When we speak of subculture the idea of anti – establishment pops into the mind. We must think about why certain groups adopt codes of social behaviour. A subculture is simply a small group of like- minded individuals with distinct traits and beliefs that differentiate them from a larger group. A subculture distinguishes itself through a number of factors that may be aesthetic or stylistic, occupational, political, sexual, religious or even an amalgamation of these. Subculture is all around us and encompasses the age of its members, class, ethnicity, and gender. The Caribbean has its share of subculture. For instance the ‘bad boy/girl’ culture, *Van Stand culture in the Caribbean, skaters, surfers, followers of Hip Hop culture and Rastafarianism. Other cultures on a global scale include the Punk movement, New Age Hippies, Graffiti artists and the Goths. The term subculture originates from the working classes in the1940s and is generally associated with the youth. The term itself was not put into significant use until the early fifties and was at its height of development during the sixties and seventies. Subculture is formed out of defiant and deviant behaviour and would not be in existence without a parent culture and a dominant culture. It fits between the cracks and to some degree embodies multiculturalism particularly in larger nations.

Subculture Practice.

Subculture cannot exist without the growth of a consumer market targeted at the youth. Members of subculture are conspicuous consumers and commodities help to define this culture. Subculture can be perceived as organic and informal as subculture has the ability to reinvent and evolve. For instance a subculture group may have particular likes and/or dislikes of mainstream culture and can extract certain practices from the dominant culture. In addition, a subculture group can select practices and create constructions from other subcultures. On the other side of the coin, subculture is structured. For example surfers may use a secret language or code verbally and aesthetically, to which only members of the group possess the key.


Objects that are consumed in subcultures are used to create distinctive traits. This simply means that styles are constructed from a specific choice of elements to form a style. This involves transforming the present meaning of an object to signify something else, or to change the way it has been utilized. Symbolic objects in subcultures are dress, appearance, language, ritual occasions, styles of interaction and music.  Thereby all merchandise has a social use and thus creates a cultural definition. We can all relate to a quote from the theorist Roland Barthes who observed that,

‘There is no such thing as a simple sweater: there is only a sweater for autumnal walks in the wood or a sweater for relaxing at home on Sundays, or a sweater for casual wear, and so on.’

I have barely scratched the surface of what subculture embodies but I find it crucial to mention the negative backlash, which takes shape in the form of stigmatizing and stereotyping of these groups by public figures and advocates of social and moral control. Not everything about subculture is negative. This has changed significantly since the nineties. Subculture can and has made positive contributions to dominant culture. We can observe the practice of yoga which has been capitalized upon on leisure centres and television programmes to stimulate overall well being. Without subculture mainstream culture cannot evolve either. Although it is evident that mainstream culture generally do not identify with subculture, ultimately there is an upset of understanding in subculture behaviour when objects and customs are translated into commodities and are made generally available to the dominant culture. As soon as elements of the culture are recognised by entrepreneurs in fashion and mass media etc., they are transformed into comprehensible material that become profitable. Due to this phenomenon, a subculture style must establish a new code of conduct, dress and so on by creating new commodities or even in some instances revamping elements from other existing cultures. The purchasing of punk clothing in a popular mail order catalogue is a relevant archetype of this. It is evident that the coding of subcultures becomes diluted and must find alternative means to define and express themselves.

Contemporary subculture extracts influences from all over to formulate new constructions. What has not changed is that it continues to live on through the youth. Young persons are picking and mixing images and ideas from the media to construct identity. The NEW subculture is based on contemporary culture. Diversity is the order of the day through multicultural contact. The concept of what mainstream signifies needs to be challenged. Could it be that globalisation is the new identity of subculture? This is where the antagonism lies.

*Van stand culture is distinct to the Caribbean region. Mid size vans transporting mostly the youth. The vans service routes more frequently than public transportation making illegal stops, exhibiting dangerous driving styles for example ‘Milkshakes’, Loud music – referring to Reggae, “bashment hits”, Dancehall etc., Run ins with the police, the occasionally smoking of ‘chronic’ and ‘seasoned spliffs’, excessively young girls hanging out with drivers and conductors.

‘Nobody Puts Flowers On a Flower’s Grave’ - A piece of graffiti in a toilet in Tacheles, a dilapidated structure in Berlin, Germany that houses underground artistes. The anti-establishment attitude of defacing the wall by a graffitist is combined with melancholic poetry, which is reminiscent of Gothic attributes, (a preoccupation of having a beautiful, romantic death). Here we observe the assimilation of literary and visual language from two subcultures to fashion a new one. Image supplied by Shelly Mayers. (2004)


About s o l o s t u d i o

Graphic Designer and Tutor View all posts by s o l o s t u d i o

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