A group of Marxist sociologists from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University produced several studies of youth culture in the 1980s. They argued that:

  • The ruling class imposes its values on the rest of society through hegemony via the media and the economy. Most of the population find it hard to resist because they are trapped in family responsibilities, careers and mortgages.
  • Youth are the least ‘locked into’ this system, in terms of financial or family responsibilities, and are more likely to be unemployed. Therefore, they are more able to resist hegemony and are the ‘weakest point in the structure’.
  • As society changes, each generation of working-class youth face similar problems – but for each generation in each historical period, the particular social and cultural circumstances are different. Each generation develops its own style as a mechanism for coping, and this style reflects the circumstances of the period.
  • Mike Brake suggests that the ‘solutions’ they find do not really change anything, because they cannot change the way society is structured. However, the solutions are meaningful to the members of the group. He refers to them as ‘magical’.
  • Each group adopts a style – of dress, speech, music, behaviour – and expresses their resistance through these.
  • For example, by wearing short hair, boots, braces and collarless shirts, the skinheads showed their reference to more traditional working-class men and communities. By contrast, the mods wanted to show their affluence through sharp suits, the frequent combing of smart haircuts, and riding Italian scooters.

Question 1: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? Use these missing words to complete the sentences below – status quo; criminal; media; interpreted; insight; resistance; economic; behaviour; females; capitalist; youths; working-class; decode


  1. These Marxist studies showed ___________ into subcultures by showing that styles of dress and __________could have meanings, and that these meanings could be decoded (or____________) by sociologists.
  2. They showed that youth behaviour had to be understood in the wider ____________ context of _________ society.
  3. They concentrate on young __________males and so provide more clues to deviant and __________ behaviour.


  1. Feminists argue that these studies largely ignore _________ and black people.
  2. Stan Cohen argues that they only decode opposition and __________. There is no decoding of youths’ support for the _________.
  3. Cohen also criticises the Marxists for assuming that they are able to _________ the relevant meanings and styles. Why should the sociologist ‘know best’? The _______ may have very different interpretations.
  4. Some of the styles may not be produced by the group itself but may be manufactured by the _________ and capitalism.

Question 2: Can this sort of Marxist analysis be applied to youth subcultures today? Give reasons for your answer.