SVA MA Design Research

SVA MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism1 is a one-year graduate program2
devoted to the study of design, its contexts & consequences.
Our graduates have gone on to pursue research-related careers in publishing, education, museums, institutes, design practice, entrepreneurship, & more.3

  1. Formerly known as D-Crit
  2. About the program
  3. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. All successful candidates awarded a significant scholarship!
SVA MA Design Research

136 W 21st St, 2nd Floor

New York, NY 10011





(212) 592-2228

Subverting the Subculture – SVA MA Design Research

Alex Bevier

Subverting the Subculture

It wasn’t until beginning of Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style when I realized the relationship between subversion and subculture. The two have the same prefix, sure, but the conversation the two topics are having is quite meaningful.

Sub, represents terms meaning below, under, or replaced: submit, submerge, substitute. Culture is a topic we’ve regularly discussed in class, as the class is about cultural theory. As such, the heart of Hebdige’s text is to define and discuss subculture.

When Hebdige mentions subversion in his introduction, he’s referring to a story by Genet, where  he “has explored in both his life and his art the subversive implications of style (pg. 2).” This brings up a meaningful difference between subversion and subculture. Culture, as we’ve discussed is something that regularly exists in the past-tense. Studying modern culture is challenging because it means being aware of what should be a natural-feeling thing.

Subversion, however, has to be aware. The root word being version, it’s about knowing where a person is in society and using that sense of place to act. Subversion is intentional.

This is why topics such as parody are always subversive acts. It requires the author look at the environment they’re creating and make a work that responds directly to the culture. In turn, this work can be received as a continuing work of a newer culture.

That’s not to say that subcultures cannot be subversive, but I’d argue that it forces embracement and commitment to the subculture in a way that may not require necessity. It could be that one needs to intentionally subvert in order to create a subculture. It’s hard to imagine Kurt Cobain unaware of the unique qualities of his music, but he also had a lot of trouble responding to the subculture he was aware of creating.