What is the importance of subcultures

Subculture (s)

As a scientific concept, the term subculture originally stems from the field of sociological and linguistic analyzes around Robert Merton and Albert Cohen from North America, who primarily dealt with criminal subcultures, conflict subcultures and retreat subcultures from the 1920s to the late 1960s as part of their social analyzes. These concepts were then expanded to include popular youth cultures and media cultures within the framework of the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) with a temporal focus on the 1970s and 1980s. Since the 1990s and until today, subcultures have been further observed and discussed in interdisciplinary continuations and new approaches (e.g. as postsubcultural studies).

Subcultures are identifiable parts of society as a whole, which partially differ from it, but are nevertheless subject to certain laws and rules of society as a whole. In this way, these differences can be worked out, particularly with regard to the behavioral norms of the members of the individual subcultures. They are the starting point for the formation of self-confidence in these subcultures. It offers the prerequisites for the contouring and delimitation of one's own group as well as for the delimitation of a group from other groups and from society as a whole. Subcultures therefore refer to cultures 'below' the prevailing culture.

In the early studies, among other things, individual forms of interaction, action and behavior and, above all, language in these groups were examined. Only afterwards and especially after the Second World War and with the increased emergence of youth and popular media cultures and their commercialization was the term softened and also used for playful deviations or infiltration in the area of ​​style.

A broad and reflective understanding of culture that is adequate for today's societies is, for example, culture as a program in the sense of group-specific, yet individually designed interpretations of shared models of reality. In this way, culture can be observed in diverse, sometimes central, sometimes peripheral subcultures (art, politics, religion, education, sport, etc.) and their differentiation settings (aesthetic / non-aesthetic, left / middle / right, Christianity / Islam / Judaism / Buddhism / etc., School / education / college etc) and assessment categories. These are subject to constant changes, adjustments and delimitations and are operated by their agents. Accordingly, subcultures can usually be understood as irritating cultures that are initially barely visible (in the shade, underground, etc.) within these program levels. The prefix ‘Sub’ signals the emergence beyond the bourgeois living room or the general social norms and values, namely below ’, in the dark basement, so to speak in the clubs of the not yet gentrified city or in the virtual space of cyberspace. The agents of the subcultures differ on certain levels from those of the main cultures, but are not necessarily completely against them. Nor do they try to get out of culture completely, which would usually mean entering another culture, because according to the models mentioned, an outside of culture is theoretically inconceivable for human observers.

The concept of subculture is often associated with journalistic and academic research or has even been equated with that of counterculture, partial culture, youth culture or pop (ulary) culture. These partially fuzzy understandings are not very helpful for a clear definition and each stand for very own concepts. Counterculture designates an ever more comprehensive and revolutionary, clearly aligned process against a dominant culture, a very clearly marked attack on this culture.

Subculture, on the other hand, is not necessarily positioned against or below the dominant culture, but can designate a sub-area of ​​the main program, such as the eating and not the drinking culture. Youth culture is tied to a certain age of its actors and stands for a special search for oneself and the related need for orientation, identification and socialization. Admittedly, this lifespan has expanded, especially in western media culture societies, on the one hand, but on the other hand certain phenomena such as pop music that were once only associated with youth now seem to be cross-generational. At the same time, over the decades, subculture observations reveal changes in the form of both differentiation and de-differentiation.

Pop (ular) culture describes the commercialized area of ​​society that industrially produces and mediates topics that are then used and processed by broad sections of the population with pleasure. Only in this communicative process based on different cultures and cultural levels and the respective current concrete relationships to one another does pop (ular) culture emerge as a program in the above-mentioned sense. Even within mediatized pop (ular) cultures, individual subcultures can be observed corresponding to the individual currents or genres, who want to expand the genre boundaries or change progressively (or regressively) within the boundaries and work on the respective mainstream or main cultures. This enjoyable game for constructing and consolidating identity within very specific rules often means entertainment in the sense of the word of communication and, above all, pleasure and was commercialized at an early stage, especially because of its effectiveness, aestheticization and emotionalization. With the generations increasingly socialized in pop (ular) cultures, a weaker expansion of this game over the entire lifetime can now be observed, which makes these social subcultures all the more attractive from an economic point of view. Main cultures are not conservative per se and subcultures per se dynamic (let alone bad or good through supposedly collective taste formation per se), depending on the reference, both groups can be progressive and regressive, from which a complex and at the same time changing and stable system is more permanent Constitutes negotiations and negotiations. Culture is security and contingency in a network and demands responsibility from those involved, whereby culture initially seems to be geared more towards stability, subculture more towards dynamism.

Since the 1990s at the latest, it has been discussed whether there can still be clearly recognizable subcultures and their counterparts in the form of dominant cultures in a transcultural, differentiated world. That is why the term scene was preferred as a less rigid concept. However, it is often overlooked that the media observation conditions have changed and become more confusing, i.e. that many subcultures have become more visible through Internet platforms and diverse, to different degrees, professionalized and institutionalized journalistic formats. At the same time, however, those in power have become more invisible due to the interdependence and complex structures of the economy and politics in particular. Accordingly, the cultural need for irritation in the sense of questioning existing structures has not diminished, the contradictory-dynamic cultural programs continue to run, but in the worst case get problems to identify the irritating counterpart. On the other hand, there has been a certain social habituation to ‘homeopathically deviant’ behavior, and even made it the norm in pop culture, advertising or the creative society, but by no means has the need for deviation disappeared. Often these dynamics take place in a progressive or regressive form and as constant minimal irritation or an attempted exit from this serious cultural game.

In times of commercialization and commodification of deviation and the diffusion of popular media cultures into all social subcultures, main cultures and subcultures can also be found on all these levels. The one unified main culture and subculture subverting it can hardly be observed - neither on the pop-cultural nor on the overall social program level. This fuzziness makes it possible for extremisms, nationalisms, fundamentalisms and terrorisms to impose new, apparently clear and simple rules precisely into this confusion, so to speak, in a culture-insensitive manner.




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Pop (ular) culture:

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  • Hügel, Hans-Otto (Ed.) (2003): Handbuch Popular Kultur. Stuttgart and Weimar: J.B. Slaughterer.
  • Jacket, Christoph (2013): Introduction to Popular Music and Media. 2nd Edition. Münster, Berlin and others: LIT.
  • Jacket, Christoph (2017): Pop Music Cultures: Development and Understanding. In: Leggewie, Claus; Meyer, Erik (Ed.): Global Pop. The book on world music. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, pp. 67-75.
  • Storey, John (2003): Inventing popular culture. From folklore to globalization. Oxford: Blackwell.



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(Short version)

Dr. Christophjacket, Professor of Theory, Aesthetics and History of Popular Music in the Music Department at the University of Paderborn. Course director “Popular Music and Media BA / MA”. Chair / First Chairman "International Association for the Study of Popular Music", Branch "DA-CH (Germany / Switzerland / Austria". Activities as a journalist for Frankfurter Rundschau, Testcard, Spex, De: Bug, Intro, Rolling Stone and Die, among others) Cancellation as well as record companies. Current publications: see homepage: www.christophjacke.de

author Christoph jacket
Period November 2017