Exploring Youth Subculture: A Sociological Perspective

Department: Sociology

Instructors: Haley McInnis and Mohamed Abumaye
Instructors' Emails: hmcinnis@ucsd.edu; mabumaye@ucsd.edu
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

Youth subcultures provide participants an identity outside of that ascribed by social institutions such as family, work, home and school. Members of a subculture often signal their membership by making distinctive and symbolic tangible choices in, for example, clothing styles, hairstyles, and footwear, and intangible choices such as common interests, slang, music genres, and gathering places. The sociological study of subcultures investigates how members of subcultures form meaning and identity through practice as well as the ways in which those in dominant society interpret such activity.

This course offers an introduction into the study of youth subculture as well as relevant qualitative research. A diverse range of themes will be explored by looking at past and contemporary subcultures including Punk Rock, Break Dancing, Hipster Culture, and Gaming Culture. Additionally, students will conduct first-hand research on a subculture of their choosing and present their results in class. Lectures will be supported with guest speakers, media resources, and excursions.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

The goals of the course give all students the opportunity to:

  • Gain a thorough and varied insight into issues, concepts, and writings that constitute the central themes of youth subculture
  • Develop an ability to utilize various research methods and writing techniques in order to conduct sociological research
  • Draw on different media and textual resources for written and oral work
  • Contrast personal experience with existing research and connect those experiences with wider sociological debates


Students are expected to complete all assigned homework, and to come to class prepared to engage thoughtfully and respectfully in class activities and discussion.

Course Outline

Week 1: Theory and Empirical Case Studies

This first week will serve to orient students to the development of the major theoretical strands in the sociological study of youth culture and to introduce students to prominent from the academic literature of specific studies. Some theorists who will be covered with regards to their relevant contributions to youth subculture will be Talcott Parsons, Karl Marx, Stuart Hall, Stan Cohen, and Dick Hebdige. Case study research to be determined.

Week 2: Research Methodology

This week will focus on introducing students to the primary methods of inquiry in qualitative sociological research. To broaden and sharpen studentsí understanding of qualitative field work and analysis, the week will be organized in terms of three specific goals:

  • To provide students with a critical understanding and appreciation of the role of field work, ethnographic research, and discourse analysis in the sociological tradition
  • To acquaint students with the associated issues and debates related to qualitative research
  • To instruct students how to conduct field research that is descriptively interesting, theoretically illuminating, and ethically responsible

Additionally, by the end of Week II students will have picked a youth culture to study.

Week 3: Field Research and Presentations

This final week will engage students with their research populations. They will apply the theory and methods learned during the first two weeks of the course to a research subject of their choosing. At the end of the week, students will give presentations explaining the youth culture they studied, what they learned, and how their own research fits into youth culture theory.

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