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What Is Subculture? - Theories, Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Subculture?
  • 0:14 Culture Vs. Society
  • 0:50 Subcultures Defined
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Subcultures are those groups that have values and norms that are distinct from those held by the majority. Let's examine a few subcultural theories and test our knowledge with a quiz.

What is Subculture?

Subcultures are those groups that have values and norms that are distinct from those held by the majority. Let's examine a few subcultural theories and test our knowledge with a quiz.

Culture vs. Society

Culture is what makes up a society's expression, both through material things and beliefs. Examples of culture as a whole should be familiar to you. They can include things like language, ideological values, gender roles, social conventions, religion or artistic expression through things like paintings, books or films. Society refers to people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture. Within every society there may be many different cultures as well as many different subcultures. Let's examine some of the theories and definitions surrounding subcultures.

Subcultures Defined

While small societies tend to be culturally uniform, large industrial societies are culturally diverse and involve numerous subcultures. 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. One area of particular interest has to do with deviant subcultures.

A biker gang is an example of a subculture.
Biker Gang

Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (1966) proposed that deviance results from the various opportunity structures that frame a person's life. A deviant subculture is a subculture which has values and norms that differ substantially from the majority of people in a society. When the structure of a neighborhood or community favors criminal activity, a criminal subculture is likely to develop, such as the Mafia in the 1930s or inner city gangs today. When people are unable to find opportunities - either legally or illegally - two other subcultures that potentially develop are conflict and retreatist subcultures. Conflict subcultures develop partially as a result of transient population and a lack of community. As a result, many turn to gang violence as a result of frustration and anger. Another possible outcome is the development of a retreatist subculture. An example of a retreatist subculture is one that's made up of high school dropouts who may abuse alcohol or narcotics.

Poverty can lead to subcultures.
Poverty

Walter Miller (1970) adds that deviant subcultures don't arise from the inability of the members to achieve success. He argued that crime is a result of the fact that there is a lower-class subculture with different norms and values than the rest of society. These can be characterized by:

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