To quote the on-line Merriam-Webster, a subculture is "an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society." We usually associate the term 'subculture' with underground or clandestine movements in society. Marginal communities that cultivate their difference from the majority have been with us since the 1960s. More recently, in the aftermath of the hippy era, the unprecedented development of communication technologies made movements promoting protest, social difference and alternative lifestyles increasingly popular — to the point where they were adopted by industry and adapted for the purposes of mass entertainment.

In the late 1980s, French sociologist Michel Maffesoli added a further connotation to the term, when he coined the expression "urban tribe" in his book Le temps des tribus : le déclin de l'individualisme dans les sociétés postmodernes ( Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society ). Maffesoli offered a new perspective on subculture, arguing that notwithstanding their emphasis on personal choice, urban subcultural groups could constitute a basis for the establishment of tribal identities. However, in recent times, it has become clear that tolerance for different groups — distinguished by lifestyles, clothing, musical tastes etc. — is now the rule rather than the exception. Moreover, members of subcultural groups no longer feel marginalized. In cities in Europe and the United States, it is not unusual to come across punk, grunge, goth and emo couples romantically holding hands, visiting museums, or placidly heading out for a night at the theatre or the opera.

Violent attitudes associated with the emergence of the hip-hop movement appear to be a thing of the past — and even in the world of hip-hop, much has changed. In an article entitled Youth Culture and the European Experience, recently published by Dilemma Veche, Finnish journalist Tommi Laitio recounts how on its arrival in Europe, rap music was appropriated by regional and national groups, with a wide range of specific cultural identities: the Turkish children of guest workers in Germany, Dutch, Austrian, and Portuguese musicians who favored lyrics in dialect, and Polish bands who adapted the style for the recitation of patriotic verses. As time went on, major clothing and footwear brands, the media, and even public institutions made use of hip-hop's 'protest sound' to attract the attention of younger and younger age groups.

The question of the majority's tolerance for subcultures and their potential to foster conflict between generations has largely been settled. However, their continued development may be symptomatic of another malaise, which is especially present in the countries of eastern Europe — where, in the absence of sufficient educational and social services, young people are often offered little more than the advice that they should "stand on their own two feet," like their elders did at their age. In such circumstances, it is possible that an alternative lifestyle may be the only option.