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Theoretical Approaches: Dick Hebdige ‘Subculture and the Meaning of Style’ (1979)

Stephen Hill | Monday July 13, 2009

Categories: Key Concepts, Other Topics, Theory, Semiotic Theory, Subcultures

Fig 10: 1977, The Queen is Silver Jubilee and the height of Punk subcultural activity.

The theme of resistance is explored in the seminal work by Dick Hebdige ‘Subculture and the Meaning of Style’ (1979), which builds not only on the work of other cultural theorist from the Centre for Cultural Studies in Birmingham but also the work of French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, particularly The Consumer Society (1970).

Like Baudrillard, Hebdige sees the purchase of material goods as an active process in which the self is reflexively constructed. Hebdige reframes this and focuses instead upon the way in which audiences imbue objects with ideological meaning.

Using the example of the Punk safety pin he suggests that when appropriated by minority groups or ‘subcultures’ such objects become stable signs in their own right. This theme recurs in the work of Stuart Ewan in All Consuming Images (1987) in which he explores the way in which sub cultural matter infiltrates the mainstream.

However, with the proliferation of digital technologies and niche marketing, sub-cultural groups have become the key to profitability across multi-platforms. For example, post-digital Kerrang! became EMAP’s new ‘hero-brand’ leaving behind bandstand titles like Q in the Smash Hits because it spoke to a more readily identifiable ‘defined community of consumers’.

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