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Social class and subcultures

Updated on March 19, 2017

The Working class

* Listened to reggae, soul and pop music.

* Skinhead culture was working class. Cohen (1972) whereby skinheads held working class values and they suffered from low self esteem due to the reality of their lifestyles. They showed defiance by celebrating working class styles such as wearing braces, boots and having short hair, demonstrating their manliness and being tough. They were very anti authoritarian and gained great pleasure seeking by going against society and having fun e.g. disobeying teachers.

* Clarke stated that the skinheads wear exaggerated working class clothes that are reasserting traditional class community and identity. This is a reaction to the destruction of local working class communities and due to the lack of opportunities for the working classes.

* Punk music and the style of dress was originally the product of working class.

* Working class youth borrowed many styles e.g. Teddy boys of 1950s combining clothing with upper class and gangsters to assert masculinity.

* Some lyrics had political meanings in them.

An example of punks
An example of punks

The middle class

* They can belong to the hippy subculture whereby they have dropped out of the ruthless capitalist system.

* They will listen to music more especially pop and folk which focuses on a protest of some kind.

* Due to middle classes spending longer in education they have time to experiment with different attitudes, values and lifestyles. E.g. drugs and free attitude towards relationships.

* Young believed that hippies were middle class youths who liked pleasure seeking lives, and a bohemian lifestyle.

An example of hippies
An example of hippies

Class Convergence

Many early youth subcultures had class links, however Roberts (1997) stated that class boundaries between subcultures have become blurred over the years and nowadays there is less class segregation within youth subcultures. Many young people attend clubs, listen to music and engage in the same leisure activities and class does not matter.

Phil Cohen (1972)

According to Cohen, the skinhead subculture symbolises an attempt to recover the working-class community which was passing away. Skinheads’ dress with shaved heads, heavy boots, baggy trousers and braces, represented an exaggerated version of traditional working class men’s clothes. Also their attitude was aggressive and violent and they disliked ethnic groups and middle classes.

The mods, in contrast, reflected the upward aspirations of a more affluent section of the working class who sought to copy the middle class with wearing flashy Italian suits and drove scooters. Cohen suggests that this style rejected the traditional working class culture and an attempt to embrace a more glamorous and cosmopolitan style.


1. Mike Brake (1980) agrees that youth subcultures can be classified into class categories based on three types: Delinquent youth, cultural rebels, and politically militant youth. He suggests that working-class young people have generally formed delinquent youth subcultures, while cultural rebellion and political militancy are more typical of middle class youth, therefore supporting the social class divide (+)

2. A disadvantage of these ideas is that there is a lack of consideration of “ordinary youth.” The vast majority of young people are never members of youth subcultures or simply adopt subcultural styles because they are the fashion, rather than as an expression of real rebellion. Postmodernist sociologists referred to these groups as, “neo tribes” based on loose friendship groups and fun, rather than a youth subculture uniting for a political or ideological reason (-)

3. An advantage is that since the 1980s there has been more research into the everyday problems of young people. E.g. Tom Kitwood (1980) examines the way in which different groups of young people dealt with parents’ attempts to restrict their freedom to go out on their own e.g. Paul Willis.

4. The role of class does seem to be an important factor for some youth subcultures, e.g. skinheads do tend to be working class, and hippies do tend to be middle class. Therefore it seems class can be important for some youth subcultures but not others. (+)


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