Youth Cultures: A Cross-Cultural Perspective.


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AMIT-TALAI, VERED AND WULFF, HELENA EDS. Youth Cultures: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Routledge, 1995. 239 pp. Paperback $23.95.Is there such a thing as a specific youth culture? The question is put to us implicitly by Amit-Talai, Wulff and colleagues, and the answer is partially given by the very title of the book, Youth Cultures.... The articles brought together in this collective project gracefully combine original conceptual approaches on the world of the young with ethnographic examples that are as diverse as they are unique. Each text admirably delineates its subject, so that each can be read independently of the others in the collection. Yet one of the main strengths of the book is that the articles blend together naturally, so that a complementary reading of each is not only desirable but required if one is to grasp the real dynamics and complexity of the so-called “youth cultures.”The book opens and closes with theoretical reflections. The authors are highly critical of typical studies of Western youth cultures that seem incapable of any approach other than in terms of delinquency, resistance, or as merely incomplete or developing cultures. In this way, the originality of the book lies in its attempt to go beyond the standard approaches to youth cultures, commonly in terms of deviance or negative marginality, preferring a way “to include all young people” (Wulff, p. 7). For this purpose, the framework has been shifted to envisage the young as “cultural agents” who participate fully, not partially or in ways that are necessarily conflictual, in dynamics of production and social change. Furthermore, the book as a whole raises a series of open questions of a conceptual nature, on the imprecise and heterogeneous quality of youth cultures, and on the arbitrary nature of their categorization. Among these important questions: who are these youth? Who or what is included under the definition of youth or youth culture? Where do children and youth cultures stop, and where does adulthood begin? Or further, what conceptual and methodological approaches are privileged, whether in the field or in interpretation?After providing an excellent review of the main theoretical currents found in studies on youth, and having reflected upon anthropological principles of a comprehensive model “that seeks to empower the voices of both children and youth” (Caputo, p. 37), the book invites us to explore various universes of young people around the world. From London to Montréal, by way of Amsterdam, Algeria, Katmandu, and the Solomon Islands, the authors, each from a different perspective, engage us in a reconsideration of the various possible ways of culturally experiencing the universal factor of being young. The book attains a good balance by basing itself equally upon phenomena involving youth of pluralist Western societies and of cultures deeply steeped in tradition. However as a general rule, it seems that where a certain youth culture emerges is also where the society is undergoing sociocultural transformations. The dynamics of these sociocultural changes lie in the fact that they manifest themselves differently in different places. Whether it be in examining the forms of language, friendships among the young, kinds of music, clothing fads, or in looking at myriad ways of integrating, or finding innovative ways of dealing with society in precarious economic times, the book does a fine job of exposing a multiplicity of anchorings (at once spatial, identity-based, generational, etc.) by which practices and representations young people articulate and affirm themselves in a context of urbanization and of consumption of “mass-produced cultural goods.

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