Stephen Lambert, Director of Education4Democracy.

THE term ‘youth-culture’ or ‘teenage culture’ was first coined in the 1950s in America and was later exported to Britain in 1959. Many writers at the time believed rightly or wrongly that a "a society within a society" was slowly evolving and that it posed a threat to mainstream values and norms. In other words, ‘a generation gap’ had opened up in both countries.

The notion of a Youth Culture or sub-culture suggested that the young aged 14 to 25 were being socialised into and committed to a special set of values, attitudes and behaviour patterns separate from those of adult society.

The market researcher, Mark Abrams, suggested that this new phenomenon was a product of affluence and rising living standards. More teenagers had more cash to spend and were no longer restricted by strict parental controls.

A new commercial industry revolving around clothes, music and milk bars was emerging to meet the demands and aspirations of young people. It appealed to all social classes

As Berger noted way back in the late ‘50s “Youth culture cuts across class lines. It created symbols and patterns of behaviour that are capable of giving status upon individuals coming from quite different class backgrounds”, whereas other sociologists noted that adolescence was a period and preparation for adulthood.

Personal problems were commonplace, and arguably still are (witness the growth of mental health issues among the young) as they negotiate their ‘rite of passage’ via adolescence into adulthood. And furthermore compulsory National Service for 17 to 21 year olds came to end in 1963 releasing young people from the constraints of military life.

“Group rebellion” against adult society was predicable amongst the young noted American social analyst, Eisenstadt. Put simply, youth culture was best understood as being a reaction to being young.

In the USA teenage culture was reflected in popular culture such as novels and films such as ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ featuring the enigmatic James Dean and rock & roll by Bill Haley and the Comets and legendary Elvis Presley which appealed to hundreds of thousands of teenage boys and girls in the States and UK.

Youth Culture in the Fifties

But it wasn’t until the mid-fifties that ‘Teddy Boys’ appeared on the British social landscape to the alarm of the Establishment characterised by their drainpipe trousers, Edward VII long coats and slicked back hair tarnished with ‘Brylcreem’.

Many Teds gained the reputation of being tough by tearing up cinema seats with flick knives and beating up West Indians in music halls.

Youth Culture in the Sixties

By the 1960s Mods and Rockers emerged mostly from working-class backgrounds and was nicely captured in the classic re-released film Quadrophenia. The Mods with their handmade Italian suits and green parkas took R &B and soul to their ‘purple hearts’ and sped to all-night clubs on Lambrettas or Vespa scooters.

Rockers, in contrast, clad in heavy leather and chains had beefier motor bikes and were hostile to the comparatively effete mods. Street battles took place at Clacton, Brighton and Margate and triggered national popular press hysteria generating a ‘moral panic’ amongst respectable society. Yet according to top sociologist Stan Cohen in his famous book, ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’, the violence was greatly over-exaggerated and there were few police arrests.

Youth Culture in the Seventies

During the 1970s parents were getting concerned about ’hippies’ morally corrupting their daughters with a reliance on ‘dope’ and free love. In Newcastle the main spot for hanging about was the old, now demolished Handyside Arcade marked by specialist record and clothes shop punctuated by the distinct aroma of patchouli oil and marijuana resin.

In the working class neighbourhoods of Deptford, London and inner-city Scotswood, Newcastle, the emergence of skinheads caused fear with their menacing image of short cropped hair, Doc Martin bovver boots, crombies and rolled up denims: some of whom who were racist belonging to the fascist National front and British Movement and following bands by the names of ‘screwdriver’ and Sham69’.

As Phil Cohen notes skinhead culture reappeared in some inner-city neighbourhoods later on in the decade partly as a response to the demise of traditional industry, community change and immigration.

‘Punks’ took the mainstream by surprise in 1976 with their colourful spikey hair, pieced noses and commitment to groups such as the notorious Sex Pistols, the Clash and The Damned, and confirmed people’s fears of degeneracy and anarchy amongst some sections of Britain’s youth.

Youth Culture in the Eighties

By 1981 Punk rock gave way to the ‘New Wave’ and ‘New Romantic Movement’ with notable Bands such as Blondie, New Order, Duran Duran, Visage and Soft Sell, whilst in the recession hit Midlands Cities of Birmingham and Coventry ‘Two-Tone Ska Groups’ such as Selector, Madness and The Specials gained ascendancy as a response to urban decay and rocketing youth unemployment.

The development of these spectacular youth cultures didn’t escape the attention of academia. Radical, left-wing sociologists such as Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson in their book, “Resistance Through Ritual”, rejected the old sociological concept of a classless youth culture. Real youth culture, they argued, with its own style and music, was a working class symbolic protest against dominant business class power in post-war capitalist society.

Yet style commentators such as Peter York dismissed this view as being naïve. Vandalising community bus shelters and assaulting minority ethnic groups hardly fitted their thesis that youth culture was a shared response to their social position as the underdog in British society.

Youth Culture in the Nineties

Since the late 1990s we’ve see a multiplicity of conflicting groups and styles ranging from youngsters involved in acid house parties with its repetitive beat and new drugs such as blues and ecstasy to middle class Goths dressed in black and white makeup and into art drawn predominantly from middle-class backgrounds. Recently ‘Rap’, ‘Emos’, ‘Geeks’, Skaters and the much maligned ‘’Chavs’’ have appeared on the social scene

But we mustn’t get carried away with all these accounts of youth tribes. Most Post-war youth culture revolved around music, language, clothes, fashion, dance and soft drugs, and is perhaps best understood as simply being about style. Some have argued that the vast majority of working-class youngsters from the sixties onwards were unaffected by youth tribes or teenage culture.

The idea that there exists a ‘generation gap’ has been challenged by others. It’s misleading to see Britain’s youth as being rebellious or revolutionary. For Paul Corrigan in ‘Schooling the Smash Street Kids’ many youngsters hung out at youth clubs or spent a boring day at the seaside with their mums and dads.


Young adults today, dubbed “Millennials”, share the same values, beliefs and norms as their parents. In the 1983 general election 75% of 18-24-year olds voted. And a staggering 4 out ten voted Conservative with Labour coming a distant second.

Labour did well amongst the young in the 2017 snap general election with the housing crisis, job insecurity, educational grants and soaring university fees the key issues. But contrary to popular belief there was no youth surge in electoral turn-out nor a ‘’youth-quake’’. Five out 10 young people aged 18 to 24 abstained according to the British Election Study 2018.

Many young people have become individualistic, seeking out an identity through conspicuous consumption in our post-modern times without the need to join groups. Very few young people belong to trade unions.

As the Huddersfield University educationalist Robin Simmons points out, what most ordinary young people want today is a meaningful job or high-quality apprenticeship, the elimination of student debt, a decent place to live and to start a family just like their parents.

It’s up to Central Government to formulate a meaningful and relevant policy package that can win the hearts and minds of Britain’s youth.

Stephen Lambert is a Newcastle City Councillor and Educational Practitioner.

He writes in a personal capacity.

Copyright © 2018 FE News

You may also be interested in these articles:

Learnings from the Party conferences #EdgyThinking Livestream 5

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page