The existence of many subcultures is characteristic of complex societies such as the United States. Conflict theorists argue that subcultures often emerge because the dominant society has unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a practice regarded as improper, such as the use of illegal drugs.
The impact of subculture within the United States is evident in the celebration of seasonal traditions. December is dominated by the religious and commercial celebration of Christmas holiday – an event well-entrenched in the dominant culture of American society. However, the Jewish subculture observes Hanukkah, African Americans observe the relatively new holiday of Kwanzaa and some atheists join in rituals celebrating the winter Solstice (K.Peterson, 1992).
A subculture develops an ‘argot’ or specialized language, which distinguishes it from the wider society. Argot allows ‘insiders’, the members of the subculture, to understand words with special meanings. It also establishes patterns of communication which cannot be understood by ‘outsiders’. Sociologists associated with the interactionist perspective emphasize that language and symbols offer a powerful way for a subculture to maintain its identity. The particular argot of a given subculture provides a feeling of cohesion to the members and contributes to the development of group identity (Halliday, 1978).
For example, in Mauritius, the youth especially the boys have a different argot of our national language, the ‘Creole Language’. It actually distinguishes them from the rest of our society. Words like ‘Chek sa’, ‘Mamou’, ‘Payer net’, ‘Met la faya’, ‘Tai Carte’, ‘Pren Nisa’, ‘Siloy Net’ and so on, form part of the everyday jargon of our Mauritian youths today.
Subcultures develop in a number of ways – they often emerge because a segment of society faces problems or even privileges unique to its position. Subcultures may be based on common age (teenagers or old people), region, ethnic heritage or beliefs (a militant political group).
Although not all subcultures are deviant, the term subculture is often used to refer to the values and attitudes of deviant groups, and especially deviant groups of juveniles. * Deviant subcultures--groups that develop values and norms considered outside the culture of the dominant population; examples of deviant subcultures include some musical groups, youth gangs, alternative lifestyles, and non-traditional religious communities. * A deviant subculture may be considered "deviant" because it is involved in behaviour that threatens the mainstream population or because it is labeled as deviant by the mainstream population.
Example of the Skinhead Counterculture
Beginning in about 1968, a new counter culture surfaced in Great Britain. The Skinheads were young people with shaved heads who often sported suspenders, tattoos and steel-toed shoes. In part, Skinhead groups emerged as vocal and sometimes violent supporters of certain British Soccer teams. These young people generally came from working-class backgrounds and had little expectation of ‘making it’ in mainstream society. They listened to music that extolled violence and even racism, performed by such groups as Britain’s Skrewdriver, France’s Brutal Combat and the United States’ Tulsa Boot Boys. More seriously, some Skinhead groups...