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Evaluate the influence of subcultures on youth identity.


Socialisation and the creation of social identity

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Briefly define subcultures and youth identity. Introduce the idea that subcultures can be influential in shaping youth identity, but the extent of this influence is debated.

How Subcultures Influence Youth Identity
Discuss how subcultures can provide:
Belonging and community: Shared values, norms, and experiences create a sense of belonging.
Identity formation: Distinctive styles, language, and beliefs help youth differentiate themselves and construct identities.
Resistance and rebellion: Some subcultures challenge mainstream values and provide an outlet for dissatisfaction.
Social support and networks: Peer groups within subcultures offer emotional support and social connections.

Limitations of Subcultural Influence
Diversity within subcultures: Not all members conform equally.
Agency and individual choice: Youth actively choose and negotiate their involvement with subcultures.
Influence of other factors: Family, education, media also play significant roles in shaping identity.
Fluidity and change: Subcultural affiliations and their impact can evolve over time.

Examples and Case Studies
Briefly illustrate points with relevant examples of youth subcultures (e.g., goths, hipsters, gamers) and their impact on identity formation.

Reiterate that subcultures can be influential in shaping youth identity, but their influence is not deterministic. Acknowledge the interplay of various factors in shaping individual identities.

Free Essay 

Subcultures are groups of individuals who share distinct values, norms, and behaviors that set them apart from the wider mainstream culture. They often manifest in unique styles, symbols, and practices. Youth identity, on the other hand, refers to the sense of self that young people develop, encompassing their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. This essay will explore the influence of subcultures on youth identity, arguing that while subcultures can play a significant role in shaping identity, their influence is not deterministic and is often mediated by other factors.

How Subcultures Influence Youth Identity
Subcultures can exert a profound influence on youth identity by providing a space for belonging, identity formation, resistance, and social support.

Belonging and Community: Subcultures offer a sense of community and belonging for young people who may feel alienated or marginalized from the mainstream culture. Shared values, norms, and experiences create a strong sense of solidarity and connection, fostering a sense of acceptance and inclusion. As Hebdige argues, subcultures "provide a space for young people to express their sense of difference and opposition to the dominant culture" (Hebdige, 1979). This sense of belonging can be particularly important during adolescence, a period of significant social and emotional development.

Identity Formation: Subcultures provide young people with tools to construct their identities. Distinctive styles, language, music, and beliefs, often serve as symbols of belonging and a way to differentiate themselves from the dominant culture. By adopting the symbols and practices of a particular subculture, young people can express their unique values, interests, and aspirations. This is particularly relevant for young people who may be exploring their own sense of self and trying to find their place in the world. For example, the "goth" subculture is characterized by its dark aesthetic and fascination with death and the macabre. This subculture provides a space for young people to express their interest in alternative forms of expression and challenge mainstream norms.

Resistance and Rebellion: Some subcultures emerge as a form of resistance to the dominant culture. Young people may participate in subcultures to express their dissatisfaction with societal norms, values, and power structures. This can manifest in various forms including dress codes, music, and political activism. For instance, punk subculture emerged in the 1970s as a response to perceived social and economic inequalities, with its music, fashion, and rebellious attitude serving as a challenge to mainstream values.

Social Support and Networks: Subcultures provide young people with access to social support and networks. Peer groups within a subculture offer opportunities for social interaction, emotional support, and shared experiences. These networks can be especially important for young people who may feel isolated or lack support from their families or schools.

Limitations of Subcultural Influence
While subcultures can have a significant impact on identity, their influence is not absolute. Several factors limit the extent to which subcultures shape youth identity.

Diversity within Subcultures: Subcultures are not monolithic entities. There is significant diversity within subcultures, with members exhibiting varying degrees of conformity to shared norms and practices. Not all members conform equally to their subcultures; some may embrace certain aspects while rejecting others. This individual agency and diversity challenge the assumption that subcultures operate as deterministic forces shaping identity.

Agency and Individual Choice: Young people are not passive recipients of subcultural influence. They actively choose to engage with subcultures, making decisions about how to participate and what elements of the subculture resonate with them. This agency allows individuals to shape their identity in ways that go beyond the boundaries of the subculture. This highlights the interplay of individual choice and subcultural influence in shaping youth identity.

Influence of Other Factors: Subcultures are not the only factor shaping youth identity. Other social and cultural factors, including family, education, social class, gender, and the media, also play significant roles in shaping individual identities. These factors can both reinforce and challenge subcultural influence. For example, a young person from a working-class background might be drawn to a subculture that reflects their own experiences and values. However, their family and community might exert a counter-influence, shaping their identity in different ways.

Fluidity and Change: Subcultures are not static entities. They evolve and change over time, influenced by social, cultural, and economic shifts. Similarly, youth's involvement in subcultures can be fluid, with individuals shifting their allegiances or evolving their participation over time. This fluidity and change make it difficult to assess the long-term impact of subcultures on identity formation.

Examples and Case Studies

Many examples illustrate the influence of subcultures on youth identity. For instance, the "goth" subculture, characterized by its dark aesthetic, fascination with death and the macabre, and appreciation for alternative music, allows young people to express their individuality and challenge mainstream norms. The "hipster" subculture, with its emphasis on independent music, vintage clothing, and ironic humor, allows young people to express their artistic sensibilities and rebel against mass consumerism.

Case studies exploring subcultures like "gamers" and "anime fans" reveal the diverse ways in which these groups shape young people's self-perceptions and social relationships. They highlight how subcultures provide social support, facilitate identity formation, and provide a platform for sharing passions and interests.

In conclusion, subcultures can play a significant role in shaping youth identity by providing a sense of belonging, facilitating identity formation, offering opportunities for resistance, and creating social networks. However, their influence is not deterministic, and young people actively negotiate their involvement with subcultures and integrate them into their broader identities. Various factors, including family, education, media, and individual agency, interact with subcultural influence to shape the diverse and dynamic identities of young people. Understanding the complex interplay of these factors is crucial for appreciating the multifaceted nature of youth identity and the ongoing influence of subcultures in modern society.


Hebdige, D. (1979). <i>Subculture: The Meaning of Style</i>. Routledge.

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