Youth cultures are explained either by factors in the experience of adolescence, or by the manipulation of young people’s spending and leisure, through advertising and other mass media. They tend not to be passed on to the next generation and usually fade out in decade. At the beginning there is fear, and youth cultures are often judged completely wrongly: punk, for instance, was first thought to be a new neo-Nazi movement in the 1970s.
What happens then is that youth cultures are either drastically marginalized, or even demonized, as is the case with the neo-Nazi scene, about which it is virtually impossible to find any positive reports?
Postmodern youth cultures are emerging due to the impact of globalization, the mass media and information technology, rather than simply as a resultof the processes of marginalisation or alienation. Working class youth are seen as in transition to the labour market, and youth cultures are described as collective strategies on the part of specific groups of youth to manage that transition, responding to the conditions obtaining in their locality and to the class traditions and other resources at their disposal.
Youth cultures have not been part of all societies throughout history; they appear most frequently where significant realms of social autonomy for young people become regularized and expected features of the socialization process. Youth cultural groups are often to be distinguished through distinctive forms of dress style and shared musical tastes, and are typically found in westernized, consumer-based cultures (although more recent research has identified examples of youth cultures in developing countries). Today, however, straight edge is also a term commonly used to describe groupings within sub- and youth cultures which have agreed to abstain from alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, cigarettes and promiscuity. Also, things are not nearly so clear cut these days – cannabis is no longer the domain of just one particular youth culture nowadays because it has become so mainstream.
Research into youth cultures has been most prolific in the disciplines of sociology, psychology, and anthropology; it is readily apparent in criminology of juveniles, demographic analyses, studies of the family and adolescent social development, and the study of ritual. While the majority of research has focused on the effects of commercial popular culture on youth, popular culture’s role as a shared and identity-generated commodity among youth has been investigated to a much lesser degree. According to dominant discourses in the media, politics, and academic research,the everyday life of growing segments of youth is increasingly unstable,violent, and dangerous.
As far as public perception is concerned, all youth cultures are initially assumed to be bad. There is some question, therefore, about whether descriptions and theories of contemporary youth cultures are adequate for historical studies that reach back as far as five hundred years. A key debate over this period has been the extent to which lifestyles and youth cultures are class-related, as in the notion of class subculture, or independent of class, the best documented example of which is the 1990s phenomenon of ‘rave’.