What Comes after ‘Post-Subcultures’? Generation, Biography and Finding the ‘Collective’ Time for Culture and Leisure

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Dan WOODMAN, University of Melbourne, Australia
The subcultures approach of the ‘Birmingham School’ profoundly shaped the emergence of contemporary youth studies. This approach saw the most significant youth cultural forms as concrete subcultural groupings of larger class cultures. The past two decades have been characterized by a sustained ‘post-subcultural’ critique highlighting the fluidity of cultural engagement and the autonomy of culture; and by a robust defense of subcultures, based on the demonstrable impact of social stratification on youth culture. This debate has reached a stalemate and there is a search for alternative, productive, framings. In this paper I suggest that a generational and biographical lens provides such an alternative, framing young people’s collective cultural practice in the context of the multiple, highly structured but also individualizing, engagements that shape everyday lives and transitions for the contemporary generation of young adults.

The paper draws on ten years of qualitative data (2007-2017) from an Australian mixed-methods study of transitions. Drawing on longitudinal data from 50 participants, I argue that the individualizing social structures shaping the lives of this generation mean that investments and demands in one sphere, such as employment, often do not articulate easily with those in other spheres, such as leisure. The timetables and rhythms of the participant’s lives have not clearly become more stable as they have transitioned from university into full-time employment, ‘non-standard’ hours of employment are common even at age 28. Contemporary life demands new activity (often drawing on digital technology) to synchronize schedules to engage in leisure and collectively create and consume culture. A paradox of contemporary life for these participants is that periods of collective creativity and ‘tribal’ abandon require active synchronization, and even routinization. This work is gendered (more likely to be done by women) and classed, the resources to do so are unequally distributed.