Modern subcultures have a strong sense of group identity with high degrees of commitment demanded from members, and a homogenous style with the subculture providing the main source of identity for members. They also tend to be political, social class aligned, anti-media and are seen as authentic by members.
Postmodern subcultures on the other hand have a fragmented sense of identity, require low commitment, have a mixture of styles and and are are only one of multiple identity sources for members. They tend to be apolitical, pro-media and focused mainly on style and image only.
|Group identity||Fragmented identity|
|Stylistic homogeneity||Stylistic heterogeneity|
|Strong boundary maintenance||Weak boundary maintenance|
|Subculture provides main identity||Multiple stylistic identities|
|High degree of commitment||Low degree of commitment|
|Membership perceived as permanent||Transient attachment expressed|
|Low rates of subcultural mobility||High rates of subcultural mobility|
|Stress on beliefs and values||Fascination with style and image|
|Political gesture of resistance||Apolitical sentiments|
|Anti-media sentiments||Positive attitude towards media|
|Self-perception as authentic||Celebration of the inauthentic|
These two ideal types of subculture were developed by Muggleton (2000) to test whether subcultures today were more postmodern.
Muggleton carried out interviews with 57 young people (43 male, 14 female) who were approached in pubs or clubs in Preston and Brighton between 1993 and 1995 to determine whether we have modern or postmodern subcultures today.
Postmodern 1990s Subcultures
Muggleton found that most young people were concerned to express their individuality and did not express strong affiliation to any one subculture.
They saw belonging to a subculture as primarily about expressing their individuality, how they were different from other people within that apparent subculture – standing out was important.
Those interviewed also fitted more to postmodern subcultures in terms of their ideas of the self, commitment and appearance, but many had a long term commitment. to their subcultures and there was little evidence of switching between them.
People did change identities over time, but this wasn’t constant switching, rather gradually transformative.
Muggleton found little evidence of there being divisions between subcultures, mainly because the boundaries had become blurred, and all seemed to share a resistance to the mainstream, although they were generally apolitical.
The media was also an important part of constructing the subculture.
Overall subcultures in the 1990s were best characterised as neo-tribes.
Not purely postmodern
Subcultures were modern, but still seen as authentic sources of identity by members, they weren’t just seen as being about artificial play!
Authentic Identity was seen in terms of the way one felt, rather than dress, so one was a true punk if they felt like one, it wasn’t about dress or appearance.
Subcultures were liminal: in between social identities – they were collective expressions and celebrations of individualism.
Standing out was important, but so was fitting in.
Sampling was poor – there was no attempt to identify committed members.
Blackman (2005) examines Muggleton’s own data and believes he underplays the extent to which there is modernist regulation and rules of subcultures and he also failed to see the political agenda adopted by much of rave culture against the 1996 Criminal Justice Act.
Signposting and Sources
This material is usually taught as part of the Culture and Identity option within A-level sociology.
Part of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.
Muggleton, D (2000) Inside Subculture: The Meaning of Style