Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain

Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain

Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain

Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain

Synopsis

This collection looks in detail at the wide range of youth subcultures from teds and skinheads to black rastafarians.

Excerpt

This issue of WPCS is devoted to post-war youth sub-cultures. We have tried to dismantle the term in which this subject is usually discussed—‘Youth Culture’—and reconstruct, in its place, a more careful picture of the kinds of youth sub-cultures, their relation to class cultures, and to the way cultural hegemony is maintained, structurally and historically. This journal thus pulls together the work of the Centre’s Sub-cultures Group over the past three years. This work continues, both within the Centre and in a very fruitful dialogue with others working in the same field. The results and formulations offered are, therefore, part of work-in-progress. They do not pretend to be either final, definitive or ‘correct’. We hope they will lead to further work, discussion and clarification and that, on other occasions, some of this can be reflected in the pages of the journal.

Despite the uncompleted nature of the work, we feel that it may be helpful to sketch in a brief history of how the focus of the work has shifted over the period, and how our present position was arrived at. Our starting point, as for so many others, was Howard Becker’s Outsiders—the text which, at least for us, best signalled the ‘break’ in mainstream Sociology and the subsequent adoption, by many sociologists working in the fields of deviance, sub-cultural theory or criminology—originally in America, but rapidly, in this country too of what came to be known as an interactionist, and later a ‘transactional’ or ‘labelling’ perspective. Our reading of this text—and subsequent British work in this rapidly emerging tradition—and our engagement with the perspective in general was always, however, double-edged: both a sense of exhilaration about the importance of some of the ideas generated by this ‘sceptical revolution’ (the viewing of social action as process rather than as event, for example, and crucially, the idea that deviance was a social creation, a result of the power of some to label others) and a sense of unease: a feeling that these accounts, whilst containing many important, new insights, were not comprehensive enough: a feeling, particularly, that deviant behaviour had other origins besides public labelling. This sense of unease was given a concrete empirical and theoretical substance by our subsequent reading of Phil Cohen’s seminal paper (published in WPCS 2) on youth subcultures and their genesis within the class structure and class cultures of the East End. This settled our feelings of ambiguity and relegated transactional analysis to a marginal position in favour of a concern with the structural and cultural origins of British youth subcultures.

Our subsequent efforts were for some considerable time devoted to filling out the suggestive framework offered by Cohen, initially through papers offering more detailed accounts of particular subcultures—Teds, Mods, Skinheads, etc.—extracts from which . . .

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