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Culture vs. Subculture: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Published on December 14, 2023
Culture encompasses the social behaviors, norms, beliefs, and practices of a larger society; Subculture refers to a smaller group within the main culture with distinct behaviors, beliefs, or interests.

Key Differences

Culture represents the shared practices, values, and beliefs of a large group, often encompassing a whole society or nation. It includes language, traditions, art, and social norms. Subculture, in contrast, is a smaller group within the larger culture, often defined by distinct interests, behaviors, or beliefs that differentiate them from the broader culture.
Culture is a broad term that applies to the overarching lifestyle and social norms of a large group. It's often seen as the mainstream, encompassing the most widely shared aspects of society. Subculture specifically refers to a subgroup that distinguishes itself from the main culture, often through unique styles, hobbies, or ideologies.
Culture is typically passed down through generations, forming the foundational social fabric of a society. It's dynamic but maintains certain stable elements over time. Subculture often arises as a reaction or in response to the dominant culture, sometimes pushing against mainstream norms or values.
Culture influences how individuals within a society behave and interact, shaping everything from language to social structures. Subculture, while also influencing behavior, often forms a community within a community, sometimes seeking to challenge or expand the broader cultural norms.
Culture can encompass a wide range of societal aspects, including religion, food, and art, reflecting the identity of a larger group. Subculture tends to focus on more specific interests or practices, such as music genres, fashion styles, or particular philosophies, distinguishing a smaller group within the larger cultural context.

Comparison Chart


Encompasses the broad behaviors and practices of a large society.
A smaller group within a culture with distinct practices.


Larger, often national or societal.
Smaller, often a group within the larger culture.


Mainstream norms and values of a society.
Specific norms and values that may differ from the mainstream.


More stable and traditional, passed down through generations.
More dynamic, often emerging in response to the dominant culture.


Reflects the collective identity of a large group.
Provides a sense of identity within a niche group.

Culture and Subculture Definitions


Culture encompasses the social behaviors, customs, and norms of a society.
The culture of Japan is renowned for its unique blend of tradition and modernity.


Subculture encompasses the unique traditions and practices of a smaller group within a larger cultural setting.
The hip-hop subculture has significantly influenced music, fashion, and language.


Culture includes the collective beliefs, arts, and institutions of a community.
Italian culture is deeply rooted in its history, cuisine, and art.


Subculture is a segment of society with distinct patterns of behavior and beliefs.
The vegan subculture promotes a lifestyle excluding all animal products.


Culture is a shared way of life, influenced by history, geography, and social structures.
Indian culture is diverse, reflecting its vast regional differences and historical influences.


Subculture is a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.
The punk subculture of the 1970s challenged mainstream fashion and music.


Culture refers to the practices and symbols that are significant to a group or society.
The culture of New Orleans is a vibrant mix of French, African, and American influences.


Subculture refers to the distinct norms and values of a group within a broader society.
The skateboarding subculture has its own fashion, slang, and values.


Culture is the collective intellectual achievements and lifestyle of a society.
Ancient Greek culture has profoundly influenced Western philosophy and art.


Subculture is a smaller cultural group characterized by alternative lifestyles or interests.
The tech subculture is characterized by its enthusiasm for new technologies and innovation.


The arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought considered as a unit, especially with regard to a particular time or social group
Edwardian culture.
Japanese culture.


A cultural subgroup differentiated by status, ethnic background, residence, religion, or other factors that functionally unify the group and act collectively on each member.


These arts, beliefs, and other products considered with respect to a particular subject or mode of expression
Musical culture.
Oral culture.


What is a subculture?

A subculture is a smaller group within the main culture with distinct behaviors, beliefs, or interests.

Can a person be part of multiple cultures or subcultures?

Yes, individuals can simultaneously be part of multiple cultures and subcultures.

How does subculture differ from the main culture?

Subcultures have distinct practices or beliefs that set them apart from the broader, mainstream culture.

What defines a culture?

Culture is defined by the shared practices, values, and beliefs of a large group, often encompassing a whole society.

Do subcultures have their own languages or jargon?

Many subcultures develop their own slang or jargon, which helps reinforce their identity.

How do cultures evolve?

Cultures evolve over time through interactions with other cultures, societal changes, and historical events.

How does subculture emerge?

Subcultures often emerge in response to or as a deviation from the norms of the dominant culture.

How does culture impact an individual's identity?

Culture significantly influences an individual's values, behaviors, and perceptions of the world.

Can subcultures become mainstream?

Yes, elements of subcultures can become mainstream as they gain wider acceptance.

What role do subcultures play in society?

Subcultures can play various roles, including challenging norms, fostering innovation, or providing community for niche interests.

How are culture and subculture transmitted?

Culture and subculture are transmitted through socialization, media, family, and educational systems.

Can a subculture have its own subcultures?

Yes, larger subcultures can have smaller, more specific subgroups within them.

How do subcultures express their distinctiveness?

Subcultures express their distinctiveness through unique styles, practices, and values.

Are traditions important in defining a culture?

Traditions play a key role in defining a culture, reflecting its history and shared values.

Can subcultures influence mainstream culture?

Yes, subcultures can influence and even change aspects of mainstream culture.

Are subcultures always in opposition to the main culture?

Not always; while some subcultures may form in opposition, others simply represent a different perspective within the larger culture.

How do people choose to join a subculture?

Joining a subculture is often a personal choice, influenced by shared interests, beliefs, or a sense of identity with the group.

Do all cultures have subcultures?

Most cultures have subcultures, as they naturally develop within diverse and complex societies.

Is language a part of culture?

Yes, language is a fundamental aspect of culture, facilitating communication and cultural expression.

What impact does globalization have on culture and subculture?

Globalization can lead to the blending of cultures and the spread of subcultures across borders.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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