Youth Culture, Postmodernism, and Social Divisions: An Exploration of Activities, Restrictions, and Expenditures in the Leisure of Spanish University Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

The most advanced western societies have experienced significant transformations since the latter decades of the past century, with clear consequences for people's lifestyles. The fluidity and flexibility of our era confront people with numerous changes over the course of their lives (Giddens, 1991). In recent decades, postmodernism has been one of the principal contributions of sociological theory to the understanding of these changes (Harvey, 1989), especially in the analysis of culture and consumption (Featherstone, 1991; Slater, 1997). Postmodern theory takes as its departure point the idea that our world is fragmented and individualistic, and our daily experience is said to be marked by fragmentation, differentiation, diversity, and mobility (Rojek, 1997). Through acts of consumption, humans can create and recreate identities mediated by the enjoyment of goods and services in their material and symbolic aspects. Postmodernism, then, considers identity, association, and practice to be elements that revolve around the economy of symbols of consumer society, mediating lifestyle creation (Rojek, 1997).

Since the advent of postmodernist perspectives, classic social variables (age, social class, gender, and ethnicity) have been questioned because they seem insufficient for explaining the behavior of human groups (Butler, 1990; McAll, 1990; Milner, 1999). In this context, social class as a base of identity has been one of the most discussed variables in postindustrial societies (Milner, 1999) and is an intense point of contention in studies of youth culture. In this last area, postmodernist theoretical positions claim the dissolution of class as the central structuring factor in cultural consumption among youth (e.g., Muggleton, 2000). In opposition, structuralists insist that social divisions still exist, largely if not entirely for reasons of class (e.g. Shildrick & MacDonald, 2006). This study was designed in order to examine whether social class differences in leisure patterns exist among Spanish university students.

Postmodernism has exerted considerable influence in the analysis of youth culture, in that leisure is considered an important resource for the creation of identity (Ball, Maguire, & MacRae, 2000). Authors such as Redhead (1997), Muggieton (2000), Miles (2000), Thornton (1995), and Bennett (2000), all admittedly expressing distinct points of view, have offered postmodernist readings of youth culture on the basis of new forms of socializing, identified as "club cultures," "scenes," "neo-tribes," or "lifestyles." The idea of a youth style that is not patterned by structural class relations, gender, or ethnicity, is a common thread running through their observations. Youth groupings, these researchers argue, are based on cultural affinities of taste and aesthetics within the framework of an identity that actively expresses itself through consumption. In this way, the postmodernist vision proclaims the overriding importance of cultural elements, emphasizing the individual and his or her capacity for choice, over structural forces and class divisions. It is asserted that today's social relations do not have the same rigidity as the organizational forms of the past, demonstrating greater fluidity, dynamism, and dispersion into situations of an ephemeral character (Maffesoli, 1995).

Postmodern studies of youth culture have challenged theoretical interpretations that previously considered social class as a powerful force in defining taste, consumption, and lifestyle. In this vein, recent studies have observed a decline in the consumption of high culture and an increase in the consumption of popular culture by the upper classes in both Europe (Purhonen, Gronow, & Rahkonen, 2009; Van Eijck & Knulst, 2005) and the U.S. (DiMaggio & Mukhtar 2008). These findings seem to cast doubt on both the idea of high culture consumption among the upper classes as a symbol of distinction (Bourdieu, 1988). …