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E-Political Socialization, the Press and Politics

The Media and Government in the USA, Europe and China


Edited By Christ´l De Landtsheer, Russell Farnen and Daniel B. German

This book examines the state of print and electronic media in the United States of America, Europe, and China. The latest mass communication advances demonstrate that we live in an increasingly media-centric world. The chapters include theoretical and empirical studies that shed light on the meaning of this development. The trajectory of people’s move to electronic communication is a global phenomenon affecting their daily life. Does this trend aid or impede democracy? Is there an emerging digital divide contributing to an increasing gap between the rich and poor people and nations? The four parts of this book explore various aspects of political socialization and its relationship with different media, including print, broadcasting, and the Internet.
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3 Youth, Peer Culture, and Everyday Political Consciousness

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Chapter 3

Youth, Peer Culture, and Everyday Political Consciousness

Heinz Sünker

Professor of Social Pedagogy and Social Policy, University of Wuppertal, Wuppertal, Germany


This chapter examines theories about the effects of peer culture on the political consciousness of youth. How youth are encouraged to become active participants in the political process is based on the influences of their peers as well as those of the family, their community, and the country’s society and government. Theories formulated by Horkheimer and Adorno in Germany’s fascist past are contrasted with those developed by more modern researchers who share a more positive viewpoint.


Horkheimer and Adorno (1997) argue in their famous chapter “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” in Dialectic of Enlightenment about a way which mediates questions of socialization and of the constitution of subjectivity. At first glance, their conclusion seems to be very dark with respect to the future of enlightenment and human subjectivity. There are only a few signs showing alternatives (i.e., the perspective of emancipation, liberation, and consciousness). But we must remember that even though their book was written during the dark period of German fascism, they also refer to the possibilities of bourgeois-capitalist societies.

Therefore it is useful to quote and comment on some of their arguments (all taken from Horkheimer and Adorno, 1997):

Consumers appear as statistics on research organization charts, and are divided by income groups into red, green, and blue areas; the technique is that used for any type of propaganda (p. 123).

What connoisseurs discuss as good or bad points serve only to perpetuate the semblance of competition and range of choice (p. 123).

The man with leisure has to accept what the culture manufacturers offer him. Kant’s formalism still expected a contribution from the individual, who was thought to relate the varied experiences of the senses to fundamental concepts; but industry robs the individual of his function (p. 124).

There is nothing left for the consumer to classify. Producers have done it for him (p. 125).

The might of industrial society is lodged in men’s minds. The entertainments manufacturers know that their products will be consumed with alertness even when the customer is distraught, for each of them is a model of the huge economic machinery which ← 27 | 28 → has always sustained the masses, whether at work or at leisure - which is akin to work (p. 127).

In the culture industry this imitation finally becomes absolute. Having ceased to be anything but style, it reveals the latter’s secret: obedience to the social hierarchy. Today aesthetic barbarity completes what has threatened the creations of the spirit since they were gathered together as culture and neutralized (p. 131).

And so the culture industry, the most rigid of all styles, proves to be the goal of liberalism, which is reproached for its lack of style (p. 131).

In the public voice of modern society accusations are seldom audible; if they are, the perceptive can already detect signs that the dissident will soon be reconciled (p. 132).

Not to conform means to be rendered powerless, economically and therefore spiritually - to be “self-employed.” When the outsider is excluded from the concern, he can only too easily be accused of incompetence. Whereas today in material production the mechanism of supply and demand is disintegrating, in the superstructure it still operates as a check in the rulers’ favor. The consumers are the workers and employees, the farmers and lower middle class. Capitalist production so confines them, body and soul, that they fall helpless victims to what is offered them. As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love to the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities (p. 133).

The connoisseurs and the expert are despised for their pretentious claim to know better than the others, even though culture is democratic and distributes its privileges to all. In view of the ideological truce, the conformism of the buyers and the effrontery of the producers who supply them prevail. The result is a constant reproduction of the same thing (p. 134).

For only the universal triumph of the rhythm of mechanical production and reproduction promises that nothing changes, and nothing unsuitable will appear (p. 134).

But what is new is that the irreconcilable elements of culture, art and distraction are subordinated to one end and subsumed under one false formula: The totality of the culture industry. It consists of repetition (p. 136).

Business is their ideology. It is quite correct that the power of the culture industry resides in its identification with a manufactured need, and not in simple contrast to it, even if this contrast were one of complete power and complete powerlessness. Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work. It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again. But at the same time mechanization has such power over a man’s leisure and happiness, and so profoundly determines the manufacture images of the work process itself (p. 137).

No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure (which collapses under reflection), but by signals (p. 137).

The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises (p. 139).

The secret of aesthetic sublimation is its representation of fulfilment as a broken promise. The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses (p. 140). ← 28 | 29 →

There is laughter because there is nothing to laugh at. Laughter, whether conciliatory or terrible, always occurs when some fear passes. It indicates liberation either from physical danger or from the grip of logic. Conciliatory laughter is heard as the echo of an escape from power; the wrong kind overcomes fear by capitulating to the forces which are to be feared. It is the echo of power as something inescapable. Fun is a medicinal bath. The pleasure industry never fails to prescribe it. It makes laughter the instrument of the fraud practised on happiness (p. 140).

. . . but the necessity inherent in the system not to leave the customer alone, not for a moment to allow him any suspicion that resistance is possible (p. 141).

The principle dictates that he should be shown all his needs as capable of fulfilment, but that those needs should be so predetermined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer, the object of the culture industry (p. 142).

Both escape and elopement are predesigned to lead back to the starting point. Pleasure promotes the resignation which it ought to help to forget (p. 142).

The stronger the positions of the culture industry become, the more summarily it can deal with consumers’ needs, producing them, controlling them, disciplining them, and even withdrawing amusement: no limits are set to cultural progress of this kind (p. 144).

The effrontery of the rhetorical question, “What do people want?” lies in the fact that it is addressed - as if to reflective individuals - to those very people who are deliberately to be deprived of this individuality. Even when the public does - exceptionally -rebel against the pleasure industry, all it can muster is that feeble resistance which that very industry has inculcated in it. Nevertheless, it has become increasingly difficult to keep people in this condition. The rate at which they are reduced to stupidity must not fall behind the rate at which their intelligence is increasing. In this age of statistics the masses are too sharp to identify themselves with the millionaire on the screen, and too slow-witted to ignore the law of the largest number. Ideology conceals itself in the calculation of probabilities (p. 144).

In either case they remain objects (p. 147).

The culture industry tends to make itself the embodiment of authoritative pronouncements, and thus the irrefutable prophet of the prevailing order (p. 147).

The new ideology has as its objects the world as such. It makes use of the worship of facts by no more than elevating a disagreeable existence into the world of facts in representing it meticulously. This transference makes existence itself a substitute for meaning and right (p. 148).

The enemy who is already defeated, the thinking individual, is the enemy fought (p. 149).

The attitude into which everybody is forced in order to give repeated proof of his moral suitability for this society reminds one of the boys who, during tribal initiation, go round in a circle with a stereotyped smile on their faces while the priest strikes them. Life in the late capitalist era is a constant initiation rite. Everyone must show that he wholly identifies himself with the power which is belaboring him (p. 153).

In the culture industry the individual is an illusion not merely because of the standardization of the means of production. He is tolerated only so long as his complete identification with the generality is unquestioned (p. 154).

In this way mass culture discloses the fictitious character of the “individual” in the bourgeois era, and is merely unjust in boasting on account of this dreary harmony of general and particular. The principle of individuality was always full of contradiction. ← 29 | 30 → Individuation has never really been achieved. Self-preservation in the shape of class has kept everyone at the stage of a mere species being. Every bourgeois characteristic, in spite of its deviation and indeed because of it, expressed the same thing: the harshness of the competitive society. The individual who supported society bore its disfiguring mark, seemingly free, he was actually the product of its economic and social apparatus (p. 155).

The most intimate reactions of human beings have been so thoroughly reified that the idea of anything specific to themselves now persists only as an utterly abstract notion: personality scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odor and emotions (p. 167).


On the one hand, this theme of “peer group and the political socialization of juveniles” is based on the subject that Krappmann (1983) so aptly presented in his article “Socialization in the Peer Group.” There he argued for the unquestionable contribution which the peer group makes in the development of one’s personal competence, activity, and identity. This is related to the actual significance of the peer group as part of the socialization process, comparable to the family with respect to its actual efficacy (Krappmann, 1983, p. 433). On the other hand, with regard to a basically socio-theoretical and socio-political reflexion, the theme is connected to questions about the forms and contents for integrating the rising generation into the emerging society. Considering its youth-theoretical, youth-sociological, and youth-political particularities, this question about integration indicates both the socio-theoretical genesis of and the socio-political value of analyzing the overall significance of juvenile peer groups. In its relevance to juvenile peer groups, the intergenerational paradigm – which directed the pedagogical and sociological center of interest in youth from Schleiermacher (1983) to Mannheim (1965) – intersects with a theoretical homogenization at the beginning and an emphasis on the theory of individuality at the end of this century (Sünker and Volkmer, 1990). Schleiermacher’s concepts are representations of the dialectics between “preserving and changing” on the socio-evolutionary level, while Mannheim’s contribution dealt with the theoretical context of modernizing social processes. With Thrasher’s (1927), Cohen’s (1986), and Salisbury’s (1962) publications, the perspectives of social integration and social control (which is guided by a theory of deviance when treating the topic of age-homogeneous groups of juveniles) are illustrated in the US discussion; for example:

The modern youth if . . . “youth” is understood as the developmental phase from . . . childhood up to adulthood is “antisocial” in a certain sense and to a certain degree as far as its behaviour is to be related to an intermediate stage which misses continuance and . . . goal orientation in order to be able to be social. This phase is characterized by the partly abrupt transition from the intimate relations of the small family to the deemotionalized relationships of the modern working world which are governed by rational and organizational measures. When the juvenile of our industrialized, bureaucratic society leaves the parental home he [/she] is confronted with social structures in which the behaviour ← 30 | 31 → acquired in the family is not appropriate any more. Thus, the research for behavioural structures can be realized as the basic need of the modern youth which is convenient for the “second level”’ which the juveniles need to get acquainted with. Furthermore in the course of this transitional phase on the one hand, a strong impulse to perform and to carry [one’s] weight and on the other hand a mental, intellectual and social liability converge which bear the possibility of a conflict with the environment having this constellation and by the omission of the behavioural support in the anonymous and deemotionalized structures of the large cities and the large-scale enterprise-like working world (Rausch, 1962, p. 146).

Peer Group and Socialization

Processes that distinguish between social development and youthful life can be described systematically and historically. For example, Eisenstadt (1965) focuses on the structural aspects of peer groups, while Habermas (1987) approaches the theme of “adolescent problems” from a socio-critical perspective.

In her article, “Peers and Political Socialization,” Silbiger (1977) hints at an analytical approach which reveals the problematic structure of this theme. It is remarkable that there are no immediately available proofs for (or answers to) questions about the relevance of peers in the field of political socialization. The authors of the newest German contribution on youth, peer groups, and politics also mention a lack of empirical research in this field. Therefore, we rely on Eisenstadt’s classical and basic representation of the meaning of age-homogeneous and age-heterogeneous groups in adolescence.

The “socialization” of persons (which ensues from, or breaks with, the principles of a common family life) relates to the important task each society and social system undertakes to assure continuity by replicating its own structures, norms, and values (Eisenstadt, 1965, p. 51). Accordingly, age-heterogeneous and age-homogeneous groups have the same function: “to be the instances of the socialization of the individual and the mechanism of the community in the social system” (Eisenstadt, 1965, pp. 60-61). Safeguarding continuity is no problem as long as the general society’s and the family’s systems closely correspond with each other. Problems arise if the transition from family principles to those of the external social structure is not conducted smoothly or if certain factors hinder the process for shaping universal relationships. Thus, “the transfer of identification and expansion of solidarity” (Eisenstadt, 1965, p. 67) as a basis for universalism (which mainly helps determine formal principles, in contrast to Eisenstadt’s view) is prevented. In this case, Eisenstadt adjusts age-homogeneous groups to the socially produced cleavages. Social dysfunctions which are established in the family lead Eisenstadt to claim “that from the perspective of the social system, the assignment of roles and the formation of groups are not less important on the basis of the homogeneous age than for the personality integration of the individual” (Eisenstadt, 1965, p. 72).

The range of political socialization is based on several considerations. Agehomogeneous groups form the mediating links between the principles of family life ← 31 | 32 → and those of the social system. That is, peer groups help complete the personality integration which the family cannot carry out any more. At the same time, they establish the individual’s social attitude via group socialization, which is necessary for the maintenance of the social system. In contrast to Eisenstadt’s exposition of the problem (at least as far as identity in adolescence is concerned and the question about the family’s achievement of socialization), Habermas’ (1987) “Theory of Communicative Action” delves into how the prevailing social system affects the family’s function as far as the social integration of youth is concerned. Thus, he concludes that the wilful rationalization of the real world is also evident in structural changes in the bourgeois family. Opposed to ignoring the effect of history on the changing social structure, he argues for the possibility “that by the equalized relational patterns of individual bahavioral manners and liberalized educational practices, a part of the rational potential that is [part of] communicative action is also released” (Habermas, 1987, p. 568).

The ambiguity of the social developmental processes which Habermas analyzes is essentially supported by the fact that the family’s private world is confronted by external economic and administrative factors “instead of being mediated by them from behind. In the case of the families and their environment, a polarization between communicatively structured and formally organized fields of action [is] observed which establishes the process of socialization under different conditions and which sets out a different type of risks” (Habermas, 1987, pp. 568-569).

The potential increase of communicated rationality in the family’ s private world directly leads to claimed (as well as susceptible) conditions of socialization which arise when we examine the so-called “adolescent problem.” This can be stated as follows:

If the imperatives of the system do not sneak into the family any longer, if they don’t settle down in systematically distorted communication, if they don’t intervene with the formation of the self inconspicuously, but come up to the family mysteriously from the outside, then there is a more lively formation of disparities between competence, attitudes and motives on the one hand, [and] functional pretensions of the adult’s role on the other hand. Problems arising from the dissociation from the family and development of one’s own identity critically tests adolescent development which is seldom secured institutionally in modern societies with respect to the ability of the preceding generation to effectively connect with the succeeding one (Habermas, 1987, pp. 569-570).

This functional rift does not offer a solution to how youth transition from the family’s socialization conditions to those they will encounter in external organizations as adults. Methodical and logical research is needed to reinterpret the current findings on peer groups in the life of today’ s juveniles.

Research Problems and Research Results

The basis of the problem of youth socialization is addressed in a wide range of approaches advanced in the Anglo-Saxon and German literature on youth research. ← 32 | 33 → Let us start with the premise that youth socialization involves trying to make sense of many contradicting socialization theories about class, race, and gender. Cohen (1986, p. 76) deals with these research problems by determining how real economic situations affect the analysis of imaginary relationships (i.e., the codes of reproduction). The latter “form the subject positions in which contradictions, separations, and breaks are experienced as their exact opposites, as the maintenance of clear-cut orientation patterns and stable identities” (Cohen, 1986, p. 78).

As a general basis for analysing juveniles’ political socialization processes, Hornstein (1989) describes and critiques the current tendencies used to research adolescents. “In contrast ... a research is desirable that keeps its eye on the whole relations of the life practice and the conditioning social relationships given therewith” (Hornstein, 1989, p. 122).

Habermas (1987) establishes the change of form in the problem of adolescence. Baethge (1986) investigates the structural change in the fields of juvenile experience (with respect to its social and individual meaning) as a transition from a product-oriented to a consumer-oriented paradigm of socialization. The consumer-oriented model is treated ambiguously as both hope and disaster in discussions about individualization (Baethge, 1986). They both relate to the latest statements about the political process of youthful socialization by labelling it “the liability in political securities of orientation” (Heitmeyer and Olk, 1990). Heitmeyer and Olk maintain that we must examine this ambiguity carefully because it is the foundation of basic social developmental processes. They also emphasize that the problem of analyzing juveniles’ political orientation conditions already exists at the interpretative level (i.e., how this behavior helps when processing economic-social and everyday experiences plus actual political problems). They also try to describe how the tense relationship which exists between youth and politics developed.

The relevant problem (in the context of our theme) is that the significance of peer groups for political socialization (in terms of political everyday consciousness) is ignored. From today’s viewpoint of political socialization (particularly for peer groups) theories, only restricted and valid propositions or research practices are considered relevant.

Statements about speculative or contradictory propositions relate only to ideas about research needs as Krappmann (1983) contends. The perceived lack of interactional studies indicates that there is a need for a socialization model that allows one “to estimate one’ s own contribution to social relationships among peers in respectively different phases of socialization” (Krappmann, 1983, p. 447). Furthermore, Krappman raises a significant question about the consequence of social developmental processes which explores peer groups’ quality as a relevant factor for socialization theory. A loss of this special quality of socialization has consequences for children’ s development as subjects who, themselves, are able to act (Krappmann, 1983, p. 462). ← 33 | 34 →

According to Krappmann (1983), the general framework for a research task that focuses on youth peer-group socialization must deal with the problems of age-groups with respect to politics. Girls’ participation in peer groups develops much like the socialization of their male counterparts. Ignoring the political dimension while considering girls, Mitterauer (1986, p. 244) sees the development of the informal group “as the most important social form of youth at the present time [and one considered] as an indication of same general tendencies” (Mitterauer, 1986, p. 236). He emphasizes the following:

Since the family has developed from an organizational form of work to a social form whose primary mutuality lies in the field of leisure, the family and the peer group became rivals, which they were not in the traditional society by any means. The family and the peer group do not compete only about temporal demands. A rivalry of the orientation of values which might have played a minor role historically, is also essential (28) Mitterauer (1986, p. 124).

In a “careful” argument, Hurrelmann (1985, p. 70) assumes that peer groups begin their socializing functions early in adolescence. The peer groups become identified as forms of social life that depend on leisure. They give their members full opportunities for participation. Thus, they allow one to gather experiences in social contexts which are perceived as being vitally relevant. However, they are prevented from doing so in other social fields of action:

“Most peer groups organize themselves outside the systems of family and education and take it for granted that they are not adult initiated, guided and controlled” (Hurrelmann, 1985, p. 70). From this, the authors reason that peer groups have the potential

to become the dominating field of orientation and action in adolescence if this result is directed by juvenile life-situations and interest orientations. Thus, the peer group, whose spectrum ranges from spontaneously formed cliques up to tight social groups such as ‘juvenile gangs,’ is to be considered an important instance of socialization in adolescence (Hurrelmann, 1985, p. 71).

Additionally, the leading researcher on “socialization of youth” develops his hypothesis in a similar direction:

There is an increased chance, within the age cohort, because of this lost control by adults, for the growth of behavioral patterns which differ from the postulated norms set by parents, educators or the law. This development would not increase young peoples’ sense of insecurity. Therefore, age homogeneous relationships produce both protection and a balance for the influence of large social units. At the same time they are an important part of youth socialization that may ease and encourage the transition to adulthood (Wurzbacher, 1978, p. 34).

Moreover, Wurzbacher links this general assessment of the importance of the peer group for youth development with his hypothesis about relationships between ← 34 | 35 → organized groups and processes of activating, selecting, and educating “socially active personalities:” “The analysis of biographies of socially active adults leads to the hypothesis that the readiness to engage in the public field, in organs of self-administration, in politics, in civic action groups, in associations, etc. develops according to how a particular person belongs to a juvenile group and, in whose confines, he could become acquainted with social activities and conduct and could practice them” (Wurzbacher, 1978, p. 49).

Political Consciousness, Way of Life, and Adolescent Cultures

Wurzbacher’s (1978) limited approach is quite different from those who exclude the dimensions of political socialization either implicitly or explicitly and from those who favour more research in this field. By contrast, Schulze (1977, p. 9) tries to come up with the “latent” conditions of political socialization in his empirical investigation of “Political Learning in Routine Experience” in order to split the relationship between readiness for political activities and everyday reality in adolescence. The target of his investigation is restrictive. Nevertheless, it is interesting for us to consider selected parts of his work and the relevant outcomes and results, especially since his approach and results point to specific difficulties for research in this opaque field.

For Schulze, the leading question is “how the different instances of socialization [the family, the educational system, and peer groups] interact with respect to the political process of activating, in which way therefore, different manifest constellations of conditions cause different manifestations of the readiness for political activity in the three interactional fields” (Schulze, 1977, p. 109). His clear result lies in his estimation that all instances of socialization are manifestly efficient; however, they do not reveal any rank order in this efficacy:

The results indicate that there is no instance of socialization whose manifest political impulses do not touch the juvenile. For the family, the educational system, and age-homogeneous groups, each instance explains a substantial part of the variance concerning the readiness for political activity if the latent influences of socialization and the manifest influences of the two respectively different areas are controlled (Schulze, 1977, p. 110).

However, Schulze’s more general estimation is more decisive for our question about the possible constitutional conditions of political everyday consciousness. According to his assessment, the orientations which juveniles acquire via their immediate everyday relations influence their orientations toward the political field: “Political conformity or non-conformity is partly learned by ‘non-political’ communication” (Schulze, 1977, p. 143). For the political quality in socialization processes, the politicization of everyday experiences is meaningful because

the fewer juveniles who are confronted with the political area with respect to their common interaction (process of activation) the less they realize the democratic content ← 35 | 36 → of problems in such situations. Political experiences do not work only (cognitively) as a stimulus for development of the ability to perceive structurally but also (normatively) as conditions for the formation of pro-democratic values. Foremost, both components together constitute sensitivity for democratic problems (Schulze, 1977, p. 146).

The critical problem for political activation of common experiences in adolescence is clearly recorded in this ambiguous characterization. Perhaps it can only be solved by comparing two texts which are based on pure research. From a critical cultural perspective, Claussen (1993) argues for continuities in “the authoritative social character” in his consideration of juvenile political socialization processes. At the start, he describes a “rather confusing picture” (Claussen, 1993, p. 533) with respect to the relevant findings and theoretical material in this field of juvenile political socialization. He presents the following result:

All this culminates in political everyday consciousness which absorbs the pattern of acting and thinking that was found as being appropriate for the consideration of politics in earlier family life situations and that mobilizes natural-like ontological, personal, utopian and fossilized-philosophical structures of thinking or social images. With its help, the nature and appearance of the political normally remains inscrutable and affirmatively confirmed in social world-constellations (Claussen, 1993, p. 532).

In contrast to this, Baacke (1987) argues from a position that is culturally optimistic in his characterization and interpretation of “Youth and Adolescent Cultures.” His theme is that the formation of adolescent cultures is “also a new variation of the self-assertion of individuality. The brilliant aesthetic [. . . ] is not ‘from the inside’ but rather culturally productive forces which break through mechanisms of commercialization/comodification” (Baacke, 1987, p. 534). For him, it is crucial that youth cultures respond to a common cultural problem. That is to explain “how individuality is to be preserved (in view of the prevalent socialization of personal biographies and life-chances), what subject it is there that wants there to say ‘I’” (Baacke, 1987, p. 201). The resistance (that is both subjectively and theoretically motivated) in youth cultures (whose constitution contains classical problems about the peer group and simultaneously is freed from a functional perspective) is confronted with views that are based on the forfeiture, decline, or decay of history (Baacke, 1987, p. 33).

Since these two models/positions react negate each other, we need to look into the development of research investigations. They break down the socio-theoretical and socio-political framework that we are concerned with here and try to use relevant contributions from Anglo-Saxon peer group research. Appropriate considerations and research results are discussed in terms such as “child development,” “human development,” and “moral development.” These are mainly focused on topics regarding the extension of mother-child-centering and problems of the complementary influence of parents and peers on the development of adolescent values and attitudes. The main problem remaining is the generalization of research outcomes. ← 36 | 37 → It is necessary not only to supplement political dimensions and possibilities in this respect, but also to acknowledge their structuring effects.

Back to the Roots: Socialization, Contradiction and Consciousness

Horkheimer and Adorno (1997, pp. 144-145) question if – and for how long – consumer capitalism would be able to keep the people in a condition of alienation and domination. This question is also considered in an American and British study, described by Phil Wexler’s (1990) “holy sparks” and Paul Willis’ (1991) “common culture.”

Wexler deals with the classical problem of critical theory: “the major hegemonic tendency, which is not simply social rationalization but intensified monetization of dynamic connections among all social relations and bonds and their formation as commodities” (Wexler, 1990, p. 160). He is interested in the dialectic of the intensification of control and pathologies and in individual awareness and a sense of life’s possibilities and choice.

His “emergency exit” – with respect to social control and liberation – is the use and analysis of the process of “resacralization.” He argues that this so-called “religious transference” reopens “an intersubjectivity that has been socially emptied in the institutional rationalization process managed by class-differentiated, defensive selves.” He adds: “The religious transference facilitates trust and, therefore, social interaction or intersubjectivity.” Wexler focuses on the processes of mutual recognition and a concept of the dialogue (much like the German discourse on “Bildung” or education) (Sünker, 2006).

The “creative potentials of self-transformation and resacralization” could be used against the culture of consumption in a new cultural trajectory which is also based on educational tasks. Promoting processes of self-transforming – within an understanding of teaching as redemption – is the challenge here.

Willis’ (1990) approach centers around the sentence: “We are all cultural ‘producers’ and the idea that we have to see all human beings as ‘full creative citizens’ and not as lumps of labor power.” Especially as regards youth, he is interested in the “vibrant symbolic life and symbolic creativity in everyday life” (Willis, 1990). The everyday life is his vantage point for analysing social action, processes of “the formation and reproduction of collective and individual identities” (Willis, 1990). A pertinent result of his analysis is to acknowledge that the “tasks of symbolic work and creativity may include not only the attempt to retain identity in the face of the erosion of traditional value system but also to forge new resistant, resilient and independent ones to survive in and find alternatives to the impoverished roles proffered by modern state bureaucracies and rationalized industry” (Willis, 1990). He is also interested in the dialectic of consumption: “consumerism has to be understood as an active, not a passive, process” (Willis, 1990). He raises the question of the possibility of creative consumption. “We are interested to explore how far ‘meanings’ and ‘effects’ can change quite decisively according to the social contexts of ← 37 | 38 → ‘consumption,’ to different kinds of ‘de-coding’ and worked on by different forms of symbolic work and creativity” (Willis, 1990). One of the potentials of cultural modernization could be the establishment of “proto-communities” based on some common interests supplying “some of the preconditions for both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ politics” (Willis, 1990).

Wexler and Willis agree about emphasizing the new role of senses and the body, of energy as human power. While Wexler refers to religion and creativity, Willis refers to everyday cultural activities and creativity. Both approach a politics of meanings and identity, especially in relation to questions about youth and peer culture.

To observe societal relations (for an individual or an age group and society) and their consequences, one must first determine the consequences of the capitalist mode of socialization. Generally, it is about the contradiction connected with the socialization pattern between the production and the destruction of the social; sociality comprises a well-known reason for actual debates between communitarians and liberals. We believe that the contradiction between production and destruction of sociability is a reason to consider segmentation when discussing the development of societally made potential for both power/domination and emancipation/consciousness. Against Horkheimer and Adorno’s (1997) more pessimistic view of world history, the contributions in the field of peer culture – and especially in the field of social analysis – and youth show reasons to hope for a better human future.


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Claussen, B. (1993). “Jugend und Politik,” pp. 527-541 in H.-H. Krüger (ed.) Handbuch der Jugendforschung, 2nd edition., p. 527-541. Opladen, Germany: Leske & Budrich.

Cohen, P. (1986). “Die Jugendfrage neu denken,” pp. 22-97 in R. Lindner and H.-H. Wiebe (eds.) Verborgen im Licht. Neues zur Jugendfrage. Hamburg, Germany: Europ Verlag.

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