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In biology, a subculture in a population of a microorganism is when one microbe colony in such a population is transferred onto blank growth medium and allowed to freely reproduce.

In sociology, a subculture is a culture or set of people with distinct behavior and beliefs within a larger culture. The essence of a subculture, that distinguishes it from other social groupings, is awareness of style and differences in style, in clothing, music or other interests. 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 (hot jazz at the time) and interpreted it in accordance with subversive values. Thus 'the audience...manipulates the product (and hence the producer), no less than the other way round' (Riesman 1950: 361)."

Thus when a member of a subculture "listens to music, even if no-one else is around, he listens in a context of imaginary 'others' - his listening is indeed often an effort to establish connection with them. In general what he perceives in the mass media is framed by his perception of the peer-groups to which he belongs. These groups not only rate the tunes but select for their members in more subtle ways what is to be 'heard' in each tune (ibid: 366)."

A culture often contains numerous subcultures. Subcultures incorporate large parts of their mother cultures, but in specifics they may differ radically. Some subcultures achieve such a status that they acquire a name of their own.

Dick Hebdige (1981) used style as a subculture's fashions, mannerisms, argot (see also slang, jargon, and polari), activities, music, and interests. Subcultural styles are distinguished from mainstream styles by being intentionally "fabricated", their constructedness, as different from conventional.

Hebidge considered punk subculture to share 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 encased 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." (p.106-12)

Sarah Thornton (1995), after Pierre Bourdieu (1986), 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. Roe (1990) uses the term symbolic capital.


  • Negus, Keith (1996). Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819563102.
  • Dick Hebidge (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of Style (Routledge, March 10, 1981; softcover ISBN 0415039495).
  • Roe, K. (1990). "Adolescents' Music Use", Popular Music Research. Sweden: Nordicom.
  • Thornton, Sarah (1995). Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p.155. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335152759.
    • Riesman, David (1950). "Listening to popular music", American Quarterly, 2, p.359-71.

See also

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13