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Subculture is a sociological term for the more or less different culture of the subgroup of a society . The degree of deviation ranges from mere modifications to explicit opposing positions. The term subculture was originally used in the context of criminal sociology. It is now used more generally to denote different lifestyles.

The subculture approach is based on the fact that large social systems are differentiated into different subsystems, which can differ in that different, nuanced norms apply to them. These standards can deviate relatively strongly from those of the overall system. Nevertheless, some basic norms still agree, otherwise the subcultural group would not be part of the overall system. If many basic values are not shared, is related by protest movements of counterculture and related by migration of cultural conflicts of the question.

Concept history

The word "subculture" was first used (Engl. Subculture ) the American sociologist Milton M. Gordon , of him in the 1940s on ethnic related groupings (district education) in US cities. For a while this usage remained the dominant one; In the 1950s, for example, Albert K. Cohen developed a microsociological “subculture theory” on the basis of studies by the Chicago School of Sociology (primarily related to youthful, ethnically homogeneous street gangs ) . According to this, such deviant groups had developed their own norms, which above all consciously set themselves apart from the canon of values ​​of the white middle class , but in no way pursued emancipatory or even revolutionary intentions, but in some cases established their own, often rather archaic -seeming rules.

Particularly in the context of British cultural studies (including Dick Hebdige ), the term was later also applied to the often class-specific youth cultures that emerged in England in the 1960s (e.g. mods , rockers or skinheads , hip hoppers , hippies , and later also punks ) and has been used for Freetekno since the early 1990s . At the beginning of the 1970s, the much-cited book Theory of Subculture by Rolf Schwendter was published in Germany , in which, among other things, “progressive” (hippies, protest movement) and “regressive” ( neo-Nazis ) subcultures were located on the “fringes” of the main culture In my opinion, however, it was strongly influenced by the then often idealizing and politicizing ideas of a “counterculture” that contradicted society and possibly changed in the medium term.

Today the term “subculture” is used less often in science. This is mainly the case because, on the one hand, the definition is unclear - it is usually said that a group has “largely” different norms than the main culture - and, on the other hand, most of the so-called groups perceive themselves differently. Because of its popular usage, the term is often difficult to use without judgment. So it is still sometimes perceived as unusual when it is used, for example, for a parliament or for a denominational group.

Uses of terms

A clear example of subcultures that are held together by a large number of elementary commonalities, possibly up to ghettoization and thus evade being captured as mere scenes, are religious (religious-social) minorities such as Catholicism in England or in the Kulturkampf or Islam in some parts of Europe. Here the concept of subculture, which strives for value freedom, is efficient and open to subsequent studies, including intersubcultural relationships.

The designation of professional groups as "subcultures" is rarely used . Most likely the term applies to traveling people or showmen , who not only spend their work, but also their private life for the most part in their respective group; but other professional groups (e.g. seafarers , diplomats or clergy ) also have clearly subcultural traits.

The scenes of the users of certain hard drugs ( junkies ) or members of criminal professions or networks - by definition, these people are, by definition, involved in the corresponding group and their specific norms for a large part of their everyday life - correspond most closely to the current notions of “subculture” .

The term is applied to groups based on their sexual orientation or sexual preference , such as BDSM or homosexuals . Martin Dannecker and Reimut Reiche defined the subculture in 1973 as follows: "All places where homosexuals meet not only by chance, be they publicly accessible or not."

Sometimes entire social classes were also referred to as subcultures. This use is plausible to a certain extent, since the members of a class (e.g. peasants , nobility , bourgeoisie , proletariat ) have developed their own values, norms and behaviors. However, these social groups represent the "basic building blocks" of society anyway, which at the moment is predominantly dominated by bourgeois values ​​and norms, but which have always implied different customs of the lower and upper classes . As subcultures in the sociological sense, however, individual professions or castes within societies can be viewed that are not class or caste societies themselves .

As before, in addition to the above-mentioned youth cultures or scenes, which are mostly defined by music and clothing, such as B. Punk , also called groups as "subcultures" that practice a certain sport; Examples are surfers or skateboarders . The hackers as a phenomenon of the computer age were sometimes named that way. With all these groups, it should be noted that their activities only take up one (albeit at times essential) part of life and that the norms of the main culture still have an important meaning, which is why the term scene is more appropriate in the social-scientific sense than that of the subculture .


  • Mike Brake: Sociology of Adolescent Subcultures. An introduction. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1981, ISBN 3-593-32549-7 .
  • Albert K. Cohen : Criminal Youth. On the sociology of youth gangs. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1961.
  • Jens Gehret (Ed.): Counterculture. From Woodstock to Tunix. From 1969 to 1981. 3rd edition, MarGis, Asslar 1985, ISBN 3-921764-12-2 .
  • Joachim S. Hohmann: Homosexuality and Subculture. 2nd modified and expanded edition, Foerster, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin 1984, ISBN 3-922257-27-5 .
  • Walter Hollstein : The underground. On the sociology of youth protest movements. Luchterhand, Neuwied / Berlin 1969.
  • Rolf Schwendter : Theory of Subculture. 4th edition with a new epilogue, Europäische Verlags-Anstalt, Hamburg 1993, ISBN 3-434-46210-4 .
  • Laszlo A. Vaskovics: Subcultures - An Outdated Analytical Concept? In: Max Haller and Hans-Joachim Hoffmann-Nowotny (eds.), Negotiations of the 24th German Sociological Conference, the 11th Austrian Sociological Conference and the 8th Congress of the Swiss Society for Sociology in Zurich 1988 , Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-593-34156-5 , pp. 587-599 ( online version , PDF, accessed June 1, 2015).
  • Rolf Lindner : Subculture. Keywords for the history of the impact of a concept. In: Boris Kerenski & Sergiu Stefanescu: Kaltland Beat. New German scene. Ithaka, Stuttgart 1999.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Milton M. Gordon : The Concept of the Sub-Culture and Its Application . In: Social Forces Vol. 26, No. 1 (October 1947), pp. 40-42
  2. Bodo Mrozek , Subculture and Cultural Studies. A cultural science term from a contemporary historical perspective . In the S. and Alexa Geisthövel (ed.), Popgeschichte . Volume 1: Concepts and methods , trancript, Bielefeld 2014, ISBN 978-3-8376-2528-8 , pp. 101–126, here p. 104.
  3. For Catholicism in Switzerland: Urs Altermatt: Identity and Emancipation of a Denominational Political Minority , ZSK 73 (1979), pp. 169-192 with discussions on the concept of subculture. This terminology is used in Altermatt's The Path of the Swiss Catholics into the Ghetto. The history of the origins of the national popular organizations in Swiss Catholicism 1848–1919. 3rd edition Zurich / Cologne 1995.
  4. See the classic study by Edwin H. Sutherland's The professional thief .
  5. Confess that you are different . In: Der Spiegel . No. 11 , 1973, p. 46 ( Online - Mar. 12, 1973 ).