Sociology Index


Counterculture, Prison Subculture

Subculture is a culture-within-a-culture.  Subculture is the distinct norms, values and behavior of particular groups located within society. The concept of subculture implies some degree of group self-sufficiency such that individuals may interact, find employment, recreation, friends and mates within the group.

Society is heterogeneous and culture is not spread out evenly. It is from here that idea of subculture and subsociety emerge. Subcultures are linked to the deviant behavior literature and some sociologists have focused on subsociety to avoid the culture issue altogether. Subculture has often been treated as synonymous with the population comprising the subsociety.

Subculture has been examined without sufficient concern for delineating the groups of individuals serving as its referent. The subcultural system is pictured as homogeneous, static and closed. 

Subculture is depicted as consisting in its entirety of values, norms and central themes.

Cohen’s theory follows the well-known adage “my child went wrong by hanging out with the wrong crowd”. This wrong crowd is the center of Cohen’s theory; phenomena called the delinquent subculture.

A subculture is a group of people within a society that share a set of ideas and ways of doing things that differs from the ways of dominant society. The subculture gives a sense of belonging and solutions to problems.

Two factors of the delinquent subculture are (1) negativistic spite, malice, and contempt with active rule breaking (2) “short-run hedonism”, pleasure seeking with little interest in long-run goals.

Cohen felt the delinquent subculture formed in order to provide a solution to the problem of social status (or lack of status) for lower class youth imbibing lower class culture - “respect in the eyes of ones fellows” becomes very important.

M. GRAPENDAAL, Research and Documentation Centre Ministry of Justice The Netherlands 
The British Journal of Criminology 30:341-357 (1990) This article is a shortened version of the first Dutch research into the inmate subculture in Dutch prisons. Subcultural variations are traced to certain differences in prison regimes. The contents of this subculture are described, as is the initiation process by which new prisoners become members of the prison community.