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Redefining ‘sub‐culture’: a new lens for understanding hybrid cultural identities in East‐Central Europe with a case study from early 20th century L'viv‐Lwów‐Lemberg


Nations and Nationalism

Published online on


This paper proposes a new definition of the term ‘subculture’, as a way of better understanding hybrid identities specific to East‐Central Europe, before applying this definition to a case study from the now‐Ukrainian city of L'viv from around 1900. The first section outlines the theory, arguing that the continued focus on the nation state – either from the ‘top down’, or else the ‘bottom up’ as a source of contestation, by historians and anthropologists, has limited the ability to study groups in the interstices of the national projects that typically remain defined in monolithic ethno‐linguistic terms. It examines the theoretical term ‘subcultures’ to propose a new definition that accounts for such hybridity, by having particular sensitivity to context (historical, social, geographical) and cultural practice, in addition to any prevailing national narratives at a given time. The case study in the second section focuses on linguistic hybridity in the city then known more commonly as Lemberg (German) or Lwów (Polish). It argues that Lemberg/Lwów/L'viv produced an urban dialect that blended Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish and German elements. This dialect should be reassessed as a mixed, hybrid or transitional code, rather than as a linguistic variant of a titular nation. Archival evidence – in particular, court records – is quoted to show that at the lower end of L'viv society, people routinely mixed and transcended linguistic and, thereby, ethnic and religious boundaries. This offers direct evidence of a specific subsection, or subculture, in urban life where people interacted and intermingled intensely. As such, the paper offers new possibilities for investigating ‘hybrid’ identities, as well as proposing a counterpoint to recent research focusing on deliberate indifference or opposition to national segregation for various socio‐political, economic and cultural reasons (Judson 2006: 19–65; King 2002; Zahra 2008).