The role of youth in countercultural movements is of paramount importance; it is their role of challenging orthodoxy that gives counterculture its very meaning. The dominant culture du jour is often nothing more than an assimilation of the parental culture with those of their predecessors, and it is left to the youth to pave the way forth, with dissent often serving as their only voice. In disseminating the reality that youth play in forming countercultural movements, we will examine the articles ‘The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital’ by Sarah Thornton and ‘Technocracy’s Children’ by Theodore Roszak. Through a comprehensive comparison of the theoretical approaches proposed by the aforementioned authors, we will be left with nothing but the conclusion that youth are the primary catalyst of social change.
In ‘The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital’, Sarah Thornton depicts club culture, a British youth culture that was burgeoning in the 1980s. She defines club cultures as “taste cultures”, based largely on shared interest in music, media consumption, and an affinity for people with like interests. Club culture operates primarily on the social logic of “hipness” and, whether directly or indirectly, it is this very hipness that is the embodiment of youth counterculture. This notion of hipness coincides with an opposition towards, and rebellion against, the mainstream culture.
Youth often form together under shared ideologies, even if stemming from differing paradigms; while adults are likelier to form together under the umbrella of shared paradigms, despite differing ideologies. Subcultural ideologies are a method at the disposal of youth to differentiate themselves from the indistinguishable mass. Pierre Bourdieu defines cultural capital as “knowledge that is accumulated through upbringing and education which confers social status.” Subcultural capital can then be seen as a knowledge and awareness of the latest trends and fashions prevalent among youth. Therefore, hipness is invaluable as a form of subcultural capital.
The media disseminates the values of subcultural capital. While this holds true, subcultural capital is not as class-bound as cultural capital; the idea of classlessness is a central tenet of subcultural capital, as members from varying socioeconomic backgrounds are admitted into the majority of subcultures. Age, followed by ethnicity and gender, are the most significant demographics involved in obtaining subcultural capital. Despite these inherent inequalities, youth culture is concerned primarily with egalitarianism, and often with romantic ideologies towards which any just society should strive.
In ‘Technocracy’s Children’, Theodore Roszak effectively delineates the importance of youth’s role in achieving social change. He begins with the observation that nearly everything that is innovative in various aspects of culture, from politics and education, to the arts and social relations, is largely the product either of youth that are alienated from their parental generation, or of the elder generation who are primarily focused on addressing the youth.
He proceeds to define technocracy as a “social form in which an industrial society reaches the peak of its organizational integration.” Technocracy is primarily concerned with increasing efficiency, and attaining greater levels of affluence; in short, it defines the endless quest of rampant materialism. In the throes of technocracy, the entire society aims to become increasingly specialized in nature, and thus, technocracy remains the realm of the appointed experts. In relying on experts to make decisions, individuals lose the power to create their own realities. The disempowerment of the individual is crucial to the functioning of a technocratic society. This disempowerment is achieved through the ability of those who govern the society to appeal, for the purpose of justification, to technical experts, and the ability of these technical experts to then appeal, in turn, to the holy grail of scientific knowledge.
Technocracy is the politics of experts. These experts work either for the state, or for the multinational corporations running the state- there is, in fact, no real distinction between the two- and their sole purpose is simply to keep the wheels of the technocracy turning. Technocracy is free from the duality that the argument of socialism vs. capitalism presents, and it is this technocracy, a product of industrialism, through its unrestricted pursuit of perfected totalitarianism that is the real problem at hand.
It is the counterculture of youth that remains perpetually at the foreground of the battle against technocracy, due to the stark contrast between their values and those of their parental generation. It is the youth who, through their quixotic ideals and potential strength in numbers, must catalyze the repudiation of technocracy. The university is often central to countercultural movements; for it is here, that graduates and campus elders are able to identify their allegiances with, and assume the leadership of, the dissidents of a younger populace. The paradox lies here within, the universities also provide the very brains that the technocracy requires to renew itself, and the dissidents of today, sadly, often become the technocrats of the new generation.
The role of youth in promoting social, and cultural, change has now been elucidated. The individuals central to countercultural uprising must, however, necessarily possess a certain degree of social capital, in order to truly strive towards the manifestation of a utopia of their own making. As long as the technocracy subsists then, to a degree, the freedom associated with youth culture will be stifled. Therefore, theoretical approaches aside, the role that youth culture plays in redefining society’s mores is inextricably bound with the moral hygiene of that very society, and can only take effect when the boundaries of that society have been transcended.
Thornton, Sarah. “The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital.” The Subcultures Reader. Ed. Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton. London: Routledge, 1997. 200-212. Print.
Roszack, Theodore. “Technocracy’s Children.” Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic. California: University of California Press, 1995.
Gelder, Ken, and Thornton, Sarah. The Subcultures Reader. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.