There is not one monolithic youth culture that defines all young people. Popular youth culture embraces a diversity of sub-cultures or “tribes” such as skaters, druggies, snobs, band geeks, Satanists, Jesus freaks, techno-goths, computer dweebs, blacks, Latinos and white trash. Groups distinguish themselves by dress, style, music, body modification practices, race, ethnicity, and language. (Hines, 1999) Thus a researcher, who intends to study the ethnic, racial, political, cultural, sociological or linguistic aspect of a subculture, often ends up in analysing one of the factors and tend to romanticise or over-politicise these aspects.
Subcultures were one of the major fields of inquiry at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in the 1970s, and this overview will take as its starting point Resistance Through Rituals, the BCCCS’s 1976 collection of working papers on the subject. In the introduction, the authors acknowledge their debt to the interactionist sociological approach to deviant behaviour, and especially to Howard Becker’s 1963 book Outsiders. Here, Becker’s theoretical work on art worlds and on deviance intersect in the classic study of freelance dance band musicians, whose “culture and way of life [were] sufficiently bizarre and unconventional for them to be labeled [sic] as outsiders by more conventional members of the community” (Outsiders 79). Becker builds an intricate ethnographic analysis around the values encoded in the concept of “hipness” (as opposed to “square” society) and the way such values are made to operate tactically within the subculture. This study, published in 1963, is part of the corpus referred to by Gelder and Thornton as the “Chicago school” whose themes (male urban opposition to ‘mainstream’ commercial and moral values) clearly prefigure the main preoccupations of the British cultural studies