11/01/2012 HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceSubculturesSubculture (and Cultural Studies) theory first emerged ou...
11/01/2012  HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceHebdige concedes that this ‘rebellion’ is limited in ambition.‘The ...
11/01/2012  HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceProblems with Cultural Studies:To what extent do subcultures really...
11/01/2012     HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceThe Frankfurt School.Though many of the Subcultural Theorists of...
11/01/2012HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceSuggested Reading:R. Barnes – Mods! (1979)H. Becker – The Outsiders (...
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  1. 1. 11/01/2012 HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceSubculturesSubculture (and Cultural Studies) theory first emerged outof the Birmingham School in the 1950s.It concerned itself with the construction of identities whichappeared to pose alternatives to prevailing, ‘mainstream’norms.These identities were often rooted in expressions of class,gender, ethnicity or nationalism which appeared to deviatefrom dominant themes.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrxhbQ98u5Q&feature=related HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and Deviance The School was predominately concerned with youth subcultures. These cultures appeared to share similar beliefs and values which did not conform to prevailing orthodoxies (‘parental culture’), though they may occasionally have patterns of norms and values in common, i.e. the Teddy Boys assertion of working class masculinity, or the Skinheads work ethic. They were cultural, sartorial, musical and attitudinal in form. HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and Deviance Subcultural Theory focused its attentions on speech, political values, symbols, modes of dress and cultural mores. For Hebdige (‘79), subcultures represent an ‘oblique’ challenge to ‘hegemony’ (monopoly) through ‘style’. Style is ‘pregnant with significance.’ The task therefore for Sociologists is to ‘discern the hidden messages inscribed in code on the glossy surfaces of style.’ And here we arrive at our first contentious issue: namely, just how genuinely subversive of ‘common sense‘ norms of behaviour and the ‘collective conscience’ of established values can subcultures claim to be? 1
  2. 2. 11/01/2012 HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceHebdige concedes that this ‘rebellion’ is limited in ambition.‘The typical members of a working class subculture in part contest andin part agree with the dominant definitions of who and what they are.’In other words, between subcultures and the mainstream culture, thereexists ‘common ground.’Matza and Sykes (‘64) actually argue that so-called ‘delinquent’ youthoffer no genuinely alternative values to society at large. Their ‘DriftTheory’ suggests that even the most apparently deviant of youthsubcultures do not actually challenge dominant norms and values atall. Their ‘rebellion’ is transitory and often explained away by thoseinvolved in terms Matza and Sykes named ‘Neutralisation Techniques.’ HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceSubculture and Gender:As we have seen from previous lessons on Crime, devianceand gender, much analysis is ‘malestream,’ concernedprimarily with the study of male experiences.In ‘Girls and Subculture’(‘76) Mcrobbie and Garber suggestthat female subcultures are not as visible due to differentcultural attitudes to female deviance and the behaviourexpected of girls. HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceR. Williams (‘77) considers three types of cultural expression:Dominant – ‘mainstream’ values and cultural forms.Residual – past cultural forms/values which remain active – i. e. mods,punks, skinheads.Emergent – new forms of counter cultural values.But are today’s subcultures less rigidly defined than in the past?‘Pop tribes still exist in 2010, but their forms are looser and broader thanin the heyday of subcultures. Perhaps that’s because young peopleconsume music in very different ways. When you can listen to anything,anytime, you’re less likely to hold tight to tribal loyalties.’ (Rogers 2010)What do you think? How do new innovations such as Face book, MySpace or Tweeter contribute to young people’s sense of identity? 2
  3. 3. 11/01/2012 HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceProblems with Cultural Studies:To what extent do subcultures really offer a distinctalternative to prevailing norms?For instance, was Punk truly oppositional or subversive?Consider Iggy Pop or John Lydon advertising on TV. Thinkof David Cameron name-checking the Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’, orthe pierced and tattooed corporate managers of today.Is the ‘appropriation’ of subversive attitudes, music or stylesinevitable? HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and Deviance In ‘One Market Under God’ (2000), Thomas Frank argues that US Cultural Theorists of the 1980s/90s – in condemning all critiques of mass culture as ‘elitist’ snobbery – failed spectacularly on two broad counts: 1. In criticising the likes of the Frankfurt School (see slides below), they assume that people consume popular culture (TV, tabloids, the Internet, the Top 40, movies and radio) actively and creatively and not passively. Are they right? 2. By locating in all things ‘popular’ the democratic distillation of the people’s infallible tastes (i.e. if the Sun is the bestselling paper, or Pop Idol the most viewed programme , it is sheer elitist snobbery to criticise them, for to do so you are inherently belittling the ‘people’), US Cultural Theorists unwittingly mimicked the strategies of the ruling class during that period. Management theory had begun to assert that the free market was a simple reflection of the needs and aspirations of the common people. Therefore anyone who questioned the machinery of capitalism – privatisation, weak trade unions, inequalities and light regulation of the activities of big corporations – were themselves ‘elitists!’ HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceRichard Hoggart, an original UK Birmingham School theorist went sofar as to argue that what mattered most was real world politicalconfrontation, not the ability of some subcultures to ‘…snicker behindtheir bosses back.’In fact, many of the new breed of corporate billionaires werethemselves extolling the ‘freedoms’ symbolised by dreadlocks, nosepiercings and skateboarding!‘ Studies of this kind habitually ignore or underplay the fact that thesegroups are almost entirely enclosed from and are refusing to attempt tocope with the public life of their societies. That rejection cannotreasonably be given some idealistic ideological foundation. It is arejection, certainly, and in that rejection may be making some implicitcriticisms of the ‘hegemony,’ and those criticisms need to be understood.But these groups are doing nothing about it except to retreat.’ Hoggart (‘95) 3
  4. 4. 11/01/2012 HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceThe Frankfurt School.Though many of the Subcultural Theorists of the UK would have consideredthemselves Marxists, in the US, particularly during the 80s/90s as previouslymentioned, a critique developed amongst Cultural Theorists that derided suchperspectives as having lost faith in the people’s essential intelligence and pro-activepatterns of consumption. In contrast, Marxists like Herbert Marcuse believed that the influence of the massmedia was an impediment to radical social change. The ‘idiot box’ had anesthetisedus into passivity, nullified our senses and made radical class consciousness verydifficult to achieve. We had been seduced and socialised into an imaginary world ofequality, celebrity and entertainment. Such vulgar distractions gave the masses theillusion of consumer success and opportunities for all. ‘The people recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi fi set, split level home, kitchen equipment.’(Marcuse ‘64) HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and Deviance Marcuse, in accordance with the Frankfurt School in general, wasattempting to develop a Marxism which takes note of thecontemporary mass media and consumer culture. Marx had identified‘commodity fetishism’ even during the late 19th Century, but he couldnot have foreseen the escalation of these trends in the 20th and 21stCenturies!In their hostility to the Marxists, some Cultural Theorists abandonedpolitics altogether. In doing so they found themselves outflanked bythe very power structures they had sought to expose. Goatees and noserings do not offer a significant threat to establishment interests! Thecultural terrain is of undoubted interest and significance, but the realsources of power and inequalities lie elsewhere. HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and Deviance‘At best, daily life, like art, is revolutionary. At worst it is a prison house.’Paul Willis (‘77)What do you think Willis is getting at here?Do subcultures offer a genuine challenge to the ‘teeth gritting harmony’ so loathed byMarxists like Althusser (‘71)? In what ways do Mods, Punks, Skinheads, Emos or Goths challenge the status quo? Andjust as importantly, by what strategies do the powerful seek to accommodate,‘appropriate’ and so diffuse these critiques?Homework:In groups, adopt a specific subculture and research its main features. Specifically, youwill want to itemise their origins, their tastes in music and clothes, their particularattitudes, inebriants of choice and importantly the initial public reaction they invoked,and the responses of what Sociologists call the ‘Agencies of Social Control’ such as themainstream press. Can you still discern their influence and presence in contemporaryyouth tribes and styles? 4
  5. 5. 11/01/2012HNC Sociology Unit ‘B’ – Crime and DevianceSuggested Reading:R. Barnes – Mods! (1979)H. Becker – The Outsiders (1963)S. Cohen – Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972)T. Frank – One Market Under God (2000)S. Hall – Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post WarBritain (1976)D. Hebdige – Subculture: the Meaning of Style (1979)J. Savage – England’s Dreaming (1991) and Teenage: the Invention ofYouth 1911 – 1945 (2009) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSVMD4fMiD4 5

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