Youth Culture, Postmodernism, and Social Divisions: An Exploration of Activities, Restrictions, and Expenditures in the Leisure of Spanish University Students
Aguila, Cornelio, Sicilia-Camacho, Alvaro, Roberts, Kenneth, Journal of Leisure Research
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). According to the omnivore thesis (Peterson, 1992; Peterson & Kern, 1996), the educated classes demonstrate a greater breadth of consumption of both high and popular culture. The blurring in social class differences in the consumption of high culture and popular culture is in line with postmodernism (Rojek, 1997). This blurring is said to be most noticeable among the young, who would represent the clearest manifestation of a superficial consumption of culture (Jameson, 1991).
However, in the debate over youth culture and consumption, there are positions far from those of postmodernism that insist on the continuing importance of structural factors in the tastes and choices of the young. Specifically, in the face of the excessive power that cultural studies have attributed to the individual, studies of youth school-to-work transitions have indicated that social divisions continue to exist in youth cultural practices and leisure (e.g., Chatterton & Hollands, 2002; Hendry, Shucksmith, Love, & Glendinning, 1993; Hollands, 1995, 2002; MacDonald and Marsh, 2005; MacDonald and Shildrick, 2007; MacRae, 2004; Shildrick & MacDonald, 2006). Bennett et al. (2009) found that although it was true that the principal difference in British cultural consumption did not correspond to the dichotomy between high culture and popular culture, consumption continued to show class differences. Thus, upper-class youth might consume popular culture, but working-class youth rarely consumed any high culture (e.g., regular visits to the theatre, museums, art galleries, cinema or opera, painting, participation in artistic activities, reading books). Chatterton and Hollands (2002), Hendry et al. (1993), and Hollands (1995, 2002) have shown that social class differences produce divisions in nighttime leisure. Similarly, MacRae (2004) noted that, within club culture, there are new processes of cultural structuring that allow youth to identify with certain style groups as well as to distinguish themselves from others, thereby reflecting the influence of the old social class distinctions. Finally, a recent longitudinal study carried out in the Southern Caucasus (Roberts, Pollock, Tholen, & Tarkhnishvili, 2009) shows how young adults, after going through and sharing leisure experiences, places, and scenes with people of different social origins, ultimately tend to develop lifestyle characteristics of the social classes to which they belong.
On occasion, studies of youth leisure that adopt a more structuralist perspective have gone further, noting that class differences generally reveal themselves in subtle ways, and for this reason crude measurements need to be broken down to reveal degrees of participation, spending levels, and the quality of leisure experience (Aguila, 2005; Aguila et al., 2009; Bynner & Ashford, 1992; Roberts & Fagan, 1999; Roberts & Jung, 1997; Roberts & Parsell, 1994). In fact, survey results show that inequality in young people's access to cultural consumption can be minimized by young people receiving financial help from their families, holding odd jobs, or working in the underground economy, which all lead to an increase in their consumption possibilities. Inequality can also be minimized by doing activities without high economic costs, such as listening to music, watching television, and other forms of consumption that are facilitated by technology, such as the Internet. Along these lines, various studies (e.g., Aguila, 2005; Aguila et al., 2009; Bynner & Ashford, 1992; Roberts & Fagan, 1999; Roberts & Jung, 1997; Roberts & Parsell, 1994, Roberts et al., 2009) have uncovered few distinctions among youth lifestyles in different European societies, meaning that youth from different social strata participate in similar leisure activities. At the same time, however, it has become clear that social differences become more evident in forms related to degrees of participation and spending levels. For example, Roberts and Fagan (1999) examined patterns of youth leisure in the former communist countries. There was no correlation between income and broad uses of leisure time among the young, whereas there was a correlation between possessions and the amount of money the young people could spend on themselves. In other words, differing socioeconomic levels did not lead to entirely different uses of leisure, but did affect the amounts of money spent and the ownership of gadgets and other leisure technologies. Studies of Spanish university students by Aguila (2005) and Aguila et al. (2009) reinforce this argument, since the most common leisure activities were similar among different social classes. However, there were significant differences in the amounts of money invested in social and personal amusements; the upperclass students spent more in these areas.
Therefore, the studies cited above lend weight to social class as an enduring structural factor affecting the leisure and lifestyles of youth. …
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Publication information: Article title: Youth Culture, Postmodernism, and Social Divisions: An Exploration of Activities, Restrictions, and Expenditures in the Leisure of Spanish University Students. Contributors: Aguila, Cornelio - Author, Sicilia-Camacho, Alvaro - Author, Roberts, Kenneth - Author. Journal title: Journal of Leisure Research. Volume: 44. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2012. Page number: 88+. © 1999 National Recreation and Park Association. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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