In our increasingly globalized world, culture and ideas need not remain isolated to particular regions or groups but have the ability spread around the world – almost instantaneously. This phenomenon has given rise to the discussion of a concept of “global culture,” the identification of a culture that exists across cultural boundaries that individuals and groups all over the globe take part in. Arguably, this global culture is most accessible to youth, who are deeply engaged in the most globalized forms of media (such as social media like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter).
This has given rise to a distinct field of study: Global Youth Culture. Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner define global youth culture as
the transdisciplinary category by which theorists and policy analysts attempt to understand the emergence of the complex forms of hybrid culture and identity that increasingly occur amongst youth throughout the world due to the proliferation of media like film, television, popular music, the Internet, and other information and communication technologies (“Global Youth Culture,” p.1).
In other words, it is the study of culture shared in common by youth across the world, a culture disseminated largely through media technology.
Danny Mitchell of the Gospel Coalition, writing in a missiological context, summarizes well the arguments of Eric Larsen:
Eric Larsen, director of Global Youth and Family Ministries and adjunct professor of next-gen ministry at Covenant Seminary, believes that the rising generations are part of a growing global youth culture (GYC). He points to globalization, the homogenizing of the world into one macro-culture, the effects of postmodernism, abandonment of the next generation by adults, and high mobility and technology, as contributing factors for the development of the GYC (Mitchell (2014, June 19), “Hope for the Global Youth Culture”).
A possible consequence of the existence of a global youth culture is that youth may have certain cultural commonalities with other youth across the globe that they might not share in with the rest of their national culture. Kahn and Kellner point out that “Youth generally comprise the most media and technologically literate sector of their societies” (p.1). Youth in California and Dubai may share in a myriad of common cultural icons, jokes, songs, or ideas that have proliferated through social media, that older generations in their own country might not share in. They may both know a popular song that their parents do not know. This, among other implications, raises the possibility of inter-generational miscommunication or even conflict, and the potential of identity struggle for the youth themselves. This sort of phenomenon is not new but merely accelerated: in the earlier centuries of modernity, majority-world youth receiving education in Europe, or from European schools, brought back with them distinctly European ideas such as Democracy, Nationalism, or Socialism, to their national cultures and was a source of significant change, and sometimes conflict.
Many in traditional cultures may be threatened by the fact that the Global Youth Culture is often full of Western cultural icons, and some theorize that this represents Western cultural imperialism:
global youth are seen as actively responding to and identifying with modernized and cosmopolitan Western culture. This potential for global media to enlist youth as agents for the cultural logic of advanced capitalist states has led some theorists to criticize global youth culture as dangerously ethnocentric and imperialist (Kahn and Kellner, p.2).
Some are noting that increasing international access to the Internet is, however, ‘evening out’ the influences on the makeup of Global Youth Culture. Kan and Kellner mention, as example, the popularity of certain Asian websites among global youth.
Part of the development of the understanding of global youth culture has been the growth of global youth advocacy initiatives. While such programs and organizations deal with youth in different cultures, they create common centers for advocacy and networking between youth, youth workers, and world politicians for dealing with global (and local) youth problems. The United Nations has sponsored an annual World Youth Report, which as a feature of the UN Focal Point on Youth, highlights “the global situation of young people.” Similarly, Youthpolicy.org works to “generate and consolidate knowledge and information on youth policies across the policy cycle.” One Young World is “a UK-based not-for-profit that gathers together the brightest young people from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change. “
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How should parents and youth workers try to relate to youth who are receiving their culture in part from a Global Culture that older generations may not be as familiar with?
What might be the local consequences, positive and negative, of youth being engaged with culture around the world?
How should we respond to the tensions and conflicts that may arise from youth being influenced so much by an outside culture?
What are the opportunities that arise with the interconnectedness of global youth?
If a particular culture (the West) dominates most of the content of the Global Youth Culture, does this represent a form of cultural imperialism? Or is the acceptance of Western culture by global youth part of their autonomous cultural development?
Youth today have opportunities to learn about people and ideas around the world that older generations have not had. This is something to be encouraged and developed.
The spread of Western culture to international youth through the Internet is a force of change (either positive or negative) in other regions. Because of this global network, we should become educate about other parts of the world and their cultures, as well as the effect Western culture has on them.
Leaders, parents, and mentors need to consider how to build positive relationships between youth and the rest of their culture, even though youth are taking part in another broader culture alongside their local one.
Global youth, because of their ability to network and share ideas internationally, are a powerful force for solving global problems. There is an advantage that comes with the inclusion of a diverse set of voices.