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The term ”subculture,” like ”culture,” refers to a shared collection of traits, such as beliefs, values, interests, language, behaviors, and collective identity. The terms ”subculture” and ”culture” can alternately refer to a group or population of persons characterized by distinctive cultural traits. Distinctive cultural groups become ”sub” cultures by contrast to the conventional or mainstream traits of a larger cultural group, often enjoying greater status and power. Because members of a subculture differ from members of a larger, dominant or mass culture, their differences are often evaluated as deviant – they violate conventional standards or fall short of conventional expectations. Deviant subcultures appear in a diversity of forms, associated with gangs, prison inmates, drug addicts, religious cults, hippie communes, and punk rock.
The study of deviant subcultures has traditionally been associated with the study of juvenile delinquency, deviance and crime, but has expanded well beyond its traditional concerns and disciplinary boundaries. While early treatments employed the concept of deviant subculture to explain the delinquency of a specific type of group, typically comprising urban, working class, male youths, subsequent studies have explored deviant subcultures among people of different ages, genders, class positions, and locales. Whereas early theories were often concerned to understand the social causes of delinquency, and treated subcultures as largely dysfunctional cultural adaptations, current literature has expanded well beyond criminological concerns to encompass a wider variety of deviance, by a wider variety of perspectives. The study of deviant subcultures is today a very diverse interdisciplinary study drawing, for example, from cultural studies and neo-Marxist social criticism as well as from traditional positivist criminology.
- Gelder, K. & Thornton, S. (eds.) (1997). The Subcultures Reader. Routledge, New York.
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