The changing semantics of youth and adulthood

Harry Blatterer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


This article analyses a contradiction: while living up to a selective image of youth has become imperative for the maximization of life chances, doing so attracts the discursive misrecognition of young adults' personhoods. This cultural evaluation evinces a misapprehension of the meaning of adulthood whose increasing ambiguity is inseparable from changes in the semantics of 'youth'. I begin by analysing the normative model 'standard adulthood' from a recognition-theoretical perspective and then outline transformations in the semantics of youth that undermine that model's empirical validity. I argue further that labour and commodity markets have 'liberated' youthfulness from its biological, age-determined delimitations and have recast select, desirable (i.e. profitable) characteristics of youth as necessary for the maximization of individuals' life chances. I conclude that the normative foundations of contemporary adulthood are ambiguous because the market has appropriated, altered and then sold back to us the dream of eternal youth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-79
Number of pages17
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


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