The Existence of Subcultures

In large cultures, there are normally subcultures (Arnold, 1970; Martin, 1992:71-117). Many countries have regional and religious subcultures. Patriotic and revolutionary subcultures may exist. Teen, gang and criminal subcultures often form (Cohen, 1955). Professional and occupational subcultures commonly arise (Hughes, 1958; Trice, 1993).

Subcultures have common themes and interests that unite their members. They often face similar problems, which they can deal with better as a group. Being a member of such a group is a part of a person’s identity. It is prestigious to be a subcultural leader.

There can be subcultural interests that are in opposition to the surrounding culture or other subcultures (Hebdige, 1979; Yinger, 1982). However, all subcultures are not oppositional in nature (Martin & Siehl, 1983). Most people belong to numerous subcultures. Determining whether these groups have any basic conflicts will help one grasp a situation. When people have multiple identities and roles, tensions can exist.

Political Processes Impact Culture

Political processes can create and alter aspects of a culture. Since culture includes what one should and should not do, the laws are a core component. In democratic and republican forms of government, there are many aspects of culture that operate on a day-to-day basis with little, if any, government influence. Some totalitarian governments have tried to exert control over culture via means such as burning books, massive censorship and extensive propaganda. Certain forms of religion have been repressed or banned. Enemies may be identified to take the blame for certain problems. This can unify and direct the energies of zealous insiders. Extreme methods of observation and enforcement can be used. Wrong thinkers have been expelled, imprisoned, tortured and in some cases killed. Genocides have been carried out to “cleanse” certain societies.

Some groups have been labeled “cults.” A cult of personality may arise around certain leaders. Members often enjoy their identification with a cause and the status being an insider provides. Outsiders may question the devotion the insiders give their movement and its leaders. They might call them “fanatics.” The terms “brainwashing” or “coercive persuasion” were used to describe what certain communist regimes did with prisoners during the 1940s and 1950s (Schein, Schneier, & Barker, 1961; Winokur, 1955). Obtaining a public confession of guilt is a quite different matter than “re-educating” someone. Although the results were uneven, and varied greatly in duration, the Chinese did succeed in using peer pressure on prisoners to accept core aspects of Maoist doctrine.

In “free” societies, such activities are strongly condemned. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that free political processes regularly involve “talking points” or “spin.” This is propaganda. Threats often result in core cultural values and symbols being used to foster unity and muster the resolve to resist. Terrorists are imprisoned. The differences are largely one of degree. In free societies the leaders can influence culture, but do not try to totally control it. The will of the majority should rule. Yet, members of the various minority groups ought to have basic legally protected rights and privileges.

Cultures Are Always in a State of Flux

In practice, disputes regularly arise. Changes in culture take place over time as conditions change and innovations are made. At the same time, it is important for many aspects of culture to persist. This provides continuity. Further, each generation need not reinvent the wheel. Some people often feel uneasy with the old ways being changed very dramatically in a short period of time. They fear core values will be compromised. Another group may be impatient with the resistance they encounter in trying to enact progress. Each generation wants to make its mark and feels frustration when there is opposition to their efforts. This is a difficult balancing act for any group.

In summary, cultures are the joint product of the interactions and interpretations of members of a group. Leaders determine some aspects, like the laws, but many aspects arise elsewhere. Once a culture has been established, it tends to shape the subsequent interactions and interpretations. Subcultures normally exist within large cultures. Cultures evolve as new environmental challenges arise and new habits develop. Stable aspects of a culture or subculture are mutually acceptable. This view of culture will be termed the “interaction perspective” (Blumer, 1969; Rock, 1979; Whyte, 1961:15).

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