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A subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates itself from the parent culture to which it belongs, often maintaining some of its founding principles. Subcultures develop their own norms and values regarding cultural, political, and sexual matters. Subcultures are part of society while keeping their specific characteristics intact. Examples of subcultures include hippies, goths, bikers, and skinheads. The concept of subcultures was developed in sociology and cultural studies.Subcultures differ from countercultures.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines subculture, in regards to sociological and cultural anthropology, as "an identifiable subgroup within a society or group of people, esp. one characterized by beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger group; the distinctive ideas, practices, or way of life of such a subgroup."
As early as 1950, David Riesman distinguished between a majority, "which passively accepted commercially provided styles and meanings, and a 'subculture' which actively sought a minority style ... and interpreted it in accordance with subversive values".In his 1979 book Subculture: The Meaning of Style , Dick Hebdige argued that a subculture is a subversion to normalcy. He wrote that subcultures can be perceived as negative due to their nature of criticism to the dominant societal standard. Hebdige argued that subculture brings together like-minded individuals who feel neglected by societal standards and allow them to develop a sense of identity.
In 1995, Sarah Thornton, drawing on Pierre Bourdieu, described "subcultural capital" as the cultural knowledge and commodities acquired by members of a subculture, raising their status and helping differentiate themselves from members of other groups.In 2007, Ken Gelder proposed to distinguish subcultures from countercultures based on the level of immersion in society. Gelder further proposed six key ways in which subcultures can be identified through their:
Sociologists Gary Alan Fine and Sherryl Kleinman argued that their 1979 research showed that a subculture is a group that serves to motivate a potential member to adopt the artifacts, behaviors, norms, and values characteristic of the group.
The evolution of subcultural studies has three main steps:
The earliest subcultures studies came from the so-called Chicago School, who interpreted them as forms of deviance and delinquency. Starting with what they called Social Disorganization Theory, they claimed that subcultures emerged on one hand because of some population sectors’ lack of socialisation with the mainstream culture and, on the other, because of their adoption of alternative axiological and normative models. As Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess and Louis Wirth suggested, by means of selection and segregation processes, there thus appear in society natural areas or moral regions where deviant models concentrate and are re-inforced; they do not accept objectives or means of action offered by the mainstream culture, proposing different ones in their place – thereby becoming, depending on circumstances, innovators, rebels or retreatists (Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin). Subcultures, however, are not only the result of alternative action strategies but also of labelling processes on the basis of which, as Howard S. Becker explains, society defines them as outsiders. As Cohen clarifies, every subculture's style, consisting of image, demeanour and language becomes its recognition trait. And an individual's progressive adoption of a subcultural model will furnish him/her with growing status within this context but it will often, in tandem, deprive him/her of status in the broader social context outside where a different model prevails.Cohen used the term 'Corner Boys' which were unable to compete with their better secured and prepared peers. These lower-class boys did not have equal access to resources, resulting in the status of frustration and search for a solution.
In the work of John Clarke, Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson and Brian Roberts of the Birmingham CCCS (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies), subcultures are interpreted as forms of resistance. Society is seen as being divided into two fundamental classes, the working class and the middle class, each with its own class culture, and middle-class culture being dominant. Particularly in the working class, subcultures grow out of the presence of specific interests and affiliations around which cultural models spring up, in conflict with both their parent culture and mainstream culture. Facing a weakening of class identity, subcultures are then new forms of collective identification expressing what Cohen called symbolic resistance against the mainstream culture and developing imaginary solutions for structural problems. As Paul Willis and Dick Hebdige underline, identity and resistance are expressed through the development of a distinctive style which, by a re-signification and ‘bricolage’ operation, use cultural industry goods to communicate and express one's own conflict. Yet the cultural industry is often capable of re-absorbing the components of such a style and once again transforming them into goods. At the same time the mass media, while they participate in building subcultures by broadcasting their images, also weaken them by depriving them of their subversive content or by spreading a stigmatized image of them.
The most recent interpretations see subcultures as forms of distinction. In an attempt to overcome the idea of subcultures as forms of deviance or resistance, they describe subcultures as collectivities which, on a cultural level, are sufficiently homogeneous internally and heterogeneous with respect to the outside world to be capable of developing, as Paul Hodkinson points out, consistent distinctiveness, identity, commitment and autonomy. Defined by Sarah Thornton as taste cultures, subcultures are endowed with elastic, porous borders, and are inserted into relationships of interaction and mingling, rather than independence and conflict, with the cultural industry and mass media, as Steve Redhead and David Muggleton emphasize. The very idea of a unique, internally homogeneous, dominant culture is explicitly criticized. Thus forms of individual involvement in subcultures are fluid and gradual, differentiated according to each actor's investment, outside clear dichotomies. The ideas of different levels of subcultural capital (Sarah Thornton) possessed by each individual, of the supermarket of style (Ted Polhemus) and of style surfing (Martina Böse) replace that of the subculture's insiders and outsiders – with the perspective of subcultures supplying resources for the construction of new identities going beyond strong, lasting identifications.
The study of subcultures often consists of the study of symbolism attached to clothing, music and other visible affectations by members of subcultures, and also of the ways in which these same symbols are interpreted by members of the dominant culture. Dick Hebdige writes that members of a subculture often signal their membership through a distinctive and symbolic use of style, which includes fashions, mannerisms and argot.
Subcultures can exist at all levels of organizations, highlighting the fact that there are multiple cultures or value combinations usually evident in any one organization that can complement but also compete with the overall organisational culture.In some instances, subcultures have been legislated against, and their activities regulated or curtailed. British youth subcultures had been described as a moral problem that ought to be handled by the guardians of the dominant culture within the post-war consensus.
It may be difficult to identify certain subcultures because their style (particularly clothing and music) may be adopted by mass culture for commercial purposes. Businesses often seek to capitalize on the subversive allure of subcultures in search of Cool , which remains valuable in the selling of any product.This process of cultural appropriation may often result in the death or evolution of the subculture, as its members adopt new styles that appear alien to mainstream society.
Music-based subcultures are particularly vulnerable to this process; what may be considered subcultures at one stage in their histories –such as jazz, goth, punk, hip hop and rave cultures –may represent mainstream taste within a short period. Some subcultures reject or modify the importance of style, stressing membership through the adoption of an ideology which may be much more resistant to commercial exploitation. The punk subculture's distinctive (and initially shocking) style of clothing was adopted by mass-market fashion companies once the subculture became a media interest. Dick Hebdige argues that the punk subculture shares the same "radical aesthetic practices" as Dada and surrealism:
Like Duchamp's 'ready mades' - manufactured objects which qualified as art because he chose to call them such, the most unremarkable and inappropriate items - a pin, a plastic clothes peg, a television component, a razor blade, a tampon - could be brought within the province of punk (un)fashion ... Objects borrowed from the most sordid of contexts found a place in punks' ensembles; lavatory chains were draped in graceful arcs across chests in plastic bin liners. Safety pins were taken out of their domestic 'utility' context and worn as gruesome ornaments through the cheek, ear or lip ... fragments of school uniform (white bri-nylon shirts, school ties) were symbolically defiled (the shirts covered in graffiti, or fake blood; the ties left undone) and juxtaposed against leather drains or shocking pink mohair tops.
In 1985, French sociologist Michel Maffesoli coined the term urban tribe. It gained widespread use after the publication of his Le temps des tribus: le déclin de l'individualisme dans les sociétés postmodernes (1988).Eight years later, this book was published in the United Kingdom as The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society.
According to Maffesoli, urban tribes are microgroups of people who share common interests in urban areas. The members of these relatively small groups tend to have similar worldviews, dress styles and behavioral patterns.Their social interactions are largely informal and emotionally laden, different from late capitalism's corporate-bourgeoisie cultures, based on dispassionate logic. Maffesoli claims that punks are a typical example of an "urban tribe".
Five years after the first English translation of Le temps des tribus, writer Ethan Watters claims to have coined the same neologism in a New York Times Magazine article. This was later expanded upon the idea in his book Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment. According to Watters, urban tribes are groups of never-marrieds between the ages of 25 and 45 who gather in common-interest groups and enjoy an urban lifestyle, which offers an alternative to traditional family structures.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s led to a countercultural rejection of the established sexual and gender norms, particularly in the urban areas of Europe, North and South America, Australia, and white South Africa. A more permissive social environment in these areas led to a proliferation of sexual subcultures—cultural expressions of non-normative sexuality. As with other subcultures, sexual subcultures adopted certain styles of fashion and gestures to distinguish them from the mainstream.
Homosexuals expressed themselves through the gay culture, considered the largest sexual subculture of the 20th century. With the ever-increasing acceptance of homosexuality in the early 21st century, including its expressions in fashion, music, and design, the gay culture can no longer be considered a subculture in many parts of the world, although some aspects of gay culture like leathermen, bears, and feeders are considered subcultures within the gay movement itself.The butch and femme identities or roles among some lesbians also engender their own subculture with stereotypical attire, for instance drag kings. A late 1980s development, the queer movement can be considered a subculture broadly encompassing those that reject normativity in sexual behavior, and who celebrate visibility and activism. The wider movement coincided with growing academic interests in queer studies and queer theory. Aspects of sexual subcultures can vary along other cultural lines. For instance, in the United States, down-low refers to African-American men who do not identify themselves with the gay or queer cultures, but who practice gay cruising, and adopt a specific hip-hop attire during this activity.
In a 2011 study, Brady Robards and Andy Bennett said that online identity expression has been interpreted as exhibiting subcultural qualities. However, they argue it is more in line with neotribalism than with what is often classified as subculture. Social networking websites are quickly becoming the most used form of communication and means to distribute information and news. They offer a way for people with similar backgrounds, lifestyles, professions or hobbies to connect. According to a co-founder and executive creative strategist for RE-UP, as technology becomes a "life force," subcultures become the main bone of contention for brands as networks rise through cultural mash-ups and phenomenons.Where social media is concerned, there seems to be a growing interest among media producers to use subcultures for branding. This is seen most actively on social network sites with user-generated content, such as YouTube.
Social media expert Scott Huntington cites one of the ways in which subcultures have been and can be successfully targeted to generate revenue: "It’s common to assume that subcultures aren’t a major market for most companies. Online apps for shopping, however, have made significant strides. Take Etsy, for example. It only allow vendors to sell handmade or vintage items, both of which can be considered a rather "hipster" subculture. However, retailers on the site made almost $900 million in sales."
Discrimination is sometimes directed towards a person based on their culture or subculture. In 2013, the Greater Manchester Police in the United Kingdom began to classify attacks on subcultures such as goths, emos, punks and metalheads as hate crimes, in the same way they record abuse against people because of their religion, race, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.The decision followed the murder of Sophie Lancaster and beating of her boyfriend in 2007, who were attacked because they were goths.
In 2012, emo killings in Iraq occurred, which consisted of between at least 6 and up to 70 teenage boys who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Baghdad and Iraq, due to being targeted because they dressed in a Westernized emo style.
Goth is a subculture that began in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s. It was developed by fans of gothic rock, an offshoot of the post-punk music genre. The name goth was derived directly from the genre. Notable post-punk artists who presaged the gothic rock genre and helped develop and shape the subculture include Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, the Cure, and Joy Division.
Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender. Originally meaning "strange" or "peculiar", queer came to be used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires or relationships in the late 19th century. Beginning in the late 1980s, queer activists, such as the members of Queer Nation, began to reclaim the word as a deliberately provocative and politically radical alternative to the more assimilationist branches of the LGBT community.
Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures are subcultures and communities composed of people who have shared experiences, backgrounds, or interests due to common sexual or gender identities. Among the first to argue that members of sexual minorities can also constitute cultural minorities were Adolf Brand, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Leontine Sagan in Germany. These pioneers were later followed by the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis in the United States.
A counterculture is a culture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, sometimes diametrically opposed to mainstream cultural mores. A countercultural movement expresses the ethos and aspirations of a specific population during a well-defined era. When oppositional forces reach critical mass, countercultures can trigger dramatic cultural changes. Prominent examples of countercultures in the Western world include the Levellers (1645–1650), Bohemianism (1850–1910), the Non-conformists of the 1930s, the more fragmentary counterculture of the Beat Generation (1944–1964), followed by the globalized counterculture of the 1960s (1964–1974), usually associated with the hippie subculture as well as the diversified punk subculture of the 1970s and 1980s.
Mod is a subculture that began in London and spread throughout Great Britain and elsewhere, eventually influencing fashions and trends in other countries, and continues today on a smaller scale. Focused on music and fashion, the subculture has its roots in a small group of stylish London-based young men in the late 1950s who were termed modernists because they listened to modern jazz. Elements of the mod subculture include fashion ; music ; and motor scooters. In the mid-1960s, the subculture listened to power pop rock groups with mod following, such as The Who and The Small Faces, after the peak Mod era. The original mod scene was associated with amphetamine-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs.
In the arts, bricolage is the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work constructed using mixed media.
The 20th century saw the rise and fall of many subcultures.
In criminology, subcultural theory emerged from the work of the Chicago School on gangs and developed through the symbolic interactionism school into a set of theories arguing that certain groups or subcultures in society have values and attitudes that are conducive to crime and violence. The primary focus is on juvenile delinquency because theorists believe that if this pattern of offending can be understood and controlled, it will break the transition from teenage offender into habitual criminal. Some of the theories are functionalist assuming that criminal activity is motivated by economic needs, while others posit a social class rationale for deviance.
Diva house or handbag house is an anthemic subgenre of house music that became most popular in gay clubs during the second half of the 1990s. Handbag house is one of the most mainstream and accessible subgenres of electronic dance music. The Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture defines handbag house as having "prominent female vocals, breakdowns, and a proliferation of piano 'stabs'." Modern diva house compositions use synth stabs and four on the floor rhythms.
Dick Hebdige is an expatriate British media theorist and sociologist, and a professor of art and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His work is commonly associated with the study of subcultures, and its resistance against the mainstream of society. His current research interests include media topographies, desert studies, and performative criticism.
A youth subculture is a youth-based subculture with distinct styles, behaviors, and interests. Youth subcultures offer participants an identity outside of that ascribed by social institutions such as family, work, home and school. Youth subcultures that show a systematic hostility to the dominant culture are sometimes described as countercultures.
Sarah L. Thornton is a writer, ethnographer and sociologist of culture. Thornton has authored three books and many articles about artists, the art market, technology and design, the history of music technology, dance clubs, raves, cultural hierarchies, subcultures, and ethnographic research methods.
Alternative fashion is fashion that, at least at one time, stood apart from mainstream commercial fashion. Alternative fashion includes the fashions of specific subcultures such as emo, scene, goth subculture, hip hop, cyberpunk, and Lolita fashion; however, it is not limited to these. In general, alternative, or 'alt', fashion does not conform to widely popular style trends of the times that have widespread popularity. It may exhibit itself as a fringe style – extremely attention-grabbing and more artistic than practical – but it can also develop from anti-fashion sentiments that focus on simplistic utilitarian drives.
The Toronto goth scene, the cultural locus of the goth subculture in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the associated music and fashion scene, has distinct origins from goth scenes of other goth subcultural centres, such as the UK or Germany. Originally known as the "Batcavers", the term "goth" appeared only after 1988, when it was applied to the pre-existent subculture. Distinctive features included internationally recognized gothic and vampiric fashion store 'Siren', a goth-industrial bar named 'Sanctuary: The Vampire Sex Bar', and Forever Knight, a television series about an 800-year-old vampire living in Toronto. In Toronto, the goths did not seek to reject mainstream status, and achieved partial acceptance throughout the mid to late 1990s.
The following events related to sociology occurred in the 1990s.
Street fashion is fashion that is considered to have emerged not from studios, but from the grassroots streetwear. Street fashion is generally associated with youth culture, and is most often seen in major urban centers. Magazines and Newspapers like the New York Times and Elle commonly feature candid photographs of individuals wearing urban, stylish clothing. Japanese street fashion sustains multiple simultaneous highly diverse fashion movements at any given time. Mainstream fashion often appropriates street fashion trends as influences. Nowadays, street fashion is getting more and more popular. Most major youth subcultures have had an associated street fashion. Streetstyle is different all around the globe.
Consumer culture theory (CCT) is the study of consumption choices and behaviors from a social and cultural point of view, as opposed to an economic or psychological one.
Subculture: The Meaning of Style is a 1979 book by Dick Hebdige, focusing on Britain's postwar youth subculture styles as symbolic forms of resistance. Drawing from Marxist theorists, literary critics, French structuralists, and American sociologists, Hebdige presents a model for analyzing youth subcultures. While Hebdige argues that each subculture undergoes the same trajectory, he outlines the individual style differences of specific subcultures, such as Teddy boys, mods, rockers, skinheads, and punks. Hebdige emphasizes the historical, class, race, and socioeconomic conditions that surrounded the formation of each subculture. While Subculture: The Meaning of Style is one of the most influential books on the theory of subcultures, it faces a range of critiques.
Cultural identity refers to a person's sense of belonging to a particular culture or group. This process involves learning about and accepting traditions, heritage, language, religion, ancestry, aesthetics, thinking patterns, and social structures of a culture. Normally, people internalize the beliefs, values, norms, and social practices of their culture and identify themselves with that culture. The culture becomes a part of their self-concept. However, some studies have noted that existing cultural identity theory may not account for the fact that different individuals and groups may not react to or interpret events, happenings, attitudes, etc. in the same ways as other individuals or groups.
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