Subculture theory: definition, examples and explanations (2023)


A subculture is a group of people who differ from the dominant culture, often leading to social conflict. Subculture theory focuses on the relationship between groups and their cultures.

Subcultures are in relation to each other and as a result there is likely to be a conflict between them. These conflicts may arise from issues related to the identity of the subculture and its place in society.

A subculture is a culture within a larger group and can take any form; class, religion, gender, age or ethnicity. It can also be an alternative culture with its own set of norms or values.

A subcultural theory is based on the idea that societies consist of more than one group, with at least one subgroup wanting to differ from the norm. As a result of this, they can develop their language or style.

Examples of subcultural theories are:

Focal Concerns of the Working Class by Walter Miller

Walter Miller (1965) suggested that the working class in America consists of two distinct groups, which he classified as "the decent" and "the vulgar".

This theory was based on two different "modes of life" within the working class. The decent group pursued middle-class ideals, which included earning enough money to live in a house and respecting other members of society.

Miller stated that the working class is experiencing a crisis where some want to fit into the middle class lifestyle and others reject it. As a result, decent members of the working class come into conflict with those who want to reject middle-class norms.

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    (Video) What is Subculture?

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Cohens Subcultural Status Frustration Theory

Cohen (1955) suggested that there is a relationship between social structure and subcultures.

He believed that there are two main goals in a society which are:

  • Performance– the desire to achieve success through hard work.
  • Membership-the desire to achieve social status from the groups we belong to

Cohen stated that there are two main paths to achieving these goals, which are:

  • Compliance– the desire to succeed by conforming and working hard towards society's goals.
  • Rebellion– the desire to achieve social status by deviating from society's goals and achieving them in their own way.

Cohen argued that these two streams of society are in conflict with each other. This is because conformity allows for the achievement of goals through hard work and, as a result, is likely to reduce the frustration of members of society.

However, the rejection of conformity will result in a lack of social status. This tension causes frustration in the majority community.

According to Cohen, each social group will have a different approach to frustration. The members of a will speakdeviation, while others may adopt religious beliefs or political ideologies as an escape.

What are the implications of Cohen's criminal policy?

Cohen stated that there are two types of individuals; those who feel socially included and those who do not.

There are therefore two types of criminal policy; those that aim to include the marginalized and those that aim to exclude them.

He believed that society should provide opportunities for the marginalized to achieve success through hard work. This provision will include improving education, increasing prosperity and reducing discrimination.

According to Cohen, differentsocial groupsYou will adopt different strategies to move forward in life. This adoption may involve conforming to society or taking a rebellious approach and rejecting the dominant culture.

Cohen argued that the criminal justice system greatly affects the relationship between society and marginalized subcultures.

The criminal justice system is responsible for reducing deviance by punishing those who commit crimes.

Cohen stated that this could lead to a "criminalization process". It implies that the criminal justice system defines certain behavior as socially unacceptable and therefore a "crime".

You can also checkMajor theories of crime causation.

Underclass and Crime by Charles Murray

According to Charles Murray, there is a subculture living in the ghettos of the United States that rejects the dominant values. He called this subculture "the underclass."

Murray argued that within the lower class there is no social stability. As a result of this, the members of the underclass have developed their norms and values. There is a hierarchy where the top get monetary rewards and are considered upper class boys. Those below are seen as low life individuals.

Underclass members of the underclass are often involved in criminal activity. This behavior created tension between them and the upper class.

Lower class criminal gangs have conflicts with those trying to live a respectable life. As a result, members of the two groups have opposing cultural goals and live in different areas of society.

Underclass and crime theory is an example of subcultural theory because it explains how people can develop their own culture within a larger one.

(Video) Subcultural Theories

The two groups are in conflict with each other over society's goals. As a result, they develop their norms and values ​​for dealing with conflict.

However, they are not completely isolated from each other. There is still some mixing between the groups.

You may also be interested intheory of social disorganization

Subculture theory: definition, examples and explanations (1)

Ohlin and Cloward's subcultural theories

Ohlin's (1953) subculture theory states that people living in poverty have low self-esteem. The poor members of the society feel the need to prove themselves by achieving success in their path.

As a result, they reject societal goals and instead work toward their own subcultural goals. The poor are developingconflictswith the upper and middle class.

Cloward and Ohlin's (1960) subculture theory states that poverty causes stress among members of the working class. This is because hard work is emphasized in middle class culture and the poor reject it.

The pressure to compete frustrates the poor and they form a community that favors them. This community is based on the particular values ​​of violence and illegal drugs.

Ohlin and Cloward developed three subcultural theories. These are;

  • The subculture theory of conflict. He argues that the poor come into conflict with other classes and cultures. As a result of this, they develop a subculture to deal withcepa.
  • The Defiance Subculture Theory. This theory states that the poor reject core values ​​and instead develop their values.
  • Theories of Retiro subcultures. He argues that people create a social network in vulnerable areas to cope with the stress of poverty.

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Subcultural deviance theory

According to the theory of subcultural deviance, societies are stratified. Those at the top live well and can afford luxuries, while those at the bottom struggle to make ends meet.

The stress of this causes the lower classes to reject the cultural norms and values ​​of the upper classes. The lower classes will live in their communities and create their norms and values.

As a result of this, the lower class comes into conflict with the upper class. They live different lifestyles and have different cultural goals.

Subcultures arise when there is a conflict between people with opposing values ​​and norms. Members of the subculture will reject the norms and values ​​of the larger society rather than develop their own.

Members of the subculture develop a shared identity to cope with the stress of living in a society where they are not valued. Through this common identity, they gain respect and status in their society.

In this way, members can find an identity in a society where they were not valued before.

You can also checkexamples of deviant behavior

Subcultural Distinction Theory

Subculture theory: definition, examples and explanations (2)

The theory of subcultural distinctiveness (Wiley, 1995) stated that there are two types of subcultures: “those with a high level of distinctiveness and those with a low level of distinctiveness”.

The theory said that subcultures develop to address the differences between the working class and the middle class. In some societies there is a big difference between rich and poor, while in others there is not that big of a difference.

In some societies, members of the working class try to gain status in order to act in ways similar to those of the middle class. This means that the subculture of the working class corresponds in values ​​and norms to that of the middle class.

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Subcultural identity theory

Raymond W. Gibbs Jr. introduced subcultural identity theory in 1982. It explained how people develop a shared identity as a coping mechanism to find status and solidarity in their society.

Subcultures develop in times of conflict (e.g. when there is great class difference). When people feel that their values ​​and norms are rejected by the dominant culture, they will try to find an identity in a new group. The need to belong will lead them to develop a new common identity that they will share with other members of the community.

(Video) Subcultural Theories of Crime & Deviance - Albert Cohen | A Level Sociology

Therefore, there are two different types of identity:

  1. primary identity
  2. secondary identity

main identity

The primary identity is the one we develop through our family and friends. It is very similar to a common identity in a subculture.

This identity is the first we form and it will be very strong throughout our lives. It will not change easily, even if society's values ​​and norms change.

People who have this identity within a subculture will not admit to being part of it as they try to act like the dominant culture.

Because it is so difficult for them to admit that they are part of a subculture, they will develop secondary identities that allow them to fit in with the rest of society. They will adjust their values ​​and norms depending on who they are around.

Secondary identity

The secondary identity is the one that develops to fit into the dominant society. This identity will be different depending on who we are around.

When the subculture is not in conflict with society, it will be difficult to tell whether someone is part of a subculture or not.

Correspondingly, whendominantculture in conflict with subculture, it will be easy to tell if someone is part of a subculture or not.

People who do not fit into society will try to find a separate subculture (a community where they feel comfortable and accepted). This subculture will have its own culture, norms and values.

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(Video) Cultural Deviance Theory and Delinquent Subculture Theory

Subcultural resistance theory

The theory behind subcultural resistance is that people with high levels of crime will develop their ways of dealing with it. They will come together to protect themselves from criminals and develop their norms and values.

The dominant culture will have a great influence on the rest of society. However, there will be some members who refuse to conform. They will develop their subculture and live in their community.

These subcultures will have different cultural goals than the dominant culture, as well as different values. They will develop their rules for handling conflicts.

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Postmodernists' subcultural theories

Postmodernism is a philosophy that denies the existence of objective reality and believes in subjective perceptions. This philosophy is related to subculture theory as it believes that a culture is only different in the eyes of those who perceive it.

Postmodernists believe that there is no such thing as a coherent identity. They claim that the identity was invented in the late 18th century.

These people also believe that the idea of ​​a coherent identity is just an illusion created by society. They also believe that identity is never fixed and constantly changes based on our contacts. This argument means that there are no subcultures as they are just an illusion created by society.

Examples of postmodernist subcultural theories are:

  • Rave culture and drug use– The rave subculture developed in the 1990s to respond to society. This was because society rejected the use of drugs, so those who wanted to use drugs had to create their own community. This meant that there was no real shared culture in the rave subculture, as it was only created due to rejection from society.
  • Neoliberalism and hip-hop culture- Neoliberalism was a form of economic privatization (anti-public). This led to increased competition and many people felt left out of the system. Hip hop was the result of people trying to find a new identity and create their owncultureand style because of this frustration with society.
  • Sexuality and gender identity –Sexuality and gender identity have a social construction. This means that these identities are not natural, but constructed by society. Society gives you sexuality and gender identity and it is up to you to accept them or not. Postmodernists believe that there are no fixed sexualities or gender identities.
  • punk subcultures– This is a perfect example of a postmodern subculture theory as it focuses on the idea that everything is fake and there are no real subcultures. The punks want everyone, including themselves, to destroy society and its rules. They see themselves as rebels who want to disrupt the dominant culture.

Punks do not feel that they belong to a specific subculture, as they try to eliminate the whole idea of ​​subcultures. They hate the idea of ​​fitting in and they want everyone else to hate the idea too.

The punk subculture is mainly focused on shocking society, breaking the rules and destroying everything.

  • metalhoveder- Metalheads believe that they are the ones who reject the dominant society. They see themselves as completely different from those who listen to pop music and thus create their own culture. Metalheads only want to hang out with other metalheads as they don't want to be associated with those who listen to pop music.
  • emo- Emos also try to create their subculture. They believe they have a completely different culture than the popular culture, and will reject anyone who does not fit into their culture.
  • changes- This is a perfect example of playing the same as those in popular culture. Mods want to be like rockers who they see as rebellious and cool. This is a good example of rejection and trying to belong.
  • The transgender subcultureIt is also a perfect example of resistance as it does the opposite of popular culture. Transgender people resist traditional gender roles and try to create their own unique identity.

You can also checkwhat is criminology about


Subculture theory is a way of understanding how cultural groups form and interact with each other. It has been used to study everything from gang violence to the formation of music genres among young people. Understanding different subcultures will allow you to properly address members of different groups as you know what they believe and practice.

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Subculture theory: definition, examples and explanations (3)


(Video) Lesson 7 - Subcultural theories of crime


Subculture theory: definition, examples and explanations? ›

Cultural or subcultural theories of crime focus on the content of learned behavior rather than the process of learning that behavior. For example, Miller used lower-class culture to explain delinquent behavior amongst lower-class youths, stating that deviance is normative in lower-class cultures.

What is an example of a subculture theory? ›

Cultural or subcultural theories of crime focus on the content of learned behavior rather than the process of learning that behavior. For example, Miller used lower-class culture to explain delinquent behavior amongst lower-class youths, stating that deviance is normative in lower-class cultures.

What is the explanation of subculture theory? ›


What is subculture examples and definition? ›

Subcultures Defined

Subcultures are values and norms distinct from those of the majority and are held by a group within a wider society. In the United States, subcultures might include hippies, Goths, fans of hip hop or heavy metal and even bikers - the examples are endless.

What are 6 examples of subculture? ›

Examples of subcultures include the hippies, hipsters, cosplay, hip hop, punks, emos, and goths. What is this? Subcultures are also usually associated with youth and often seen with some degree of suspicion by older people.

What are the best examples of subculture? ›

A subculture is a group of people who share a way of life, a way of dressing, or special interests or beliefs. For example, 21st-century subcultures include goth, cyberculture, emo, gamer, hip-hop and hipster. Subcultures can be face-to-face groups or communities.

What are examples of subcultural influences? ›

Social Institutions: Those who participate in a social institution may form a subculture. Examples include participation in marriage, parenthood, a retirement community, or the army. Belief System: People with shared beliefs may create a subculture, such as a religious group or political party.

What best describes a subculture? ›

A subculture is a group of people within a cultural society that differentiates itself from the conservative and standard values to which it belongs, often maintaining some of its founding principles. Subcultures develop their own norms and values regarding cultural, political, and sexual matters.

What is subcultural theory of social learning theory? ›

Learning theories assume that both deviant and conformal behaviours are learned in interactions with other members of society. Learning theoretical approaches explain delinquency as behaviours that are processually passed on in groups and communities.

What are two types of subculture? ›

Some common types of subcultures are:
  • Musical subcultures around artists or genres.
  • Hobby subcultures.
  • Sexual subcultures.
  • Internet subcultures.
  • Religious subcultures.
  • Work or occupational subcultures.
  • Academic subcultures.
  • Resistance subcultures or countercultures.
Feb 26, 2022

Is TikTok a subculture? ›

Some examples of TikTok subcultures include Cottagecore, Dark Academia, FitTok, and of course, BookTok. These subcultures are highly specific, thus creating a sense of belonging for those that resonate with the niche.

What is one example of a subculture and one example of a counter culture? ›

Some examples of subcultures are LGBT, bodybuilders, nudists, hip hop, grunge. On the other hand, countercultures are groups of people who differ in certain ways from the dominant culture and whose norms and values may be incompatible with it. Some examples are: Englightenment, Suffragettes, Romanticism.

What is an example sentence for subculture? ›

Subculture in a Sentence

1. The Jewish community in New York is a subculture of the city's primary culture. 2. Groups of people with similar beliefs often form subcultures within the larger culture.

What is an example of a subculture in the workplace? ›

For instance, bakers of a particular company may work in a different building, hence having less interaction with the rest of the employees. Their teamwork forms a subculture. Departmental designation: People working in the same department may form a subculture based on unique values to help them do exclusive tasks.

What are three characteristics of subculture? ›

Members of subcultures are typically defined by their shared identity, shared meaning, stratification, resistance, and marginalization.

Is Religion a subculture? ›

Religious groups are a common subculture in society—one that has overwhelming influence on their followers. Every religion stipulates for its members what should be regarded as good or bad behavior in terms of what to eat, where to visit, what to wear and so forth.

What is a subculture in society? ›

Subcultures are generally groups that are perceived to deviate from the normative standards of the dominant culture, as this is variously defined according to age, sexuality, and taste in economic, racial, and gendered terms.

What is subculture in popular culture? ›

Subcultures Are a Minority Culture Within a Broader Culture

Like-minded people who often feel left out of the dominant culture sometimes come together and create subcultures. A subculture will have symbols that differentiate themselves from the dominant culture. These symbols support the subculture's identity.

Which is the most commonly described subculture? ›

Religious groups are the most commonly described subcultures.

What are examples of subculture and dominant culture? ›

Subcultures maintain many characteristics of the dominant culture while maintaining a distinct identity. Examples include a college LGBTQIA alliance or a tight-knit marketing department. Despite existing outside of the main culture, subcultures don't pose a threat to the dominant culture.

What are examples of subculture deviance? ›

deviant subcultures--groups that develop values and norms considered outside the culture of the dominant population; examples of deviant subcultures include some musical groups, youth gangs, alternative lifestyles, and nontraditional religious communities.

Are college students an example of subculture? ›

The definition of subculture is a cultural group within a large culture. These groups often have similar beliefs or interests. Everybody who attends college and be put into a category of a subculture.

Why is a subculture important? ›

Subculture is therefore used to produce a new culture with a lower density of cells than the originating culture, fresh nutrients and no toxic metabolites allowing continued growth of the cells without risk of cell death. Subculture is important for both proliferating (e.g. a microorganism like E.

Is subculture a type of culture? ›

A subculture is just what it sounds like—a smaller cultural group within a larger culture; people of a subculture are part of the larger culture but also share a specific identity within a smaller group. Thousands of subcultures exist within the United States.

What are the three subcultural theories? ›

There are three types of subculture: Criminal (working class areas/ organised petit crime), Conflict (less table populations), and Retreatist (e.g. drug subcultures) which C and O saw as being formed by people who lacked the skills to join the former two).

What are the three types of subcultures? ›

They also try to account for the emergence of three types of subcultures: criminal, involving property crime; conflict, involving violence; and retreatist, involving drugs.

What is the foundation of subcultural theory? ›

Cohen's subculture theory states that deviance and delinquency is the result from the creation of subcultures. Subcultures are created when individuals form a group in which they share values different from mainstream societal values.

What is American subculture? ›

If you think of American culture as the big umbrella, the subcultures are all of the smaller groups around the country that fall into that category. For example, all of the citizens of the United States are Americans, but under that are African Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, and so on.

What are the four subcultural groups? ›

In 1966 Clark and Trow published their seminal work that defined student subcultures, not types of students. They classified students by commonalities and differences, resulting in four typologies: collegiate, vocational, academic, and nonconformist.

What are the four elements in subculture? ›

I have recognized four of the elements that happen in my personal social group or subculture. They are symbols, language, values and norms.

Is Gen Z a subculture? ›

Gen Z subcultures

The subcultures in this category are streetwear gamers and gamer girls – think a mishmash of MTV, esports, fashion and music cultures, whereas the gamer girls are fueled by inclusion and lifestyle. The groups have a median age between 20 and 21.

Is gender a subculture? ›

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.

Are teachers a subculture? ›

From the standpoint of an axiological approach the study of the professional community of teachers as educators allows us to consider it as a professional subculture with a specific set of value orientations; norms of behavior, interaction and relationships of its carriers.

What are 2 examples of a counterculture? ›

Examples of countercultures in the U.S. could include the hippie movement of the 1960s, the green movement, polygamists, and feminist groups.

What is an example of a counterculture today? ›

There are still counterculture movements in operation today, with varying political and social aims and strategies. The Black Lives Matter movement is a great example of a counterculture born out of the Civil Rights movement and other anti-racist actions throughout history.

Is family an example of subculture? ›

These traditions, relics, and artifacts help shape the personalities of individuals and how they relate with others. Individuals know about these items through storytelling in the subculture. Families are good examples of subcultures.

Do subcultures exist today? ›

While subcultures still exist, they are less defined and considerably more atomised and interchangeable than in the past. You see anything from specific retro subcultures to ones which marry different elements of separate subcultures.

Is gaming a subculture? ›

Video game culture or gaming culture is a worldwide new media subculture formed by video game hobbyists.

Is an example of a subculture theory quizlet? ›

If lower-class students fail at school, they will not be able to attain their goal of middle-class status. This is known as status frustration. is an example of a subculture theory.

What is an example of subculture of violence? ›

Some examples of subcultures of violence are seen in those who engage in fighting because they feel they have to defend their reputation and respect, and in gang members who commit retaliation homicides.

What are a few examples of subcultures in America? ›

Subcultures exist within the dominant culture of a society. In America, some examples of subcultures are hippies, punk rockers, beatniks, and hipsters.

Are gamers an example of subculture? ›

Video game culture or gaming culture is a worldwide new media subculture formed by video game hobbyists.

What are examples of subcultures in the workplace? ›

For instance, bakers of a particular company may work in a different building, hence having less interaction with the rest of the employees. Their teamwork forms a subculture. Departmental designation: People working in the same department may form a subculture based on unique values to help them do exclusive tasks.

What is a subculture in sociology? ›

Subcultures are generally groups that are perceived to deviate from the normative standards of the dominant culture, as this is variously defined according to age, sexuality, and taste in economic, racial, and gendered terms.

What are some examples of youth subcultures sociology? ›

What Are Examples of Youth Subcultures? The hippie movement of the 60's, punks, goths, hipsters, skaters, gamers… all are examples of this culture.

What is the subculture theory of the Chicago School? ›

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.

What is an example of subculture of resistance? ›

For example, a straight edge subculturalist trying to “convert” other punks into a lifestyle free from drugs, alcohol and promiscuous sex engages in meso-level resistance. At the macro level, a participant of a subculture may organize a collective group of people to resist a common societal ideology together.

What are examples of police subculture? ›

8.1 Police Subculture
CaringNon-scientific tactics
TeamworkOverly conservative
7 more rows


1. Subculture Theory
(Collin Mower)
(Leonardo C. Sagucio Jr.)
3. Cultures, Subcultures, and Countercultures: Crash Course Sociology #11
4. What is Subculture | Definition of Subculture | Subculture in sociology
(Learn With Laila Afzal Khan)
5. Theory of Delinquent Subcultures
(Cheryl Neely)
6. The Word: Subculture
(K. J. Rasa)


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