Youth Consumer Practices and Social Alienation

Youth Consumer Practices and Social Alienation

John Graham Wilson (Assumption University of Thailand, Thailand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6120-0.ch006

Abstract

This chapter argues that traditional institutions (education and the family) have lost their influence, and consequently, among youth, there is a marked presence of deficiencies in their lives. As the main focus of society, mass-consumerism is implicated as a wide-ranging source of manipulation involving the consumption behavior of the young. How much independence-seeking subcultural groups can claim independence from the prevailing wider culture is explored. Many diverse sociological persuasions are examined in the search for workable explanations to account for the phenomenon of youth alienation in the Western world.
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Introduction

Elusive and evasive, yet often blatant and malign, youth alienation seems to crop up inside every classroom, under every family roof, and wandering loose and aimless in shopping malls and precincts in every town. It is a source of much bewilderment amongst parents and educators. Indefinite yet familiar, the aberrant behaviour of youth evades precise sociological descriptions; but, in its worst violent manifestations, goes as far as to provoke moral panic (McRobbie & Thornton, 1995).

Within an attempted explanation, excessive consumerism is much criticised as a contagious, divisive, socially transmitted disease disrupting society, damaging relations inside the family and community (De Graaf et al., 2005; Schor, 2008). In the case of youth alienation, the young are the current descendants of this curious phenomenon throughout Western culture. So, how does youth alienation connect with widespread consumerism?

This paper try trying to pin down the concept of youth alienation as it occurs in localisable spaces and accumulates over specific stages, whereby a media-dominated consumer culture recruits young people into an individualistic, private, consumer-led lifestyle that simultaneously eschews association with other people in a society that was once supported by 20th century community values, thus depleting the general sensation of belonging to a human association of individuals, as part of a once-cohesive society with coherent aims and community values shared by all. It will be argued that traditional institutions (education and the family) have been emarginated, and have lost their influence in terms of helping to establish a secure and durable sense of identity for youth. In particular, this occurs where there is a presence of significant deficiencies in individuals’ lives. This is often expressed in terms of powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness and estrangement within the family, at school and amongst peers. Today, there is far less consideration than there was for providing affection, protection, concern and support for the young—they are often forced to look to themselves. But, as a special focus, how mass-consumerism is implicated as a wide-ranging source of manipulation and control will be considered. Has youth alienation occurred unprompted? Is it a spontaneous phenomenon? Defying explanation, as some kind of causeless condition in the midst of bewilderingly accelerated social change? Does it have any relation to the ongoing parallels of overwork, greed and narcissism in the wider economy? It will be argued that it does have causes and these can be detected in the wider world.

Consideration will also be given to how much independence-seeking subcultural collectives – the peer group – amidst often inarticulate forms of rebellion, can genuinely claim independence from the prevailing wider culture. What kind of impact has marketing research made upon youth as consumers of fashion and fads? How has youth culture been specifically targeted by researchers, and marketing strategists who seek to harvest the expanding youth market?

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