Dick Hebdige (UK) is an expatriate British media theorist and sociologist, most commonly associated with the study of subcultures, and its resistance against the mainstream of society. received his M.A. from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham (UK). He is best known for his influential book, “Subculture: Meaning of Style”, originally published in 1979. He is currently a professor of film studies and art studio, as well as director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, at the [[#|University]] of California, Santa Barbara.
His current interests include the integration of autobiography and mixed media in critical writing and pedagogy. He recently contributed to “Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture” (The MIT Press, 2008) edited by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky.
Subculture: The Meaning of Style. From Culture to Hegemony
Anthropological notion of culture as a “whole way of life” and an artistic notion of culture as “the traditional works” coexist in a productive but confusing tension. Cultural studies attend to the significance attached to various objects and activities in a particular society and to the linguistic and symbolic processes through which significance is produced in that society. Any cultural artifact is as important as the literary texts are. Focus on sub-cultural style: the creative variations that come into existence as marginal groups put into actual practice the meanings made available by pre-existing dominant codes. Connections between British cultural studies and French post-structuralism in considering social codes more important than individual speakers. Marxist insistence that the prevailing ideas, beliefs and values in society are those of the dominant class. From Barthes the idea that ideology “neutralizes”, making dominant beliefs seem inevitable. From Althusser: ideology is a system of representation, structures imposed on a majority of men unconsciously; ideology is the lived relation of the subject to the social institutions; ideology saturates everyday discourse in the form of common sense. Hegemony, term first used by Gramsci, introduces contestation, power differentials and collective action into the social and cultural fields. Hegemony is a manufactured consent. Different groups compete for power, and success depends on the assent of large parts of the population to the dominants group’s legitimacy. Objection and contradiction find expression in subculture and it’s expressed obliquely in style. These objections are lodged at the superficial level of appearances: at the level of signs. Competing groups have various hegemonic visions. For Hebdige there are three characteristics of hegemony:
· Brute power can’t ensure long-lasting dominance. The necessary consent from the governed is won by all means fair and foul: arguments, emotional appeals, images, symbols. Analysis of cultural meanings must consider how and where such meanings are produced in relation to groups’ bids for dominance.
· Hegemony is a site for struggle at the level of social language. Hebdige combines Marxist emphasis on conflict with the semiotic focus on the production of meaning. Access to the means by which ideas are disseminated (mass media) is not the same for all classes. Advanced Western democracies tend to represent the interests of the dominant groups in society. The class that has the means of material production has control over the means of mental production (this is the basis of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony).
· He emphasizes the mobility of signs (safety pin through a teenager’s earlobe). Such symbolic repossessions are not acts of political resistance. They don’t directly challenge power. The challenges made by youth subcultures are expressed obliquely in style. The styles of youth subcultures impede political action. The objections are lodged at the level of signs. The key question is what criteria would differentiate the real or substantial changes from superficial ones, but he has no answer. To what extent is style or any kind of artistic expression an articulation of a political position or a potentially transformative act?
All acts of culture posses a semiotic value. They are signs governed by semantic rules. There is an ideological dimension to every signification. The domain of ideology coincides with the domain of signs. Everything ideological possesses a semiotic value.
Hegemony is a situation in which a provisional alliance of certain social groups can exert “total social authority” over other subordinate groups, not simply by coercion but by making the power of the dominant classes appear legitimate and natural. Subordinate groups are, if not controlled, contained in an ideological space which appears to be “natural”, permanent and beyond particular interests. Gramsci: Hegemony is a moving equilibrium because the social groups alliance is constantly negotiated.
Signs become the arena in the class struggle because different classes can share the same set of signs (language).





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