Neo-tribes are associations of consumer groups (such as consumers of dance music) who come together in particular settings where they express similar tastes. They do not form coherent groups outside those settings, but when they are together they are influenced by one another.
For example, at a rave, a person will assume the identity of a ‘raver’ for the night, and then resume an ordinary, mundane identity as a ‘worker’ Monday to Friday.
From subcultures to neo-tribes
Andy Bennett (1996) argued the term subculture is not useful for describing groups of young people who share similar tastes in style and music. Clearly defined youth subcultures do not exist among contemporary youth. Instead, young people assume identities in particular settings.
“There is very little evidence that even the most committed groups of youth stylists are in any way as ‘coherent’ or ‘fixed’ as the term ‘subculture’ implies. On the contrary, it seems to me that so-called youth ‘subcultures’ are prime examples of the shifting cultural affiliations which characterize late modern consumer societies”. (1)
There is more cross-filtration of styles these days, so that styles overlap with many different so-called ‘subcultures’. For example, dance music might sample aspects of reggae or even heavy metal, which leads to a breakdown in style-boundaries and more people identifying with each other from different style groups, which challenges the idea that there are distinct ‘subcultures’.
Dance music especially breaks down these barriers and encourages consumers to pick and mix from a range of styles and so youth identities are more multi-faceted than they once might have been.
The concept of ‘clubbing’ also challenges the idea of fixed, style based identities. Most ‘clubbers’ go to several different types of club night, and so ‘clubbing’ is a series of fragmented temporal experiences in which clubbers move through different crowds on different nights and assume different identities depending on the venue and theme of the night.
Postmodernism and Neo-tribes
The concept of neo-tribes reflects the move from modern to postmodern society, as people move from having a ‘way of life’ to choosing ‘lifestyles’.
During modernity, identities tended to be based on ‘ways of life’ which were handed down through the generations based on locality, class and gender.
Bennet (1999) believes that contemporary identities in postmodern societies are based on ‘lifestyles’ rather than ‘ways of life’. Lifestyles and the identities expressed through them are chosen based on consumer preferences.
Neo-tribes are an example of such lifestyle choices, and people to move between different neo-tribes, expressing different identities.
People might choose a neo-tribe that reflects their social class background but this isn’t something shaped by society, it is a choice.
For example, Bennet argued that fans of the band Oasis adopt an image consisting of training shoes, football shirts and duffle coats, which is designed to illustrate their collective sense of a working class identity, however these individuals are not working class, this is a purely chosen, constructed and temporary identity.
This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module, normally taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
The concept of neo-tribe is derived from the work of Michael Maffesoli (1996) who coined the term ‘tribus’ (or tribes) to describe contemporary youth.