Intercultural CompetenceRaises awareness of conflicts within a society and how they relate to the intercultural dialogueReflecting and using diverse methods and ways to increase self-awarenessSkill to enhance and capitalise on the outcomes of an awareness-raising process for the learners’ benefit

Cultures within a culture

When we interact with people from a certain geographical area or country, we assume that there is only one culture there. However, this is not necessarily the case. As societies grow, so does the diversity of cultures within that specific culture within that society. The evidence of this is all around us, in some cases more obvious and in some cases less. In this article, we will examine the concept of cultures within a culture, or in other words “subcultures”. Then we will review some examples and reasoning behind those subcultures to give more awareness on this topic.

Why did I choose this tool?

When I started traveling, I became part of the culture of “those who travel” from my country, and they had their own terminology, references, jokes, etc. When I started gaming it was similar, a whole new world of interests, terms and friends. This process repeated itself every time I entered into a new “sphere”, and I realized how prevalent sub-cultures are in today’s world. I find this important to understand within the intercultural competence for 2 main reasons:

1. It’s not accurate to assume someone’s characteristics based on their “nationality-based culture”, as they may have chosen one or more sub-cultures to belong to that they identify with and adhere to even more than their “nationality culture”.

2. When possible and appropriate, being connected to aspects of a subculture can be beneficial in relating to and getting along with someone that is from a different country. For example, an American young person and an Iraqi young person that discover a common love for gaming could get along instantly.

How does this apply to being a trainer?

As a trainer, you will most likely encounter groups from different nationalities and cultures. However, if you know, or think that you know, how to handle people from certain countries or cultures, you might be surprised at how much of a difference in reaction you might face when you do the same thing with different people from the same country. Therefore, having some degree of awareness of subcultures is necessary if you want to avoid these undesirable outcomes.

Main content:

Culture is “what makes up a society’s expression, both through material things and beliefs”. Examples of culture as a whole should be familiar to you. They can include things like language, ideological values, gender roles, social conventions, religion or artistic expression through things like paintings, books or films” (, 2018).People who interact in a defined territory and share a culture form a society, where there might be more than one culture and/or different layers of cultures within cultures or what is called “subculture”.

Subculture “refers to the values and norms (distinct from those of the majority) formed by smaller groups of people who share the same belief and live their life according to that form of culture, it exists for various reasons such as resistance, identity issues, or influence” (Yang, 2017). These subcultures might grow, change, or merge with the main culture or other subcultures over time. If you do a simple search on a list of subcultures, you will get a Wikipedia list of over 50 subcultures from all over the world. Those groups of people differentiate themselves from the parent culture to which they belong, often maintaining some of its founding principles. They develop their own norms and values regarding cultural, political, sexual, religious, or other matters.

We might be familiar with terms like Cosplay, Emo, and LGBT … those are everyday examples of subcultures. People in those groups differ from the norm in terms of interests, behaviors, or beliefs. What is interesting is that those mentioned examples go beyond the boundaries of the parent culture, so we see people belonging to those subcultures’ groups from different parent cultures. Cosplay can be from America, Japan, Canada, UK … etc. Even though cultures are different between those countries, groups of individuals may relate more to any of those subcultures and may have a sense of belonging to it more than the culture of where he/she is originally from.

Subculture can be anything and everything, the list is endless. In other words, anything that causes people to identify with each other to form a set of shared traditions can be considered a subculture (Spacey, 2016). An example is Computing Culture, which is a set of stories, norms, conventions, symbols, language and traditions that surround computing activities such as coding or gaming (John Spacey, 2017). In some cases, there are subcultures within a subculture or what we can describe as a multilayer subculture. An example of this is the Maker culture, which is a collection of subcultures related to making new technology and customizing existing technology. It can be considered the technology branch of do-it-yourself or DIY, which is a subculture in itself. Common areas of maker culture include computing hardware, robotics, 3D printing, scientific equipment, digital music composition, media, digital art, animation and vehicle customization (John Spacey D. 1., 2016).

From the discussion above, we can say that A subculture is a self-organized tradition of shared interests, lifestyles, beliefs, customs, norms, style or tastes. Unlike a “parent” culture, which is more of an overwhelming force. Therefore, a subculture is more of an individual choice rather than being simply born into it. In addition, culture is often more intensive than subculture. For example, a person’s native language or languages are an aspect of their culture. Subcultures such as science fiction enthusiasts may develop a unique vocabulary, but this isn’t nearly as intensive as a native language (Spacey, subculture-vs-culture, 2016).

We notice that every now and then, we hear some terms that we are not familiar with in our own native language. This is one of the results of Subcultures, terms like “Noob” in gamers subculture, a term used to refer to someone who is new and cannot play the game properly, is considered very offensive in the gamers subculture as shown in the illustration below:

Finally, when these groups are based on practices or ideas that are not aligned with social standards and norms, they may be considered deviant subcultures. Deviance involves people holding perspectives or engaging in behaviors that contradict what societies and cultures usually consider acceptable. Characteristics of people who belong to such subcultures might include those who engage in drug addiction, crime or non-traditional sexual behaviors (, 2018). This aspect might be subjective, what is considered acceptable in one culture might be considered unacceptable in another. A typical example is the different values between eastern and western cultures, belonging to a wine subculture that might be considered normal in the west but frowned upon in the east like some middle eastern countries. It is important to keep in mind that the behavior alone does not qualify someone as a member of a subculture. In the case of the LGBT community, for example, the sexual behavior is only one characteristic of many that include, among other things, political ideologies and social networks. All of the characteristics combined define the subculture (, 2018).

Reflection questions:

  • What subculture do I belong to?
  • How many subcultures do I belong to?
  • Does belonging to multiple subcultures creates conflict?


How to apply it in everyday life:

First, try to identify subcultures that you or your close friends belong to. Then try to identify some of the key vocabularies that are used in that subculture. See how easy (or difficult) it is to identify that subculture for others, and how they identify it with you.

Author of the article: Aws Sabah Gheni Al-Adhami

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Editor: Leilani van Rheenen

has been active in youth work, training and coaching since 2008. Her specialty is emotional intelligence, emotional fitness, since it is the primary ingredient in competences such as inter-cultural competence, learning to learn, cooperating successfully in teams, etc. Leilani’s contribution will combine the information and methods she has created with the vast array of tried and tested materials available. Leilani has developed herself as a trainer from the Salto training for trainers, but also from renowned coaches and authors, and adapted methods learned from these sources to meet the needs of youth workers.

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John Spacey, D. 1. (2016, 12 13). maker-cultureJohn Spacey, J. 1. (2017, 1 15). computing-cultureSpacey, J. (2016, 9 3). subcultures.Spacey, J. (2016, 9 3). (2018)What is subculture theories definition examples from study.comFeatured image from

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