 1981).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Freud’s own model of adolescence is sketched in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Harmondsworth, 1982). His later topographic model of the psyche is applied in Anna Freud’s classic statement on ‘Adolescence’ in Psycho-analytical Study of the Child, Vol. 13 (1960), and is further elaborated on the basis of clinical evidence in P. Blos, On Adolescence (London, 1962). Aichorn’s Wayward Youth (London, 1928) was an early and influential attempt to apply psycho-analytical methods to the treatment of delinquents, and was taken up in Britain in the context of libertarian models of schooling (A. S. Neill) and rehabilitation of young offenders (David Wills). A good summary of current orthodox views is to be found in M. Laufer, Adolescent Disturbance and Breakdown (Harmondsworth, 1975) and L. Steinberg, Adolescence, 3rd edn (London, 1993). By far the best psycho-analytic account is L. Kaplan, Adolescence — The Farewell to childhood (London, 1986).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    The American school of ego psychology’ was founded by Ernst Kris and Heinz Hartman, with their renewed emphasis on the adaptive and reality-testing functions of the ego. Ego strength, as a criterion of health, rather than normality, plays a key role in the ‘radical school’ represented by Karen Horney and Abraham Maslow, whilst many of the key concepts of ego psychology are to be found in the culturalist theory of personality developed by Kardiner. See J. Kruger (ed.), Discussions in Ego Psychology (New Jersey, 1994).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    The major texts of Erikson in this context are Childhood and Society (London, 1951) and Identity — Youth and Crisis (London, 1978). See also his essay in ‘psycho-history’, Young Man, Luther (New York, 1995). A useful critique of Erikson is to be found in M. Poster, Critical Theory of the Family (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    The ‘object-relations’ school is primarily associated with the work of Melanie Klein, who was herself influenced by Karl Abraham and Sandor Ferenczi. See her Contributions to Psycho-analysis (London, 1948). Her ideas were developed in the work of Balint (c.f. Thrills and Regression, (London, 1965), and, above all, D. W. Winnicott who is the only one to pay any attention to adolescence, c.f. Playing and Reality (London, 1991) The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment (London, 1990) and Deprivation and Delinquency (London, 1984).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    It is a paradoxical fact that the most politically radical members of Freud’s circle were often the most reactionary thinkers in terms of psycho-analytic theory. Alfred Adler is a classic case in point. Equally revolutionary ideas in psycho-analysis could often be accompanied by reactionary political attitudes, as in the case of George Groddeck, or of Freud himself. Sometimes, of course, cultural conservatism could be directly expressed in psycho-analytic terms (Jung’s theory of racial archetypes). Only in the case of Otto Fenichel and his circle did a concern with changing political and psychic reality coincide. See Russell Jacobi, The Repression of Psycho-analysis (New York, 1984).Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Not all critiques of psycho-analysis have been put in such crude terms of course. V. W. Volosinov in Freudianism: A Marxist Cntique (New York and London, 1976) states the case for a materialist semiology over and against Freud’s theory of unconscious symbolism. Georges Politzer in Foundations for a Materialist Psychology (London, 1971) queries the epistemological status of infantile experience as providing the basis for explaining adult behaviour, whilst more recently, from the standpoint of a libertarian ‘anti-psychiatry’, G. Deleuze and F. Guettari in Anti-Oedipus (London, 1984) have attacked the ‘familialism’ of psycho-analysis and its refusal to engage with the wider social dynamics of the unconscious. Feminist responses have been equally diverse, from radical lesbian dismissal to socialist feminist approval. See J. Mitchell, Feminism and Psycho-analysis (Harmondsworth, 1986) for an overview, and the contributions to J. Smith and A. Mahfouz (eds), Psychology, Feminism and the Future of Gender (Baltimore, 1994).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    The essential texts of Reich produced during this period are: Dialectical Materialism and Psycho-analysis (1929), The Sexual Struggles of Youth (1932), What is Class Consciousness? (1933), Essays from Sex Pol (1934–37) and The Mass Psychology of Fascism (London, 1991).Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    The best overview and critique of Reich is to be found in Mark Poster A Critical Theory of the Family. See also the comments by Michel Foucault in History of Sexuality (London, 1981).Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    A good collection of readings from the Frankfurt School is to be found in P. Connerton (ed.), Critical Sociology (Harmondsworth, 1976). The major studies in this tradition dealing with the youth question are A. and M. Mitscherlich, Society Without the Father (London, 1974), R. Reiche, Sexuality and Class Struggle (London, 1970) and Thomas Ziehe, Pubertat and Narziss (Frankfurt, 1984), a seminal text which has currently still not been translated.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Students of the debate on narcissism should start with Freud’s original (1914) paper ‘On narcissism’, Vol. 14 of the Collected Works. Christopher Lasch is the main protagonist in the debate; see Haven in a Heartless World (London, 1974) and Culture of Narcissism (London, 1978). See also, in similar vein, R. Jaccobi, Social Amnesia (London, 1978). The feminist critique of Lasch’s position is developed in M. Mcintosh and M. Barrett, The Anti-Social Family (London, 1983).Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    In the Frankfurt perspective the ‘language of the unconscious’ tends to be treated as an example of ‘distorted communication’ (Habermas, Willener) rather than on its own terms. For the structuralist Marxist reappraisal the key text is L. Althusser, ‘Freud with Lacan’ in New Left Review, 190. Lacan’ s own work is difficult to the point of obscurantism, but there are some much more approachable studies by some of his colleagues. See in particular M. Mannoni, The Child, His Illness and the Others (London, 1970) and F. Dolto, Dominique — Analysis of an Adolescent (London, 1974).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Timpanaro’s critique of psycho-analytic methods can be found in The Freudian Slip (London, 1976) and an article on Freud’s Roman Phobia in New Left Review, 147. His own standpoint is developed in On Materialism (London, 1976).Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    There is now a vast literature on family history. For our purposes the best introduction to the whole field is to be found in M. Mitterauer and R. Sieder, The European Family (Oxford, 1982), and from a feminist standpoint L. Tilly and J. Scott, Women, Work and Family (New York 1978). More specialist works on the pre-capitalist period are P. Laslett, Family Life and Illicit Love in Earlier Generations (Cambridge, 1977) and J. L. Flandrin, Families in Former Times (Cambridge, Mass, 1979). On the crucial transition period see H. Medick, Industrialisation before Industrialisation (Cambridge, 1981), D. Levine, Family Formation in Nascent Capitalism (New York, 1977) and J. Rule The Experience of Labour in 18th-Century Industry (London, 1981). For the 19th century see M. Anderson, Family Structure in 19th-century Lancashire (London 1971). A fruitful combination of Marxist and feminist methods is R. Hamilton, The Liberation of Women (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    An early approach to life-course analysis can be found in J. Roth, Timetables (Chicago, 1966). The historical approach was developed by T. Hareven and colleagues in Transitions (New York, 1978) and Family Time and Industrial Time (Cambridge, 1982). A longer-range view is given by J. Modell in Journal of Family History (New Jersey, 1976) and by J. Kett, Rites of Passage. The difficulty with much of this work is that it takes for granted that the symbolic order of career provides the one and only paradigm of the life cycle. The research by Daniel Bertaux into French bakery apprentices gives the lie to this, even if he tends to fall back on a bio-energetic model of labour power in the process. See his contribution to Life Sentences, ed. R. Harre (London, 1976) and also Biography and Society (Chicago, 1981). The best application of this method is still the work of Glen Elder, see Children of the Depression (Chicago, 1981) and Children in Time and Place (Cambridge, 1993).Google Scholar
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    There are now a number of useful historical studies of autobiography, for example A. O. T. Cockshut, The Art of Autobiography in 19th-20th Century England (New York, 1984) and C. Steedman, Past Tenses (London, 1992). For a pathbreaking critique of naive realism in oral history see P. Thompson and R. Samuel, Myths we Live by (London, 1991). There is also some useful discussion in IL Plummer, Documents of Life (London, 1983). An attempt to theorise the deep structures of life stories, as well as to assess their ideological function can be found in a double issue of the Revue des Sciences Humaines, 191/2 (1984). A significant attempt to analyse the distinctive discursive features of life features and autobiography can be found in P. Lejeune, La Pacte Autobiographique (Paris, 1979).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    For Freud’s note on ‘the family romance’ see the Collected Works, Vol. 12. The concept is developed by V. Walkerdine in’ some Day my Prince will Come’ in A. McRobbie and M. Nava (eds), Gender and Generation.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    See, for example, the approach to autobiography combining the methods of oral history and psycho-analysis in R. Fraser, In Search of the Past (London, 1984).Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    The two key texts of Walter Benjamin are One Way Street (London, 1979) and Illuminations (London, 1976). These give a good idea of his methodology as well as of his luminous prose style. Unfortunately they do no more than hint at his thesis on generation, technology and the collective dream contained in the Passagen Werken (Arcades Project) much of which remains unpublished, as well as untranslated. My comments here rely on the presentation of this work by Susan Buck-Morss in her The Dialectics of Seeing — Walter Benjamin the Arcades Project (London, 1989).Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    The notion of reproduction codes used here is close to Bourdieu’s concept of Habitus in so far as it designates the symbolic devices through which specific forms of cultural power or powerlessness are internalised within the deep structures of subjectivity. However, rather than focusing on the formal features and functions of cultural reproduction from a sociological perspective, the main concern here is to identify the principles of variation which characterise rival codes, and to write the history of their articulation.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    E. P. Thompson, in his seminal essay ‘The grid of inheritance’ in J. Goody et al. (ed), Family and Inheritance (London, 1976), was the first to focus on the ‘rules and practices whereby particular social groups project forward provision for their future’; to insist that the grids of apprenticeship, vocation and career were worthy of study, and that there was more to inheritance than the transmission of material wealth. Noelle Bisseret in Education, Class Language and Ideology (London, 1976) examines the internal symbolic orders of inheritance, vocation and career in the context of the educational system.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Within this new theoretical framework several levels of youth culture can be isolated for investigation: 1 at a macro level, what is selected and combined from which codes to furnish the stylistic identity of the youth culture; 2 what rules of jurisdiction, social combination and discourse are mobilised in what specialised ritual practices to reproduce that identity; 3 at a micro level, what subject positions are privileged and fixed within the peer group ideal. It is the third micro level which now needs to be looked at in more detail, especially from a psycho-analytic standpoint.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    See the study by P. Willis and team, The Social Conditions of Young People in Wolverhampton, (Wolverhampton City Council, 1985). Despite my criticism of its line of argument, this is a pioneering study which deserves to be widely read and debated, not least because it is the first time a Labour council has taken youth policy seriously enough to commission a piece of research of this quality and scale.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Gregory Bateson’s theory of the double bind (see Steps to an Ecology of Mind (London, 1987) suggests that in some families life historical messages are constructed in the form of paradoxical injunctions (of the type ‘ignore this message’). But he never explains why this should arise in some families and not others. It is clear, however, that life historical messages have both a spoken subject (i.e. attribution about who or what the child is, or is expected to become) and an unspoken subject, constituted by the adults’ desire. Normally the two reinforce each other, but where the grid of transmission is normatively weak, what each parent unconsciously wishes the child to be for them, and what they tell the child to become, can become the focus of intense, if disowned, conflict.Google Scholar

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