Are Teenagers more ‘Obedient’ These Days?

Recently Mark Easton, a BBC editor, observed that the “teenage rebels are not what they were.” By reviewing some of the recent analyses, he shows how much the new generation of teenagers are different from the past ones in the cases of using the banned drugs, drinking alcohol or smoking.

Then he asked “today, though, where are the rebellious sub-cultures?” And correctly adds that “no-one is suggesting that young people do not misbehave, but teenagers no longer seem to define themselves by wild disobedience.”

Easton’s hypothesis is also interesting. He believes that “these days, perhaps, adolescent identity is defined more by the use of social media rather than the use of illicit drugs.” Now it means that youth gangs are now going virtual. Then they show their disobedience on the social networks like Facebook which is almost out of the control of the past generation.

“The archetypal teen is evolving.” There is no doubt on it. And also internet and the digital gap between the generations are also constituted a new sphere of action for the teenagers to be together and create their own new –however virtual- world very easily. Then they have their own kingdom and there is no need to challenge the other –more real- kingdoms. From this perspective, yes, they became more obedient and probably submissive.

It is thought-provoking to think about other more sociological and historical causes for this phenomenon. I want to invite you to take a look at the problem from another, wide, historical, perspective. It seems to me that the teenagers did not become obedient. Conversely I believe that whole of the society is now more disobedient.

Just take a look at the way we dress and compare it with the extremely formal ways of dressing-up (like as a university student) 60 years ago. The male students of the time used to wear ties and coats and even there were some courses for the female fresher about the way they should behave in the university like how to sit down or drink and etc. One will apparently observe that in compare with them we are absolutely ‘hippies.’

The radical leftist movements of 60s to 80s and the postmodern ideas of the 70s onwards had some profound effects on the everyday life of the Western (including British) low-culture. This impact is crucially on the way modern men are looking at the world. 50 years ago this world was horribly divided between some solid ideologies like Marxism, Faschism and Liberalism. The world was full of ‘certainties’ and ‘absolute truths.’ There were quite a lot of real targets to fight against in addition to many intense hopes to create the ideal society. But the deep effect of the post-modern turn was the gradual liquefaction of those solids. As Marx once said ‘all the solids melts into air.’

If we look at the evolution of the modern world in the last decades of the twentieth century we can discern the stormy tendency toward the liquefaction of the ‘solids’ in any kind; first of all religious ones during the Enlightenment, then the human made ideologies like Fascism and Marxism, and finally the core ideal of the liberalism, the idea of progress and the sanctity of science itself, largely, challenged.

The point is that in an age which Zygmunt Bauman called the age of liquid modernity, teenagers can find no real target to be opposed to, not a ‘valid’ criteria to resist against, not a single grain of truth to show its falsity. They are not so ‘obedient.’ All of the society is more rebellious. At the middle of such a permanent revolutions no one needs to be ‘wild disobedient.’

To put it more accurately, the term ‘disobedient’, which presupposes the presence of a non-challenged power to which one can be totally obedient, has recycled. Here we have more suitable term; representation. What today teenagers are really searching for is to represent their individual identity and interests on the virtual basis. The fundamental selection is not between obedience/disobedience but between well-representation/misrepresentation/not-represented.  


Morteza Hashemi Madani is a PhD student in the sociology department of the University of Warwick. His fields of research are philosophy of social sciences and science studies. Also in the past ten years he has been a blogger and journalist.


Categories: Rethinking The World

17 replies »

  1. These generalisations are very ethnocentric. Please reread what you’ve written and think about whether any of it applies to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, where religion is still very “solid” and there has never been a youth rebellion against social norms. There’s more to the world than the US and Europe. The failure to notice this is a serious flaw in a great deal of sociology. Moreover, even in the US, religion is still very solid for most people. When you say “we” or “teenagers”, think about who you’re really talking about. You’re writing on the Internet, and the Internet is global.

    • Well sir! I am a middle-eastern researcher who has been there in the past 25 years.
      Before you accuse me of having ‘white mask on the black skin’ — I’m actually a kind of brown 🙂 — I should add that you have a point there. I wrote this as a response to an article which was published on BBC and it was mainly about European/Western teenagers. Not a kind of universally valid theory for whole of human beings right now.
      To explain in detail what is happening in the middle-East in the age called ‘liquid modernity’ was not my concern here. Might write about it later but you might be right that I needed to add one adjective like ‘Western teenagers’ not to make it ‘naively universally valid claim.’

    • On second thought I did add that adjective when I wrote:

      “The radical leftist movements of 60s to 80s and the postmodern ideas of the 70s onwards had some profound effects on the everyday life of the Western (including British) low-culture.”

  2. I’ll leave it to the author to decide whether to reveal their personal characteristics but the allegations of ‘ethnocentrism’ (I know him in real life) made me LOL. In the genuine laugh out load sense of ‘lol’.

  3. All the more so given the patronising self-righteous tone in which your comment is written.

  4. It doesn’t matter who you are. I’m not making an ad hominem argument. I’m just pointing out that the phenomena you’re describing are real for only a small part of the world’s population. The phrase “Western (including British)” occurs halfway through the post, after you’ve already referred to “the new generation of teenagers”, “the whole of society”, and “the way we dress”. Anyway, your claims aren’t even valid for Britain, only for the most secularised portion of the British population. There are plenty of people in Britain whiose religious beliefs haven’t been “liquefied” at all, and whose way of life is utterly untouched by radical leftist movements, and there are even more in the US. The notion that “the West” (a meaningless Eurocentric term) has become thoroughly secularised and postmodern is a discredited fallacy.

  5. I find your contention that people can be divided up into those for whom religion/belief is ‘liquid’ and those for whom it is ‘solid’ utterly bewildering. I’m not a fan of Bauman’s liquid modernity stuff but, discounting that, this seems like a gross misreading.

  6. But this has nothing to do with me so I’m going to back off and leave you and Morteza to talk…

  7. And if I sound annoyed, it’s because this sort of sloppy cultural myopia is distressingly common in English-language sociology, in which “we” often seems to mean “me and my liberal friends in academia”, as if conservative Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other “non-liquid” populations didn’t exist or didn’t matter, or could be safely ignored on the grounds that they exist only in the so-called “non-Western world”, when in reality they’re your neighbours in London.

  8. (1): as if they “could be safely ignored on the grounds that they exist only in the so-called “non-Western world”

    (2): “Please reread what you’ve written and think about whether any of it applies to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, where religion is still very “solid” and there has never been a youth rebellion against social norms.”

    Surely the assumption you’re critiquing in (1) is precisely the one implied by what you said in (2)?

  9. This is why I think the ‘liquid’ concept is pretty useless in terms of practical social theory. It either leads to the obliteration of empirical detail (which is the perfectly valid point of your critique) or the meaningfulness of the conceptual distinction melts (!) away when you recognise that ‘solid’ and ‘liquid’ life exists side by side to varying degrees. It’s a crap dichotomy which reifies a complex process, pretending to offer explanatory purchase on it while doing little more than getting in the way of actually understanding social & cultural change. I love much of Bauman’s work but, though he is much more likable, his stuff on liquid modernity is no better than Giddens and Beck and, in some ways, much worse.

  10. Rule of thumb: if someone tries to explain social change in terms of transitional dualisms (modernity -> postmodernity, traditional -> post-traditional, solid -> liquid etc) they’re almost certainly not explaining anything. They’re assuming a trajectory of social change and fitting whatever empirical data they engage with into a preconceived framework. If you explain change over time in terms of a transition between dualisms you inevitably assume the very process which you’re citing empirical data in an attempt to substantiate.

  11. Here’s an example of what I’m referring to, from Bauman’s “Liquid Modernity”, p. 28: “As Lessing pointed out a long time ago, at the threshold of the modern era we have been emancipated from belief in the act of creation, revelation and eternal condemnation.”

    I mentioned Egypt and Saudi Arabia as a heuristic. I don’t think anyone who lived in the Arab world could write something like Bauman’s sentence above. The incongruity would just be too flagrant. However, that doesn’t excuse him for writing it in the UK, either. And the fact that that book is so widely admired and cited says something about the sorry state of sociology.

  12. And you’re right that I misused Bauman’s terms “solid” and “liquid”. Actually, since he seems to think that only atheists can be modern, one would have to conclude that most of humanity has not experienced any modernity at all — an absurd conclusion.

  13. Teenages in most part of the world are disobedient,in spite of religion or regional culture.Media is important to close and adjacent behaviors and ideas of youth together.

  14. Hurray we’ve found a mutually agreeable conclusion! Entirely agree with y6our last two comments 🙂

  15. It seems to me that the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran was a challenge to the naive conception of the history as a one-way street toward the secularisation.
    To define ‘liquidity’ only from the sociological (empirical) point of view is so misleading. If you do so obviously you can find some empirical counter-facts which show the existence of ‘solidity.’ The point is that I believe we need an epistemological reading of the term ‘liquidity’;
    Religion as a meta-discourse is challenged in the modern world. I know that even in the West we have Muslim extremists. Also I know that inside Christianity there are some serious tendencies toward the revival of religious discourse. But the point is that this religion is not a meta-discourse and exactly because of this needs ‘a revival movement.’
    As Milbank clearly stated his goal at the beginning of Theology and Social Theory:
    “What follows is intended to overcome the pathos of modern theology, and to restore in post-modern terms, the possibility of theology as a meta-discourse.”
    The process of liquefaction is not the process of ‘getting rid of religion’ (from the sociological point of view which Comte and Marx used to see) but its disappearance as a meta-narrative. Religious truth is there; valid, alive and solid. But it does not remain unchallenged. It is not a meta-narrative any more.
    Religious political movements like Islamic revolution in Iran among Shia’s or Fundamentalist movements inside Sunny Islam or even inside academia in the West and East (like Milbank’s radical orthodoxy) clearly define their goals; the revival of religion as a meta-discourse.
    So what I said in this essay was not based on the positivistic naive idea of the progress of history toward the demolition of religion. Conversely I do believe in the necessity of the revival of religion as a meta-narrative. But when I say that ‘this is my political project’, at the same time I have presupposed that it is not in that position right now. Religious truth is just one truth among other nationalist, chauvinist, socialist etc. ideas even inside Saudi Arabia.
    PS. Still I don’t want to open the Pandora’s Box of “religion and middle-east in the age of liquidity” and, evidently, restricted my essay to the West. Just one point for here: I believe that fundamentalism is the other side of the coin of secularisation by distortion of the traditional religion from inside. Fundamentalism as one way of re-emergence of religion in the modern time is more secular (and because of this violent) than one might think.

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