As we have seen, people develop cultures to provide a structured framework of rules for their behaviour. In turn, people's behaviour is influenced by their cultural background (socialisation) and setting (their personal experiences in society). People do not just form cultures, however. They also form much smaller groups within society which we term subcultures.
A subcultural group can develop around any number of social activities (family, work, education, religion, geographic region and so forth). This makes the study of sub-cultures potentially difficult since we would have to produce theories of subculture that accounted for the behaviour of groups as culturally diverse as stamp collectors, football supporters, teachers, Government ministers and so forth.
To make our task more manageable, therefore, we are going to restrict our observations to a number of major types of sub-cultural groupings in our society. This will allow us to focus on some of the main theoretical accounts for the existence and development of various types of sub-cultural groups.
When we use the term subculture sociologically, we are referring to a group of people whose behaviour has features that set it apart from the wider (or dominant) culture of the society in which it develops. Such groups are considered to be subcultures, rather than cultures in their own right, because they retain links to and features of, the wider culture.
Finally, we need to recognise that the relationship between the dominant culture and subcultural groups is not static (that is, unchanging). Social behaviour is always dynamic; people's behaviour constantly changes to take account of new situations and relationships (you only need to think about the differences between your behaviour now and at sometime in the past to realise the importance of this idea).
Additionally, cultures and subcultures, although different, are not self-contained units in society; on the contrary, there is a continuous flow of influences from culture to subculture and vice versa.
In the following, to help us understand the nature of - and differences between - subcultural types, we are going to classify sub-cultural groups in terms of two main types, namely reactive and independent. In order to provide a context for these concepts, we can apply them to a range of sociological explanations for the development of youth subcultures.
By focusing our attention specifically on general explanations of youth subcultures, it will also give us the opportunity to see how major syllabus concepts such as social class, age, gender, ethnicity and region can be related to subcultural development, since the concept of youth subcultures includes subcultural differences based around these themes.