Youth and Adolescence Essay

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Youth and adolescence represent contrasting approaches for sociologists. “Youth” is conceptualized as a socially constructed life phase between childhood and adulthood: a collective experience shaped by culturally and historically specific social structures, age-specific institutions, and societal expectations. In contrast, “adolescence” – associated with developmental psychology and clinical medicine – emphasizes processes of individual social and/or physiological and psychological development. Often equated with puberty, adolescence is represented as a time of experimentation and emotional storm and stress.

Early sociological conceptualizations of youth were influenced by functionalism, which regarded the period of youth as a means of facilitating smooth transitions from particularistic values within the family to the normative values of broader society, whilst Mannheim’s generational theory emphasized how young people’s attitudes and actions are shaped by their shared ”generation location.” Youth cultural studies originated in the Chicago School and was developed by the UK’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies into a class-based critique of young people as consumers and producers of mass and ghetto cultures, although many cultural studies scholars now use the language of ”post-subculture” to argue that class is no longer relevant to understanding youth cultures. The youth transitions approach, particularly influential in Northern Europe and Australasia, has highlighted the emergence of fractured and extended transitions to adulthood, emphasizing the impact of structural factors on young people’s lives. Beck’s individualization thesis has also been utilized by researchers seeking to understand the experience of youth in ”late modernity.” While the proliferation of individualized biographies might suggest that class, ethnicity, and gender no longer determine young people’s life chances, critics argue that the old indicators remain firmly in place.


  1. France, A. (2007) Understanding Youth in Late Modernity. Open University Press, Buckingham.
  2. Henderson, S., Holland, J., McGrellis, S., Sharpe, S. & Thomson,   (2006) Inventing Adulthoods. Sage, London.

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