Researching youth and culture in contemporary Europe: Exploring young people´s drinking cultures beyond the "Birmingham School"
Department of Psychology University of Bath Bath, United Kingdom
The distinctive focus on youth cultures and sub-cultures that emerged at Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) during the 1970s has had a substantial impact on academic understanding of the constitution of "youth" and the lives of young people. However, the legacy of this approach remains an arena of heated debate and contestation. In this paper I will trace some of the main contributions and limitations of youth sub/cultural theory, locating it in the historical, political and conceptual context from which it emerged. I also consider some of the directions taken by youth sub/cultural research over the past thirty years, engaging with a number of recent critiques of the "CCCS approach". The paper ends with an exploration of the relevance and potential value of the concept of "youth culture" in the globalised neo-liberal social order that characterises contemporary "late modern" society, with a particular focus on the "European" arena. In this context, autonomous individuality manifested through consumption is viewed as the cornerstone of contemporary identity and social life. I will interrogate these issues with reference to recent research involving cultures of drinking to intoxication amongst young people in a range of European contexts and in relation to the practices of the global drinks industry. I end by arguing that the CCCS focus on mediated cultural practices that are collective and creative, and through which young people constitute themselves and their (gendered, classed, national and racialised) positions in the world, remains of potential value for current research on youth and culture.