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Comparison of Subculture and Countercultures

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2467 words Published: 19th Jul 2021

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In any society there are not only cultures, but also a variety of subculture and countercultures that develop within society. Subcultures and countercultures are formed by generalizations, occupation, class, lifestyle, likes, dislikes, etc. [1]

Basically subculture is a group of people that differentiate from the larger culture that they belong to. In earlier 1950s, there has been a distinction between an accepted majority style and a ‘subculture’ as an active minority style. Dick Hebdige argued that a subculture is subversion to normality. Subcultures tend to be perceived as negative and have a nature of criticism. Subcultures bring together individuals who feel neglected and allow them to develop a sense of identity. [2]

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Counterculture is a sociological term used to describe the values and norms of behavior of a cultural group. Counterculture can also be described as a group whose behavior deviates from the societal norm. Although distinct countercultural undercurrents have existed in many societies, here the term refers to a more significant, visible phenomenon that reaches critical mass and persists for a period of time. It is important to distinguish between “counterculture,” and “subculture”. [3]


A subculture is a group of individuals that do share some qualities that the majority of society share, but the group has its own values, beliefs, norms, behavior, etc. Subcultures tend to be created when society endures problems or enjoys common privileges. Most individuals within a subculture have common interests and beliefs. 

Types of subculture 

Following are the major types of subculture.

Organizational Culture

A type of subculture that allows members to have solidarity, community, and social relationships that influence individual behavior. It is the way an organization deals with the environment. 


It is a type of subculture that completely disregards society’s norms and values and creates new ones.  They tend to develop when people will not conform to the mainstream.  They have their own beliefs, problems with cultural integration, and have their own material culture. [1]

Racial or nationality subcultures

These subcultures tend to vary in their values, ambition and beliefs which get reflected in their consumption priorities, spend save patterns, purchase behavior, use of credit, social traditions and customs etc.Nowadays multiracial societies like America comprised of citizens who come from different nationalities or belong to different races.

Religious subcultures:

Most societies of the world today consist of people subscribing to different religions, which may differ in their beliefs, values and customs. The religious subgroups may follow different custom, have important rites of passage (like birth, marriage and death) performed in different ways and have different festivals. [4]

Counter culture vs. Sub culture

“Counterculture can be defined as a group whose behavior deviates from the societal norm. It is different to the mainstream culture in their politics, norms, social beliefs, and way of dress and social structures”. (or)

“A counter culture is one that reacts against the prevailing culture in place”.

Example: Throughout the last century examples of counterculture might be the suffragettes, the green movement, polygamists and feminists, punk movement and the infamous hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s, are formed and exist to oppose the dominant culture.

All of these counter cultures have specific beliefs and values that cause social change.

Counter cultures are large movements that cause social change.

Counter cultures are against mainstream culture.[5]

Members of a counterculture come together around their desire to reject movements within the larger, dominant culture.

While members have this opposition in common, they may not share religious or political affiliations, similar socioeconomic situations, or values.

Countercultures can be both negative and positive.

They can also become larger when more people are involved and assimilate into the mainstream just as subcultures in general have this potential.[6]

Biker Gangs, drug users, career criminals, prisoners, and terrorists have in common that they all have negative perceptions from society and are countercultures. [7]


“A sub culture can have its own beliefs, norms and values, but they are generally able to exist within mainstream culture”.

Their beliefs or manner of being may be different enough to make them stand out, but they are not at odds with society.

Subculture is a culture shared and actively participated in by a minority of people within a broader culture.

Examples: sub cultures might be Goths, emos, surfies, homies etc. Jews and Tea Party members are both examples of subcultures in the U.S. While the Jewish subculture is based around shared religious values, the Tea Party movement was primarily founded around dissatisfaction with the political status.

Sub cultures tend to also share common interests and experience.

Sub cultures can exist within mainstream culture.[5]

Sub cultures are united by common aesthetics, interests and experience.

Subcultures are distinctive segments of the larger culture of a region or society that are marked by shared interests in music or cultural phenomena, membership in a specific ethnic or religious group, or shared socioeconomic status.

While some subcultures exist in contradistinction to the society’s dominant culture, others exist harmoniously within it.

Subcultures incorporate large parts of the broader cultures of which they are part, but in specifics they may differ radically.

Subcultures bring together like-minded individuals who feel neglected by societal standards and allow them to develop a sense of identity.

Subcultures can be distinctive because of the age, ethnicity, class, location, and/or gender of the members. [6]

The qualities that determine a subculture as distinct may be linguistic, aesthetic, religious, political, sexual, geographical or a combination of factors.

They certainly play an important role in any individual life and help to explain how each person develops a frame of reference. [7]

Everybody has their own perceptions on society, values, and life in general. Values, attitudes, gestures, and sanctions tend to stem from the dominant culture in one’s life.

Throughout the dominant culture that a person spends his or her time in learning and changing through different experiences many subcultures have developed.

Subcultures allow people, who share similar interests to assimilate, socialize, gives them a sense of belonging and fellowship among peers. [8]


Countercultures and subcultures both identify themselves in juxtaposition to the dominant culture of a society.

Members usually dress and behave in different ways than average citizens of a society and are usually identifiable by their different appearances.


Culture is made up of an amalgamation of subcultures. So, a single subculture is a small segment of the larger culture, which is usually defined by shared socioeconomic status or a common cultural interest.

A counterculture, on the other hand, is defined by their opposition to the dominant culture. A member of a counterculture may oppose the prevailing cultures values. Or, it could just oppose certain segments of the culture, or certain subcultures.

A subculture is differs slightly from the dominant culture in a society, while a counterculture opposes the culture or subculture itself.[6]

Literature review

Dick Hebdige argued that a subculture is subversion to normality. Subcultures tend to be perceived as negative and have a nature of criticism. [9]

According to Hebdige, subcultures are actually an alternative and reconfiguration of the dominant cultures. As his all very brief references to black and West Indian cultures suggest that he considers these cultures to be transplanted dominant cultures within British society. This misrepresentation raises the question of whether ethnic groups or minorities fit into Hebdige’s notion of what constitutes either a parent culture or subculture. [10]

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According to Wolfgang & Ferracuti, subculture is “a normative system of some group or groups smaller than the whole society” .This “implies that there are value judgments or a social value system which is apart from and a part of a central value system”. But a subculture is only partly different from the larger culture, and cannot be totally different from the culture of which it is a part; otherwise it is what Wolfgang called contra culture. This implies that the subculture has some major values in common with the dominant parent culture.

The transmission of sub cultural values involves a learning process that establishes a dynamic lasting linkage between the values and the individuals .But also important to Wolfgang’s subculture of violence theory is the notion that people may be born into a subculture.

They argue that the black subculture actually values violence and that it is “an integral component of the subculture which experiences high rates of homicide”. Just as the dominant society punishes those who deviate from its norms, deviance by the comparatively non-violent individual from the norms of the violent subculture is likewise punished, either by being ostracized, or treated with disdain or indifference. Also, the more a person is integrated into this subculture, “the more intensely he embraces its prescriptions of behavior, its conduct norms, and integrates them into his personality”.

The subculture of violence theory might be even more relevant today than it was when it was first published, especially with regard to juvenile crime. It seems to be a common fear that adolescents today are more violent and lacking in empathy than those of only a generation or two ago.

Parker (1989) criticisms of the black subculture of violence model are many:

First, the use of global indicators describing an entire class of people, southerners or blacks, assumes that these communities are homogeneous in values and lifestyle, an assumption that is clearly false for any group as large as these groups. Second, particularly in the case of blacks, it entails an implicit pejorative indictment of urban minority residents and communities, which is unfair and racist in nature. Finally this approach ignores the role of institutionalized racism itself in producing a link between violence and racial composition.

Wolfgang’s subculture of violence theory has had its share of critics. Erlanger (1974), Parker (1989), Shihadeh and Steffensmeier (1994), are just a few of the investigators who have failed to find the theory useful in explaining sub cultural violence. Other authors have found that the sub-culture of violence theory is a useful model, particularly when it is used along with other theories Benedict and Baron. Kennedy and Baron call for such an integrative approach, and assert that often, different theories may complement one another. Finally, still other researchers continue to rely upon the model. 11]

Scholars differ in the characteristics and specificity they attribute to “counterculture”. Counterculture might oppose mass culture, or middle-class culture and values. Counterculture is sometimes conceptualized in terms of generational conflict and rejection of older or adult values.

It typically involves criticism or rejection of currently powerful institutions, with accompanying hope for a better life or a new society.

Countercultures tend to peak, and then go into decline, leaving a lasting impact on mainstream cultural values. Their life cycles include phases of rejection, growth, partial acceptance and absorption into the mainstream.

According to Sheila Whiteley, “recent developments in sociological theory complicate and problematize theories developed in the 1960s, with digital technology, for example, providing an impetus for new understandings of counterculture”. Andy Bennett writes that “despite the theoretical arguments that can be raised against the sociological value of counterculture as a meaningful term for categorizing social action, like subculture, the term lives on as a concept in social and cultural theory to become part of a received, mediated memory”.[12]


The term counter-culture is not entirely an adequate way of describing all of the changes that took place for several reasons: some changes were a progression of events throughout the century, other changes were due to scientific discoveries which have always produced new ideas and ways of looking at the world, and many changes can be better described as movements or ideologies.[14]

Subcultures allow people, who share similar interests to assimilate, socialize, gives them a sense of belonging and fellowship among peers. 

Sub cultural studies often involve participant-observation, and may variously emphasize sociological, anthropological, or semiotic analysis in order to address the organization and production of relational, material, and symbolic structures and systems. [15]


Healthy sub-cultures share leaderships’ conceptualizations of how tasks should be accomplished; how employees can advance and take on greater responsibility; how employees interact with each other; the ways in which change is accepted and accomplished; and how new knowledge is acquired and perpetuated.

Distinct, healthy sub-cultures are organizationally aligned in their understanding of how they must perform to produce successful and acceptable results and outcomes.

Leaders actively seeking to influence their organization’s culture must consider sub-cultures.

The major point here is to make sure that you are integrating and linking your sub-cultures into the broader, intended cultural objectives.

Accept and foster productive sub-cultures while consistently communicating how employees must perform in order for the organization to be successful.[13]


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