Childhood Studies Subcultures
Rupa Huq
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0037


Not all sociological terms become part of our everyday lexicon, but "subculture" is a term that transcends academia. The word now appears on the airwaves, in the circles of debate on popular culture, and on the pages of popular magazines. To assess precisely what "subculture" means, it is best to break the term up into its constituent parts. The stem "sub" has subaltern, underground connotations positing it in opposition to "parent" culture, whereas "culture," as many theorists such as Raymond Williams (see Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976) have reminded us, can have many meanings that at the most basic level connote a way of life. The term is often used interchangeably with the less politically loaded concept of "youth culture." From the start, subcultures have implicated "youth," a term that, in layman’s terms, if we strip away diversions into adolescence, legal rights, (physical) puberty, emotional storm, and stress or transitions, could be described as "the state of being young." Subculture is now established as a field of study, as can be seen from the numbers of texts in circulation that deal with the subject.

General Overviews

Both youth culture and its more political derivative, subculture, are now staple components of many sociology undergraduate and high-school textbooks. That subculture has come of age is evidenced in the way it now commands its own secondary texts alongside the primary sources themselves. These all have differing orientations; for example, Bennett, et al. 2006 and Frith and Goodwin 1990 focus on pop music, Epstein 1998 introduces a range of largely US-based youth cultural formations, and Gelder 2005 looks at the history and development of the concept of subculture specifically.

  • Bennett, Andy, Barry Shank, and Jason Toynbee, eds. The Popular Music Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    NNNLooks at pop from a number of perspectives, but Part 3, "Subcultures, Scenes and Tribes," includes youth-oriented extracts from key texts by Sarah Thornton. Part 5 also includes contributions from scholars associated with youth studies, such as Paul Gilroy and Tricia Rose on hip-hop and Rupa Huq on bhangra. Also, some related work appears in sections on technology and media.

  • Epstein, Jonathon, ed. Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    NNNA series of essays, including Steven Best and Douglas Kellner on the 1990s animation "slacker" series Beavis and Butthead, plus chapters on rave, Canadian heavy metal, and punk, among others. In many ways the book is reflective of its time but still worthy of attention.

  • Frith, Simon, and Andrew Goodwin. On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word. London: Routledge, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    NNNClassic collection of writing on pop music includes Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel’s essay on "The Young Audience" as well as Part 2, "From Subcultural to Cultural Studies," and further relevant sections on sexuality and fandom.

  • Gelder, Ken, ed. The Subcultures Reader. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    NNNUpdate of an earlier anthology with the same title, edited by Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton (New York: Routledge, 1997). Key work on subcultures from the Chicago School focuses on deviance and gangs via the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) of the 1970s to more-current debates on a variety of subcultural styles, music, and media (e.g., fanzines). This later edition includes chapters on the goth culture by Paul Hodkinson (taking the angle of online cultures) and globalization (manga comics).

back to top

Your subscription doesn't include the subject of this book.