Deviant Subcultures: Definition & Types

Instructor: David White
Deviant subcultures have existed as long as there have been social and culture standards. Through this lesson, you will learn what defines a deviant subculture and explore some of the different types that exist in society.

What Is a Subculture?

When you think of the different groups that you're a part of, how many are there? You're part of big groups such residents of a country or those belonging to a certain gender, but what about the smaller groups? Maybe you're active in a church community or a you're a fan of a particular style of music around which there is a culture? These smaller groups that you're a part of are called subcultures, which are defined as smaller cultural groups that fit into a larger group. Subcultures are recognizably different from larger groups because of their distinctive characteristics or belief systems.

There are countless types of subcultures that are based on everything from hobbies and interests to political and spiritual beliefs. When these groups are based on practices or ideas that do not align with social standards and norms, they may be considered deviant subcultures. Deviance involves people holding perspectives or engaging in behaviors that contradict what societies and cultures usually consider acceptable. Characteristics of people who belong to subcultures might include those who engage in drug addiction, crime or non-traditional sexual behaviors.

Homosexuality was once considered deviant but as society evolves it is becoming normalized.
gay rights

It can be tricky to categorize deviance because what qualifies something as deviant behavior is often culturally specific or subjective. Moreover, cultural standards and expectations evolve along with a society, which means that what is considered deviant in one decade might be acceptable in the next. For example, until not so long ago homosexuality was considered deviant behavior, whereas now many members of the cultural majority consider it to be acceptable.

Sexual Subcultures

The term deviance is often applied to human sexual behavior. This is in part because throughout modern history Western cultures have had fairly rigid standards for what they consider appropriate sexual behavior and anything that falls outside of that is frowned upon. As attitudes towards sexual behavior have changed over the last four or five decades, many sexual practices and the subcultures built around them have become less sensational or taboo.

Sexual subcultures are diverse and can include groups of people of a simimlar sexual orientation or even those who prefer a similar role in sexual relationships. Considering the fact that there are countless different sexual preferences and behaviors, it's important to keep in mind that the behavior alone does not qualify someone as a member of a subculture. In the case of the LGBT community, for example, the sexual behavior is only one characteristic of many that include, among other things, political ideologies and social networks. All of the characteristics combined define the subculture.

Criminal Subcultures

Though it isn't a criterion, deviant behavior can also reference behavior that the cultural majority believes is individually or socially harmful. Criminal behavior and lifestyles can represent deviant subcultures.

Imagine all of the criminal organizations that have existed throughout the last century or so. Names like Al Capone, John Dillinger and John Gotti are probably familiar, though you're probably less familiar with the groups that these men belonged to, such as the Five Points Gang or the Terror Gang. These gangs are all examples of deviant subcultures because their members refused to adhere to the standards set by society, had their own unique moral or behavioral codes and worked collaboratively.

Al Capone was a member of a criminal organization subculture.

Like sexual behaviors, subcultures that form around criminal behaviors are generally easy to identify. Members of these groups usually refuse to adhere to laws. These groups can also be some of the most complicated subcultures because of the spectrum of laws they violate. For example, most people would recognize that participating in organized crime could be socially unacceptable and generally harmful, but what about the act of committing suicide?

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