Children’s and young people’s cultures

Kehily, Mary Jane and Montgomery, Heather (2018). Children’s and young people’s cultures. In: Montgomery, Heather and Robb, Martin eds. Children and young people’s worlds. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 25–40.


This chapter will examine children and young people’s cultures, asking questions about what we mean by ‘culture’ as it relates to children and young people, whether or not they have their own cultures and, if so, how they work. But first a word about culture – a term described as ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’ (Williams 1976: 76). It has a wide range of meanings in both academic and everyday discourse: it can refer to the traditions of a particular society or community or be used more narrowly to refer to artistic forms and practices, in the sense of ‘high’ culture: it can also be defined as the commonplace routines and practices that characterise and bind together a particular group or community. Culture, in this sense, can be observed and studied in day-to-day engagements with the social world. This way of conceptualising culture draws on the work of literary and cultural critic Raymond Williams who insisted that culture is ‘ordinary’. Williams referred to the ‘everydayness’ of culture as a way of life that makes sense to individuals involved in a particular community (Williams, 1958 [2014]). This perspective also sees culture as a form of action: it is not just something that people have, it is also what people do. The anthropologist Brian Street (1993) argued that ‘culture is a verb’, indicating that it should be seen as a dynamic process rather than a fixed entity. Applying these ideas to children and young people has important consequences for understanding childhood and youth because it suggests that children and young people make sense of the world and take their place within it through participation and engagement with everyday social practices. Through negotiations with the social world and the exercise of agency, children and young people give shape to their lives and actively ascribe meanings to events and in this way can be seen to develop their own cultures.

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