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Developmental Psychology on Youth Culture - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 121
Youth culture/self/Developmental psychology/Upton: Sense of self is (…) thought to be influenced by adolescent involvement in cliques and crowds. According to Erikson (1950)(1), community membership is central to the achievement of identity as it requires solidarity with a group’s ideals.
Thus, adolescents deal with the difficulties they experience in committing to adult identities (the identity crisis) by making exaggerated commitments to certain style groups and by separating themselves from other style groups. They may use particular kinds of clothes and music to indicate their unique style and how it differentiates them from other groups. These cliques and crowds, clearly identified by their own set of style, values and norms, are what we often now refer to as ‘youth culture’. According to Miles et al. (1998)(2), identifying with youth culture gives adolescents some power over their identity in a rapidly changing world. Paradoxically, by playing the conformity game, adolescents become more able to feel unique and different.
Recently, studies of youth culture have suggested that (…) consumption is central to the construction of adolescent identities (Phoenix. 2005)(3). Many such studies have focused on the links between consumption, style and identity, and have concluded that style provides an essential way of defining and sustaining group boundaries (Croghan et al.. 2006)(4).
Milner (2004)(5) proposes that adolescents use their consumer power to gain a sense of acceptance and belonging with their peer group.
However, the flip side of this is that failing to maintain such an identity can lead to problems such teasing, social exclusion and loss of status (Blatchford, 1998(6); Croghan et al., 2006)(4). Given that such consumption is often linked to particular brands, an important issue to consider here is how economic disadvantage might make a difference to adolescent popularity. Some evidence suggests that not having enough money to afford the ‘right’ brands can lead to social exclusion, as brand items serve as markers of group inclusion that have to be genuine and could not be faked (Croghan et al. 2006)(4).
Other studies (e.g. Milner. 2004)(5) suggest that, rather than engaging in conflicts around style, young people may express solidarity with these cliques by modelling themselves on the popular groups, but resisting the consumption of brand-name goods,
Upton I 122
thereby establishing a new, less high-status group.



1. Erikson. EH (1950) Childhood and Society, New York: WW Norton.
2. Miles, S, Cliff, D and Burr, V (1998) ‘Fitting in and sticking out’: consumption, consumer meanings and the construction of young people’s identities, Journal of Youth Studies, 1:81-91.
3. Phoenix. A (2005) Young people and consumption: communalities and differences in the construction of identities, in Tufte, B, Rasmussen, J and Christensen LB (eds) Frontrunners or Copycats? Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press.
4. Croghan, R. Griffin, C, Hunter J and Phoenix, A (2006) Style failure: consumption, identity and social exclusion. Journal of Youth Studies, 9(4): 46 3-78.
5. Milner, M (2004) Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American teenagers, schools, and the culture of consumption. New York: Routledge.
6. Blatchford, P (1998) Social Life in School. London: Palmer.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Developmental Psychology
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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