While currently studying a BA (Hons) degree in Music Management & Artist Development, i've been fascinated with some of the topics we've covered, especially subcultural analysis, trends and how these affect the interaction between the artist and the audience. Understanding subcultures helps to understand consumer behaviour, as well as the behaviour and ideology of your potential fans.
For one of my assignments, we had a choice of questions to answer on a range of subcultural theory. I chose to discuss Subcultural Identity as, while it has always been important, there is a question to be answered as to whether subcultural theory is applicable in the present day as we no longer have such defined subcultural groups (see: Mods, Rockers, Punks, Hippies, etc), more a meld of past subcultural identities.
For anyone who finds this piece interesting, please let me know by way of a comment below or an email.
For anyone who uses this within an academic piece of work, please use the following reference within your bibliography and email me so I can read your work (this stuff fascinates me!):
Winter, S (2014). 'The Importance of Subcultural Identity'.
Available: www.sunnystuartwinter.com. Last accessed: DATE
“Subcultural identity is theatrical in its concern with display, show and façade” (Evans).
Discuss in relation to one or more subcultures.
Subcultural identity allows identification of an individual into a particular social group within society; semiotically, behaviorally & ideologically. It “gives alternative interpretations and values to young people’s subordinate status; it reinterprets the social world” (Thornton, 1995, in, Gelder & Thornton, 1997: p.208).
Hebdige writes that “the communication of a significant difference… is the ‘point’ behind the style of all spectacular subcultures” (1979: p.102), that style is an intentional communicator. This also relates to Umberto Eco’s quote “I speak through my clothes” (Hebdige, 1979: p.100) in so far as to say that wearing a particular band t-shirt, for example, communicates that you ‘belong’ within a certain subcultural group, which has it’s own behaviours and beliefs.
However, in modern day subcultures, it could be argued that there are now overlaps between subcultural signifiers, be it stylistically or behaviorally. “Many accounts of post-war youth subcultures have also overlooked the dynamic quality to their styles” (Muggleton, 2000: p.49) and “are discussed as though they are immutably fixed phenomena” (Muggleton, 2000: p.50). Taking the previous example in the present day, it would not seem unusual for someone who identifies themselves as ‘punk’ to modify their car and play music; albeit punk music, not drum and bass music.
Under past subcultural theory, this could question the authenticity of the punk within their subculture, but now within the post-subcultural realm, this act of mixing subcultures is becoming normal. In Polhemus’ “Style Surfing” he argues that the rules are there to be broken, “mixing sportswear with workwear, the old and the new, crossing traditional gender divides” (Polhemus, 1996) and more.
Stylistically, hipsters adopt the styles of other cultures that they do not belong to, going against the mainstream, often into niche areas. Weinzierl (2001) in Muggleton & Weinzierl (2003: 170) describes this kind of subcultural hybridity as a ‘hybrid mainstream formation, which can hardly be demarcated from subcultural scenes’. Hipsters are known to fetishise and appropriate multiple aspects of multiple subcultures.
Hipsters are apparent within multiple genres of music, regardless of whether it is heavy metal or indie, and constantly move between them. Under Evans’ theoretical discussions, subcultures “have in common the production of “fixed” identities, and this “knowledge” about sub-cultural identities merely targets them as something co-optable”. (Evans, 1997: p.180) This may have been relevant within the 1980’s rave scene of which she writes, but is not as fitting in the modern day, post-subcultural world where fluidity of identities are commonplace.
This could be a valuable example of Tribus, the ‘post-traditional’ concept by Michel Maffesoli, who identifies that “consumption patterns and practices enable individuals to create new forms of contemporary sociality” (Muggleton & Weinzierl, 2003: p.12); multiple identities, fluid involvements, rather than letting class, gender or religion dictate identity. This also means there is the ability for post-subcultures to take on new meanings, change and evolve due to their “dynamic quality” (Muggleton, 2000: p.49 )
The main difference however, between hipsters and many other subcultures, is that hipsters do not readily identify themselves as hipsters. This is largely due to the negative connotations associated with being a hipster; the arrogance, the unwillingness to be associated with anything mainstream and their nihilistic attitude.
As mentioned, tribus is a concept developed by Maffesoli, where a group identity is “no longer formed along traditional structural determinants like class, gender or religion” (Maffesoli, 1996, cited in Muggleton & Weinzierl, 2003: p.12) and where the single members of a group “do not foster their community as a priority but use the group to satisfy their individual needs” (Maffesoli, 1996, cited in Muggleton & Weinzierl, 2003: p.12). This is becoming more appropriate for modern youth cultures. With regards to Hipsters, it can be argued that there is no true group identity, as the individuals do not regard themselves as hipsters, let alone a subcultural group.
The end of group mentality means hipsters, like those within other subcultures, can appropriate multiple other ‘tribes’, moving freely between them, encouraging “plural, fluid and part-time rather than fixed, discrete and encompassing group identities” (Maffesoli, 1996, cited in Muggleton & Weinzierl, 2003: p.12). Maffesoli goes on further to say that “social existence is conducted through fragmented tribes of humanity”. (Maffesoli, 1996, cited in Evans, 1997: p.171)
Whilst the use of safety pins and do-it-yourself clothing was to originally serve a function, to make a statement to revolt or of intent and then appropriated into the punk subculture, the style of clothes chosen by hipsters can not be deemed ”style in revolt” (Hebdige, 1979: 106), but more style as pastiche of past subcultures; satirically collaging, and re-appropriating former and current culture. Subcultures no longer have clear uniforms of style.
Taste, one of the most vital aspects of identification within a subcultural group, is inherently linked with tribus and is a complex theory that can include the things you like, do not like, ‘should’ like but do not, guilty pleasures and more. The advent of the Internet has allowed people to access a wide array of culture, compared to the more limited resources of say, punks in the 1970’s; not to mention the speed of change within cultures.
Whilst Evans’ subcultural identity is a functioning theory of subcultures, certainly in the twentieth century, twenty-first century post-subcultures have become unstable and fluid, no longer defined by factors such as class, allowing individuals to harness ‘multiple identifications’ resulting in them being harder to define, with Shields describing them as “the multiple masks of a postmodern “persona” who “wears many hats” in different groups and surroundings” (1992: p.16).
With such a huge supply of culture and potential “subcultural capital” (Thornton, 1995: p.203), it is no surprise that self-identity is becoming harder to resolve. If we are born into a particular sociological, economical and cultural class as Louis Althusser suggests, but do not accept it or seek subcultural groups to align ourselves with, there is such an abundance of expansive choice and regular change that it is not surprisingly that we will carry these multiple identities, as discussed by Shields and Maffesoli.
Concepts of ‘consumer lifestyles’ suits the post-subcultural terrain more than Evans’ could in modern life. The idea raises the importance of consumerism in the identities of modern youth. Whilst Miles states that race, gender and upbringing are still important, he argues that young people “construct lifestyles that are as adaptable and as flexible as the world around them” (2000: p159).
Identity could also be linked to performativity; the theory that identity is not natural or fixed but is rather something one acts and is fundamentally unstable. Barker says that “Subcultures do not exist as authentic objects but have been brought into being by subculture theorists” (Barker, 2000, p.322).
In a post-subcultural terrain, where subcultural borders are blurred, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know if there is such a thing as the “real” you.
The idea that “we are always already subjects” (Athusser, L QUOTE) by way of the life and upbringing we have been born into, can be illustrated in that a child, born of upper class parents, is probably more likely to take an interest in opera or horse racing than a child, born of lower class descent, who instead is more likely to be interested in hip hop music or skateboarding for example.
With hipsters, the premise of subcultural capital is an interesting point. Their relationship with music, for example, changes if a band were to become exceptionally popular or “mainstream”. Whilst they may have followed a band whilst they were relatively unknown, they often disregard their fandom toward that band when they are appropriated into the mainstream.
This ties in with Thornton’s study within the rave scene where the exclusivity in the subcultural capital of music is valuable and “must be prevented from being continually coveted and appropriated by the ‘mass’” (Thornton, 1995, in, Muggleton & Weinzierl, p.9)
The PBS idea channel further discusses hipster behaviour, this time in opposition with geek behaviour, saying that “both groups are defined not only by what they enjoy… but also how they enjoy it” (PBS, 2013). Geeks are more likely to be honest about their fandom towards a book or game or type of music, whilst hipsters are known for ‘playing it cool about how much they like something’ (PBS, 2013).
Subcultural capital can be gained by the things you own or the hairstyles you have. However, when the whole ‘point’ of hipsters is that they do not supposedly follow trends, be they societal or subcultural, and they seek to be unique, it is clear that subcultural identity and the multiple identities of tribus, is complex.
It could be said that our culture ‘speaks’ to us in a white, middle class, heterosexual ‘voice’ and anything outside of that is deemed as “otherness”. The “other” can be “trivialized, naturalized, domesticated” where difference is denied, or as a “pure object, a spectacle, a clown’ (Barthes 1972, in Hebdige D, 1979, in Gelder & Thornton, 1997). Subcultures, certainly the hipster subculture, are eagerly appropriating “other” or past cultures, to try to appear different and stand out from the crowd.
The list of subcultural ephemera associated to hipsters is vast. Low V-neck tops, handlebar moustaches, vintage glasses despite having twenty-twenty vision, fashion that can include clashing colours or vintage wear (Figure 1.0), loafers without socks, topknot hairstyles, bow ties and at times, outfits that serve to blur the boundaries of sexuality whereby, males for example, will wear items of clothing mostly associated with women, such as tights. (Figure 1.1)
Other subcultural ephemera includes riding a ‘fixie’ bike, veganism, their association with coffee houses such as Starbucks and the elaborate coffee concoctions chosen, all to promote their ‘uniqueness’ or ‘otherness’. (Figure 1.2)
However, looking at this with regards to Strinati’s postmodernism, it could be said that hipsters ‘perform’ cool for the sake of cool as we “consume images and signs precisely because they are images and signs, and disregard questions of utility and value” (Strinati, 1995: p.225). Also, “consumption is increasingly bound up with popular culture because popular culture increasingly determines consumption” (Strinati, 1995: p.224).
This postmodernist approach ties in with post-subcultural theory and how hipsters, “in their quest to be different, have wound up virtually identical” (Proud, 2014), and are very much a part of the mainstream consumer culture they have tried so hard to oppose.
Grief describes it as a “thwarted tradition of youth subcultures… which had tried to remain independent of consumer culture, alternative to it, and been integrated, humiliated, and destroyed” (Grief, 2010: p.6).
Whilst structural identification has previously been linked to deviant behaviour by Stanley Cohen, with “the focus… on how society labels rule-breakers as belonging to certain deviant groups” (Cohen, 1987: p.12), it could be questioned as to whether this model applies to all modern day, post-subcultural subcultures, when the boundaries have been blurred and multiple identities are the norm.
Evans’ idea of “subcultural identity” being “theatrical” is not as obvious as it once was. The difference in the post-subcultural present day is that due to multiple identities, there are now also multiple displays, multiple shows and multiple facades to contend with.
Whilst punks may have been the first subcultural group to use bricolage, mixing the old with the new to create a new language or dress code, it has rapidly become typical in modern day post-subcultures where self-identity is desperately sought.
The break up of mass culture and melding of classes, where everyone could possibly now be deemed ‘middle class’, has left fewer groups to be ‘at variance with’, leaving subcultures ever complex.
In closing, if “popular cultural signs and media images are taking over in defining our sense of reality for us” (Strinati, 1995: p225), and ‘style over substance’ continues to dominate, it is likely we will see a further, future departure away from Evans’ subcultural identity theory into a further blurring of subcultural lines.
Barker, Chris. (2000): Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage p. 318-348.
Bennett, A. (1999). Subcultures or neo-tribes?. Rethinking the relationship between youth, style and musical taste. 33 (3), 599-617.
Cohen, S (1987). Folk devils and moral panics: the creation of the Mods and Rockers. London: Blackwell.
Cova, B, Kozinets, R & Shankar, A (2007). Consumer Tribes. London: Routledge. p.96.
Dangoor, R. (2010). Being A Dickhead’s Cool. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVmmYMwFj1I. Last accessed 20th March 2014.
Evans, C (1997). Fashion Theory, Volume 1. 1st ed. Oxford: Berg.
Gelder, K & Thornton, S (1997). The Subcultures Reader. London: Routledge. pages.
Granfield, M (2011). HipsterMattic. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. Accessed online at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/books/retro-types-in-pursuit-of-the-vacuous/story-e6frg8nf-1226203929858. Web. Last accessed 18th March 2014
Grief, M (2010). What Was the Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation. London: HarperCollins.
Hebdige, D (1979). Subcultures: The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2006). Bourdieu, the media and cultural production. The Open University. 28 (2), 211-229.
Hujic, Lida, 2006. ‘My name is Lida and I am a Hoxtonite’. The Guardian [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2006/mar/31/fashion [Accessed 19 Mar 2014]
Kinzey, J (2012). The Sacred and the Profane. London: Zero Books.
Miles, S (2000). Youth lifestyles in a changing world. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Muggleton, D (2000). Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style. 1st ed. New York: Berg. p.49-50.
Muggleton, D &, Weinzierl, R (2003). Post-Subcultures Reader. Oxford: Berg.
PBS Idea Channel. (2013). 'Are You A Hipster?'. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3xe-Wxio1o. Last accessed 20th March 2014.
Polhemus, T (1996). Style Surfing: What To Wear in the 3rd Millennium. London: Thames & Hudson. Extract accessed online at: http://www.tedpolhemus.com/main_concept5%20467.html. Last accessed 18th March 2014.
Proud, A. (2014). Why this 'Shoreditchification' of London must stop. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10561607/Why-this-Shoreditchification-of-London-must-stop.html. Last accessed 19th March 2014.
Rayner, A. (2010). Why do people hate hipsters?. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/oct/14/hate-hipsters-blogs. Last accessed 19th March 2014.
Shields, R (1992). ‘Spaces for the subject of consumption’, in R. Shields (ed.), ‘Lifestyle Shopping’, London: Routledge.
Strinati, D (1995). ‘An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture’. London: Routledge. 225.
Thornton, S (1995). Club Cultures: music, media and subcultural capital. Cambridge: Polity Press. p.98-105.
Modern youth subcultures in the United States, Russia and Kyrgyzstan Culture –it is a certain whole system with its inner certainty of value-hierarchical relationships. There are a valuable dominant , or core of culture, and next to it a number of subcultural formations in any culture. The question arises(is) what the subculture is. It was assumed that subculture is a subsystem of the whole system of culture. But, there is no any well-established system of views on the appearance of subcultures nowadays. Every science interprets this concept and describes it from the point of their subject and methodology. Subculture usually a special case of culture in general. It is always different with its some localness and reticence to a certain extent, in varying degrees, is loyal to the value system of the dominant culture, although there are exceptions . Youth subculture is a special case of manifestations(display) of subculture in general. Epithet of “youth” immediately defines a cultural niche that is occupied by people united on the principle of age. In this case, the age – an important demographic characteristics.
The special psychology of age in culture is undeniably important, as it seriously influances the mentality and spirituality . Youth subculture is born and exists in connection with the specific needs of young people to socialize and at the same time to assert themselves actively. It was assumed(considered) that young people in the life of those rules and regulations, which were professed by their ancestors. Youth often characterized categorical judgments, perfectionism, rejection councils, their subordination existing burdens models of social development, they are characterized by dynamism, openness to the world, heightened emotionality, romantic aspirations, etc.. At the heart of youth subcultures there is a special way of relating to the world with its system of spiritual values. Youth subculture is a special way of life that is divided mainly living them directly or sympathizers.
Youth subculture – it is nothing but a form of self-expression of young people, expression of their goals in life: to change the world, their life, refuse from the social canons, approve alternative life attitude in relation to the(with) pre-existing etc . Public opinions about the different kinds of youth subcultures are different. Some people imagine it as any unusual behaviors of youth social “deviation”, imitating the West, idleness, and therefore subject to elimination. Others believe that young people are trying (let in somewhat exotic way) somehow to express himself, his attitude and say something about himself to society and because it borrows from its Western counterparts .
Having considered the youth subculture “hip-hop” in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, we can conclude that almost everything about this subculture, including its “language” is really borrowed from subcultures “hip-hop”which is originated USA. Subculture itself “hip-hop” includes murals – graffiti, unique in its plasticity dance – break dane, sports style dress and musical direction – rap (note that all three words – graffiti, rap and break dane – are also borrowed ). Hip-hop was the first music that best embodies(describes) the ideology and identity of contemporary African-American culture. Over the last decade within this subculture there has been formed its own fashion, significantly different from the traditional fashion of the white population, its own jargon and cultivated accentuation. It may illustrate many examples. – Befo I came up in the game these hoes didn’t show no love (From the song Mike Jones “Back Then”). Befo – before (as before).
– I don’t know bout cha (Usher & Alicia Keys “My boo”). Cha – from «you».it is pronounced and written in this way, when there is a word before this word and ends with consonant “t”. Bout – ob, about (of about).
Boo – boy (man) / girlfriend.
– It’s getting hot in herre (songs of Nelly “Hot in herre”). – These hoes wouldn’t give a damn if i heah (From the song Mike Jones “Back Then”). Herre / Heah – here (from here), pronounced «her».
– I wish I was lil bit taller (Song of Skee-Lo “I wish”). Lil-(from) -1) is a small, small (about the size) Small, 2) a little bit. – I could take in ya.
Shorty I could take you there.
Shorty come with me it’s no worry (From the song Sean Kingston “Take you there”). Shorty – girl (diminutives – baby, mainly used to refer to girls).
Ya, Ye – you (you).
There are a lot of such examples, they are all vividly illustrate the specialty of (features) American “hip-hop” slang and are actively studied by modern linguists. The Russian “hip-hop” Slang is no less interesting , abounding adapted loanwords from English. – chops good muddies … (Quote from a forum respecta.net / forum / index.php? Showtopic = 4225). Chops (from the English – beat) – rhythm, beat, beat.
– braza, you are wrong (Quote from a forum www.mtg.ru/forums/mymagic/topic99360.html). Braz (from the English. – Brother) – brother.
– . he never returned my cache, now no one ever loan (Quote from a forum forum.kingclub.ru / index.php? Action == printage; topic = 2502.0). Cache (from the English. – Cash) – money, cash.
– Center – hope rurepa … (Quote from a forum respecta.net / forum / index.php? Showtopic =: 3433). Rurep (from the English. – “Russian rap”) – Russian rap.
– I just wanted to say that we should not measure success Hayter (Quote from a forum izhhop.udm.ru/hip-hop/forum/archive/index.php/t- 541.html) Hayter (from the English. – Hater) – hater. Youth subcultures are the areas in which the influence of the cultures and languages of other countries play an important role. From the examples above we can conclude that the Americanisms “hip-hop” Slang influence Russian very much, and today it is impossible to imagine the existence of hip-hop culture in Russia and Kyrgyzstan without them. Interaction and mutual influence of cultures and subcultures are an integral part of the modern globalized life. Young people, being one of the most active segments of society, use modern means of communication, the possibility of unlimited access of information and the possibilities to borrow all the latest fashion trends in music, fashion, manner of communication and lifestyle. The problem- to keep (save) the identity and uniqueness of cultures and cultural diversity will remain as a relevant in this situation.