Popular Culture, Subcultures & Counterculture

Popular (Pop) Culture

This is a definition of pop culture from the LumenLearning website:

The term popular culture refers to the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream society. Popular culture events might include a concert, parade, a baseball game, or the season finale of a television show. Rock and pop music – “pop” is short for “popular”–are part of popular culture.

Popular culture is usually spread and expressed in commercial media like TV, movies, music, books or corporate websites. Pop culture tends to be known or at least familiar to most people (if they have media access) and tends to represent mainstream cultural ideas. Most often, representation of marginalized groups is lacking in popular culture.

What are some aspects of pop culture that you like?

Subcultures Are a Minority Culture Within a Broader Culture

Like-minded people who often feel left out of the dominant culture sometimes come together and create subcultures. A subculture will have symbols that differentiate themselves from the dominant culture. These symbols support the subculture’s identity. These symbols show up in style, image, tastes, and perceptions.

A subculture can function quite well within the dominant culture.

Here are some examples of groups where subcultures form:

  • Music (punk rockers, goth, grunge, hip hop, rave…etc.
  • New age wellness
  • Yoga
  • LGBTQ2+
  • Hippies
  • Minimalists
  • Outdoor special interest
  • Religious
  • Surfers
  • Skaters
  • Trekkies

For Reflection

Can you think of any other subculture groups? Have you been in any subcultures over your lifetime?

Counterculture Is Both Similar and Different to a Subculture

Counterculture groups are also smaller groups of like-minded people who gather within a more dominant culture. However, different from a subculture, a countercultural group goes against the mainstream culture. In fact, the key difference between a counterculture movement and subculture is the strong desire to change the dominant culture. These groups are created to fight against the pervasive values of a larger culture. They are formed around interests, dislikes, and disdain.

Sometimes these small groups can grow and gather momentum, and eventually become a larger movement.

Some examples of countercultural groups that have become movements are:

  • Hippie protesters in the 1960s
  • Civil rights activists
  • Peer movement
  • Feminist groups
  • LGBTQ2+ groups
  • Environmental groups

For Reflection

  • Can you think of other counterculture groups?
  • Who are some leaders you can think of who led some of these groups?
  • Developing cultural sensitivity involves deepening our own understanding of our culture and worldview. Besides what is mentioned above, list some other ways that you may see someone’s culture reflected (e.g., their way of dress, food preparation, communication styles, political beliefs)?
  • Often, we have involvement in many different cultures. What are some of the cultures in which you are involved?
  • How have those cultures influenced you?
  • Do you feel deeply aligned and connected to any of the cultures you are connected to? Why or why not? Has that shifted over time?
  • Have you ever felt oppressed by your culture? Describe.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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