American Subcultures: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Are Subcultures?
  • 1:42 Subcultures & Opposition
  • 3:22 Musical Subcultures
  • 4:39 Subcultures & Hobbies
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
American culture is a broad category that includes a seemingly endless number of subcultures. Through this lesson, you will learn what defines a subculture and explore the role that subcultures play in the larger American culture.

What Are Subcultures?

When it comes to terminology, culture is one of those words that are so broad as to be almost meaningless in any usable sense. Culture is simply the umbrella under which things like language, food, art, or music fall. For example, the term 'American culture' is a category that includes all of the ways that Americans express themselves and their history, from literature and films to religion and politics. Given the broad and often ambiguous nature of such a term, it is sometimes easier to discuss American culture in terms of its subcultures.

In a general sense, a subculture is a smaller group that fits into the larger culture. 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. All of these groups fall into the bigger category, but beyond that are certain differences among them that differentiate them from the others.

In the previous example, the subcultures are differentiated by race or ethnicity, but they can be organized by just about anything that sets them apart from the larger category. Grammatically speaking, these differences are known as qualifiers, which are words that are attached to nouns to indicate a certain quality or characteristic. In the context of culture, these individuals are a part of the larger group (i.e. 'American'), but the qualifier indicates that they are also part of a smaller group within that culture (i.e. 'Asian American').

Subcultures & Opposition

While it is by no means a requirement, it is common for subcultures to be formed or defined in opposition to the larger culture. For instance, you've probably heard of the 'youth culture' before, which is loosely defined by the things that differentiate young people from adults. This can include things like the music they listen to, the leisure activities they prefer, or even things like their priorities and ideals.

Along those same lines, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered Americans make up a large subculture. In this case, the LGBT community is defined as a subculture because they are different from the larger heterosexual population. However, it is not simply their sexual orientation that defines them, but also their behaviors, political beliefs, or values. For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the dominant majority promoted things like marriage and family as stable social institutions. Because these institutions weren't equally or easily available to those within the LGBT community, they formed different social systems and values against that which they had been denied, such as an emphasis on sexual freedom and political activism.

In these two cases, members of these subcultures are sort of automatically included by their age, sexual orientation, or gender. Other subcultures like this include those built around race, ethnicity, or some other characteristic that is beyond a person's control. It is important to point out that even within these groups there exists smaller subcultures based around that which differentiates them from the larger group, like drag culture within the LGBT subculture.

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