CHAPTER 2

Subculture, Club Cultures and Post-
Subcultures: Music/Social Interactions?

What is a subculture? There is no simple, catch-all definition and this chapter will show how an understanding of subculture is inextricably dependent on competing methodological approaches. To understand the theories and research into youth and music subcultures that represented a substantial area of scholarly activity in the USA and Britain during the latter half of the twentieth century, it is first necessary to trace the process by which subcultural ideas arose from wider perspectives on culture and society. Early developments in cultural studies from different critical traditions in North American social research, and European literary and cultural theory, had a fragmentary impact on subsequent studies of subcultures. A consequence of such an impact was the tendency for British cultural studies of youth groups and their musical affiliations–the most influential of which derived from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham–to adopt an almost entirely structuralist perspective on subcultures as exclusive signifying systems.1 In the USA, by contrast, and particularly through the work of the Chicago School (of sociology and criminology), subculture was conceived to be a phenomenon to which every individual in any everyday context potentially could belong. Of interest to US researchers were the ways in which subcultural groups interacted with and overlapped each other. Although this distinction between traditional North American and European cultural studies is not clear-cut in all cases, it is significant to later formations of subculture.

If it follows that studies of youth subcultures were influenced by earlier ethnographies from Chicago School sociologists in the 1920s and 1930s (Hebdige 1979: 75), it is puzzling to discover how little they seem to have been influenced by interactionist perspectives that subsequently aided interpretation of these early studies and informed their predecessors. Due to the weighty influence of the CCCS literature on more recent

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