File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1997/97-04-25.090, message 4

Date: Sun, 02 Feb 1997 19:12:18 +0100
Subject: Re: Youth's taste

In the past few years I didn't read anymore youth studies. So I cannot
prove my arguments by actual research. But since I make daily
conversations with young people (workers, students, pupils) and often I
get involved in their problems, I dare some remarks. 
- Many apologies for my long posting.

1 The rise of youth as a social field
======================================Nikos wrote:
> After your analysis I understand( if I am wrong please tell me) that 
> Bourdieu and his theory as developed in ''Distinction'' is not useful
> anymore for explaining postmodern phenomena of social taste especially
> in the Youth's case since the criterium of class is no more an 
> important factor as it used to be in the seventies. ....

I think, Nikos here you don't consider the social function of youth as a
(relatively) autonomous field of social transition between adolescence
and adulthood. Specially this field produces the attribuition and
redistribuition of young individuals into different social categories
such as classes.

In order to illustrate this claim, I remember the situation of young
people some decades ago. Up to the 60s in Germany the childs of farmers
the afternoon (after school) had to do farm-work. Their integration into
agricultural work begun when they were 10 years old. The first-born sons
after having left the school (which at this time usually resided in the
same little village) at an age of 14 remained on the farm, learned
farming on another farm or made another useful professional training, in
order to take over later the farm of their family. At about 20 years it
was time to marry preferably the daughter of another farmer. Only a
small minority of farmer childs could make a different carreer. I could
give other examples of such former quasi-predetermined curricula vitae.
They all had in common (with the exception of bourgeoisie) a sudden
change from adolescence to adulthood, often accompanied or introduced by
certain initiation rites (like journeymans certificate, engagement,
marriage, membership of the regular's table, rally, rifle club etc.). So
the individual's attribuition to social classes was more determined and
organized by the situation of the parents, and there was less
flexibility between different social categories.

Today there is a notably delay between physical adolescence and
take-over of traditional social roles of adults (job responsability,
marriage, upbringing of children etc.). This social hysteresis stretches
out social spaces for activities, practices, habitus', tastes, customs
which we notify as youth culture and which makes possible sociological
questions about eg. "youth's taste". It requires also new accesses to
class analysis, traditionally seen as class consciousness or class
habitus, because the procedures, which socially engender or initiate
these habitus' in individual biographies, have changed and are more
complex. Insofar Nikos is right.  

1.1 Characteristics of youth's field
As we all know, there are some empirical facts, which are responsable
for this hysteresis. I list the most important ones:
- fall of young people's employment,
- enlargement of education time (school, university, apprenticeship),
- more possibilities for aquirement of cultural capital, promoted by 
  income of parents, social welfare and enlarged educational systems,
- risen complexity of work, which requires more learning,
- youth unemployment and difficulties of integration into world of work,
- longer period for young people to remain among themselves.

These facts aren't only quantitative changes, but they induce also
different (from the "world of adults") social or individual practices
such as learning, studying, playing, experimenting etc. (without the
need for immediate or well defined results).

1.2 Organisation of youth's field
There are certain social institutions, which organize this field,
schools, universities, places of training, trainee posts, political and
religious youth organisations, public youth centres, happenings,
concerts, televison channels, clubs, newsletters, a whole industry which
produces special articles ....

A remarkable fact is that all or most of these institutions are
organized by adults, that they all maintain a certain balance between
autonomous, distinct youth activity or conception of youth and on the
other side preparation to or integration into other social fields like
work, professional sports, political parties, church, urban districts,
starting a family. Youth's field therefore is organized as field of
transition or as a meta-field between several other fields. It is only
conceivable in respect to other social fields, subordinated and
dominated by other fields. 

There is a struggle of young people against this domination, they
develop strategies to escape from this domination, to fight against the
hegemonical culture. The institutions react with a continous effort to
hinder or to integrate these `alternative' youth cultures, new
practices, fashionss, music streams, preferences, and so they contribute
to modify, to select or to distribute them and to create spaces for

2 Symbolical struggles
======================I remember some youth studies in the 80's underlining the tendence of
stronger individualization among young people. I agree with this
observation insofar as young people today are older and more developed
and conscious subjects when they make their first experiences with work,
social organisations, public institutions, i.e. with the "world of
adults". Therefore often they feel the restrictions or the violence of
these fields and have difficulties to integrate themselves. Their
reactions and strategies of adaption or rejection seem to be more
differenciated and contingent, influenced by more factors and more
complex biographic prerequisites. They have to find their own subjective
ways to get on with social realities. Sociologists therefore spoke of
modern youth as an insecured generation. 

It has been argued that politically today young people are less critical
than the 68 generation. I have the impression, that coming from the
youth's field created by the 68 movement and the subsequent politics,
young people now have problems to bring together their experiences of
autonomy, individuality, liberation of sexuality, pleasures and
consumption, artistical activity etc. with the severe reality of final
examinations, job search, work, job centres, assemblies, meetings,
orders and obedience, which require an individual effort to actively
suppress or deny these (their) liberties. They feel these contradictions
as alienation and develop subjective strategies to tackle, to resolve or
to escape them. 

The symbolical forms of these struggles, perceived as youth's taste,
fashion, habits are the tip of the whole iceberg of different individual
or collective practices generated by these contradictions. I see the
symbolically distinct habits and tastes of young people as an expression
of their feeling, that life could be better. Social sciences should be
able to perceive and to speak out these needs and to make proposals how
to fulfill them.

3 Individual differences
========================If my observations are right, their should be different levels of
involvement of young people into youth culture, depending on their
individual biographies, their origin, their gender, on how they live
their period of insertion into the `world of adults', the time of
education, the understanding by their parents, the number and the
quality of individual difficulties and breaks of transition, their level
of dependency or autonomy etc.

This was observed also by Roger Martinez with his difference between
"full" and "normal" partecipants in youth subcultures. A further
explanation or investigation of these relations would be very

4 Further remarks
=================I feel the need for a better outlining of youth's field with its
different subfields organizing the different practices of transition of
young people from adolescence or educational system into job or family
responsabilities. Such an investigation could better explain the
engenderment of different youth's tastes and give a better framework for
youth studies and reciprocal understanding of young people. 

Studies about the difficulties, young people find during their
transition and insertion into work, political field, residential blocks,
medical welfare services etc. could explain much about the lacks and
problems of these fields and lead to proposals how to modernize them.
This generally could be an efficient method of inquiring the problems of
these fields.

A very interesting subject. It seems that Bourdieu's method of
relational thinking leads to long postings, many apologies for that.

Best regards,

Paul Bayer
Munic, Germany


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