Subcultures or Neo-Tribes? Rethinking the Relationship between Youth, Style and Musical Taste

By Andy Bennett


Despite the criticisms of subcultural theory as a framework for the sociological study of the relationship between youth, music, style, and identity, the term‘subculture’ continues to be widely used in such work. It is a central contention of this article that, as with subcultural theory, the concept of ‘subculture’ is unwork-able as an objective analytical tool in sociological work on youth, music and style –that the musical tastes and stylistic preferences of youth, rather than being tied to issues of social class, as subculture maintains, are in fact examples of the late-modern lifestyles in which notions of identity are ‘constructed’ rather than ‘given’, and ‘fluid’ rather than ‘fixed’. Such fluidity, I maintain, is also a characteristic of the forms of collective association which are built around musical and stylistic preference. Using Maffesoli’s concept of tribus (tribes) and applying this to an empirical study of the contemporary dance music in Britain, I argue that the musical and stylistic sensibilities exhibited by the young people involved in the dance music scene are clear examples of a form of late modern ‘sociality’ rather than a fixed subcultural group.


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