Subculture Theory and the Fetishism of Style


cultural studies
defetishizing critique
consumer studies

How to Cite

Woo, B. (2009). Subculture Theory and the Fetishism of Style. Stream: Interdisciplinary Journal of Communication, 2(1), 23–32.


Subculture theory, a paradigm most closely associated with British cultural studies, promised to provide a Marxian sociology of the connections between social-structural determinants and their expression in the relatively autonomous sphere of culture. This promise has remained largely unfulfilled. The more recent, so-called “post-subcultures†literature has decisively demonstrated the limitations of the model elaborated by the scholars of the Birmingham School. However, in abandoning its class-based critique, they have tended to fall back upon a single-minded concern with the emancipatory potential of lifestyle and consumption. In neither of these “moments†is the issue of style itself opened up as an arena of social and cultural reproduction. That is to say, subculture theory has tended to fall prey to a fetishism of style. In this paper, I will briefly outline post-subculture critiques of “classical†subculture theory and, drawing on Jean Baudrillard’s theory of consummativity, point towards the need for a defetishizing study of subcultures as an integral part of a critical cultural studies project. I will also outline a typology of cultural formations as an analytical model for future subculture research.