Research article
Issue: № 8 (15), 2013

Чибисова О.В.

Кандидат культурологии, доцент, Комсомольский-на-Амуре государственный технический университет



В статье рассматриваются культурные коды молодежных субкультур на примере хиппи. Отмечено, что молодежная субкультура является миром смыслов и мир знаков, с помощью которых используются имеющиеся и создаются новые артефакты. Сделан вывод о том, что изменения, происходящие в современной культуре, привели к поиску новых путей жизненного самоопределения молодежи за счет изменений вербального и невербального поведения.

Ключевые слова: молодежные субкультуры, культурный код, знаки, символы.

Chibisova O.V.

PhD in Cultural Studies, associate professor, Komsomolsk-on-Amur State Technical University



The article examines the cultural codes of youth subcultures illustrated by hippies. It is noted that the youth subculture is a world of meanings and signs, by the means of which existing artifacts are used and new ones are created. It is concluded that the changes which are taking place in the contemporary culture have led to the search of new ways of young peoples’ life self-determination due to the changes in their verbal and nonverbal behavior.

Keywords: youth subcultures, cultural code, signs, symbols.

People’s cultural experience is coded in mimicry, gestures, bodily movements, intonation and words. Different generations, social groups and sections of the population do not always understand each other’s daily language. Subculture members use especial forms of culture coding and create a semiotics variety in it. The semiotic analysis of youth subculture represents a great interest for researchers, because a youth subculture creates not only its own original verbal language, but nonverbal channels of communications as well which include gestures, fashion, rituals, etiquette and many other things. Universal, historically and socially invariant youthful age does not exist: its borders are established on the basis of defined cultural factors. For example, in domestic psychiatry the age from 14 till 18 years is called teenage, and in psychology 16-18-year-old people are considered as adolescents. In Ozhegov's dictionary a young man is defined as a guy in the age of transition from adolescence to adulthood.

It is necessary to make very serious addition to the above-mentioned as some modern researchers call into question correctness of the term «youth». «First of all, I consider (and not only I, of course, it is probably a platitude) that the youth as such basically do not exist. It is a political, ideological or cultural construct, which is designed differently each time according to a situation, weather, a spirit of a corresponding political mode in this or that place of a planet». And again: «concepts which are closer to us, which we operate with and with the help of which we can define certain common features, are a solidarities, subcultures or style groups» [1]. Acknowledging the competency of this point of view, we will still adhere to the classical meaning of the concept «youth». «Youth is a socially-demographic group which is isolated on the basis of age characteristics, features of a social status and socially-psychological properties stipulated by the first two categories which are defined by a social order, culture, and socialization and education laws of the given society. The modern age brackets are from 14-16 till 25-30 years» [2].

The youth as a social community is rather homogeneous, has similar views and mood, common symbols, tastes, values which, as a rule, become apparent at leisure and do not affect labour and family relations. It is a peculiar cultural autonomy which shapes a private world of a person. In the western sociology the youth subculture is called a «peer group». This concept means more than «group of contemporaries» or «homogeneous age group». It implies not only age equality, but also the correlation of sights, values and norms of behaviour. In a «peer group» there emerges a subculture which considerably differs from adult culture. It is characterized by internal uniformity and external protest against the established system of power, against all senior generation with its cultural values and norms. They differ in character of social morals, type of group values, peculiarities of spending their spare time. We define a subculture as «small organization of young people aged from 14 to 30 years, the essence of which is manifested in the interaction of its members with each other and with external structures to meet the needs and inclinations that are not realizable in the dominant culture» [3, 33]. The essence of the youth subculture is informal associations which accumulate all semiotic potential.

The semiotic approach to the subculture analysis defines a special phenomenon, which allows distinguishing the phenomenology of social and sign levels which define semiosis space. The latter is a special form of coding of symbolical and language systems in people’s consciousness. It is realised in the form of a picture of the world and style of life, system of values and ways of behaviour. Each youth subcultural phenomenon creates a specific social space in which it realizes its semiotic differences in language, costume, folklore and etc. Creation and realization of semiotic space by the members of youth community is experienced as a style of life which is particularized through the specificity of daily social interactions, processes of verbal and nonverbal communications.

The semiotic space of a youth subcultural phenomenon is realised in three planes: the semiotic status of things, subject and verbal codes. The semiotic status of things forms cultural codes which receive the status of the semiotic brand reflecting a concrete parity of «sign» and «thing». A subject code, based on corporal culture, is created at the expense of language and symbolical systems of nonverbal character in the form of rituals, gestures, fashion, and gender relations. The verbal code of the semiotic space which received the name «slang» is the most widespread form of intercubcultural integration. Slang, defining the streams of information inside a subculture, differentiates communication processes, social demographic statuses and the sign world of the youth.

The semiotic space of youth subculture put in understanding of a picture of the world, is formed round certain norms, values, models of social interaction, symbols, stereotypes, language, etiquette, fashion. Integrating they create a special sociocultural field in which young people develop their own rules of social behaviour and self-organization. They do it on the basis of accessible languages, codes and texts which belong both to a cultural kernel as a whole, and youth subculture in particular. Their perception and understanding define the position of a modern representative of the youth in the field of cultural senses, and through them his/her possibilities as a member of a society. The semiotic research of youth subculture allows gaining new knowledge of verbal and nonverbal communications in the youth environment, ways of socio-symbolical coding of everyday life that promotes the formation of steady models of young people interaction with each other and with adults, an active social position of the youth as one of the most creative social communities.

The unique manifesto of semiotic understanding of cultural processes is T. Shchepanskaya's research «The System: texts and traditions of subculture» [4]. By means of the detailed sign-symbolical description of hippie it exceeds the limits of developed youth stereotypes, fixing all dynamics of subcultural associations from within.

The subculture of hippie arose on a boundary of 60th in the USA, England and other countries. Their emblem – flowers – symbolized beauty and brightness, wildness and primitiveness, an openness and naturalness, gravitation to softness, nonviolence, to everything natural. The slogan of hippie is «Turn on, tune in, drop out». «Turn in» stands for «find your world», «tune in» – for «plunge into yourself, find your belief», «drop out» – for «leave the clichés of the surrounding life».

Hippie’s appearance is rather original: unshorn hair, a leather tape covering a forehead and a nape; torn clothes, a dirty body and an abundance of primitive ornaments (necklaces, bracelets on hands and feet, earrings). Diversity of clothes is supplemented with ornaments: badges, dried flowers, «a chicken horn» (a stone with a hole) and so on. There is a set of bracelets on the hands: on the one hand there are ten threads with beads, on the other hand there is a wooden ring; there is a beaded thread on the ankles and a rectangular decorated sack on the breast for money and document storage [5, 281].

The hip-system has created its language – system slang – which is used for communication with the youth adjoining it. For example, one of favourite word-formation models of hippie is addition of suffix -ak, -yak to a basis: «отходняк» – a hang-over, «голяк» – a total absence of something. One of the most interesting slang phenomena is what hippies name «стеб» – an ironically-humiliating attitude to what is being spoken about. All numerous symbols of «the system» highlight its position outside public structures. The way symbolics, that is «hitchhiking», is very popular. And the status of the real hippie is given only to those who have passed «the route».

Another cultural code is music. According to musical tastes the youth form groups of like-minded, who identify themselves in accordance with the chosen musical direction, style, or a particular musician. Musical images, symbols, language, and means of expression gain the value of ends-in-themselves [6, 77]. Hippie culture of the 1960s evolved from a bit of culture 1950 parallel to the development of rock 'n' roll from jazz.

Much has changed since the days of the hippies. Globalization has made real self-realization of all and each culture through interaction of all with everyone and everyone with all others in space and in time. The individual leaves specific, private limits for a cultural space, for fundamental infinite dialogue and, hence, for infinite reconsideration of what he is himself. The globalization of cultural space has a direct impact on present-day youth subcultures, causing their consolidation through merger and integration based on a common cultural code. So, today we can speak of a «dark-culture», which has absorbed Goths, black metal heads, freaks, J-rockers and Rivetheads. In addition, globalization leads to the evolution of local cultural practices of youth subcultures, offering them a choice of a virtually unlimited number of sets of updated global cultural forms [7, 199]

All subcultural phenomena easily give in to the description, but their classification is complicated by the variety of signs which are difficult to be classified; besides the isolation of various subcultural groups is not an impenetrable partition. For example, one can find drug addicts among heavy metal musicians and hippies among drug addicts and so on. Rockers, heavy metal musicians and football fans are, first of all, the groups of contacts united by the general interest and external symbolics expressing it. Moreover, the changes occurring in the modern culture and society, affect both the transformation of socio-economic and political guidelines, and the fast adaptation to postmodern sociocultural reality. They have resulted in searching for new ways of youth self-determination in life, in expansion of its subculture and subcultural experience first of all at the expense of changing the systems of verbal and nonverbal daily interaction. In such conditions theoretical culturological interpretation of the concept, contents and structure of youth subculture semiotic space seem quite actual, provide understanding of cultural norms and values of the youth, promote its involving in social processes. Thus, the semiotic bases of youth culture, the issue of socio-sign correlation of daily interaction in the youth environment demand further study.


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