In OS X the view options for a specific window instance are inherited from the first opened folder, which usually is the user's home folder. This means that if you have the home folder in a specific view such as icon or list, then regardless of what you have set the subfolders to be, as long as they are opened in the same window frame you will see them displayed in the current icon or list view.
This is convenient for the Finder's default view; however, it makes managing folder views difficult when you have the option set to have folders opened by default in new windows. Many people (such as those in this Apple Discussion thread) have projects organized in trees of subfolders in which they would like to open them separately and still have their folder views be consistent without having to set the view for each folder (for which some people have hundreds).
Unfortunately the Finder is built with the notion of simplicity both in its settings as well as the number of windows on screen, which makes it a bit limited when it comes to specific behaviors and customizations. To get around the limitations imposed by this, when it comes to folder views you can use Automator to apply the "Set Folder Views" option to all subfolders in the project.
Just create a new Automator workflow and have the first module be either "Get Specified Finder Items" or "Get Selected Finder Items", and then use "Set Folder Views" as the second item. In the folder views settings module, be sure to check the "Apply changes to sub-folders" option, and then when you run the workflow you will be able to change the view options on one folder and all enclosed folders. Additionally, click the "Options" button an enable "Show this action when the workflow runs" so you will be presented with the view options to set every time the workflow is run.
After this is done, if you have the Finder set to use one window, you can hold the command key when opening subfolders in a project to view them in a new window. The reverse is optionally true, where you can have the Finder open folders in new windows by default, but then hold the command key whenever you want to inherit view settings and have folders opened in the same window.
When using Automator, you can save the workflow as a Finder plugin in Leopard or service in Snow Leopard, which will allow you to select a target folder and then run the workflow using the contextual menu. This option is a bit more customizable than using the Finder's default view settings panel.