Cultures, Subcultures, and Countercultures: Crash Course Sociology #11


How many cultures are there in the world? We’ve talked a lot about the things that
make a culture a culture – things like norms
and symbols and languages. But we haven’t really discussed how you
lump all those little things together and say, yes,
these are the things that belong together – these things are culture A, and
these other things are culture B. So, what are the rules of culture? Well, culture isn’t just about nationality,
or the language you speak. You and another person can live in the same
country and speak the same language, and still
have totally different cultural backgrounds. Within a single country, even within a single
city, you see lots of different cultures, and each person’s cultural background will
be a mishmash of many different influences. So, there really isn’t – and never will be – a single,
agreed-upon number of cultures that exist in the world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize
a culture, and understand cultural patterns
and cultural change, and think about how different cultures
contribute to the functioning of society. [Theme Music] Are you more likely to spend your free time
at a football game, or at a modern art gallery? Do you watch NCIS or True Detective? Do you wear JC Penney or J Crew? These distinctions – and many more like them –
are just one way of distinguishing between cultural
patterns, in terms of social class. Because, yes, Class affects culture,
and vice versa. So one way of looking at culture is by examining
distinctions between low culture and high culture. And OK, yeah, those are kinda gross sounding
terms. But I want to be clear: High culture does
not mean better culture. In fact, so-called low culture is also known as popular
culture, which is exactly what it sounds like: Low or popular culture includes the cultural behaviors and ideas that are popular with most people in a society. High culture, meanwhile, refers to cultural
patterns that distinguish a society’s elite. You can sort of think of low culture versus
high culture as the People’s Choice Awards
versus the Oscars. The Hunger Games probably weren’t gonna
be winning Best Picture at the Oscars. But they were massive blockbusters, and the
original movie was voted the best movie of
2012 by the People’s Choice Awards. By contrast, the winner of Best Picture at
the Oscars that same year was The Artist, a black and white silent film produced by
a French production company. Very different movies, very different types
of culture. Now, you can also look at how different types
of cultural patterns work together. The Hunger Games and The Artist may appeal
to different segments of society, but ultimately, they both fit into mainstream American media
culture. Mainstream culture includes the cultural
patterns that are broadly in line with a society’s
cultural ideals and values. And within any society, there are also
subcultures – cultural patterns that set apart a
segment of a society’s population. Take, for example, hipsters! They make up a cultural group that formed around the idea of rejecting what was once considered “cool,” in favor of a different type of cultural expression. Yeah, your beard and your fixed-gear bike, or your
bleach blonde hair and your thick-framed glasses – they’re all part of the material culture that signifies
membership in your own specific sub-culture. But, who decides what’s mainstream and what’s
a sub-culture? I mean, the whole hipster thing has gone pretty
mainstream at this point. Typically, cultural groups with the most power
and societal influence get labelled the norm, and people with less power get relegated to
sub-groups. The US is a great example of this. In large part because of our history as a country of immigrants, the US is often thought of as a “melting pot,” a place where many cultures come together to form a single combined culture. But how accurate is that? After all, each subculture is unique – and they
don’t necessarily blend together into one big cohesive
culture just because we share a country. And more importantly, some cultures are valued
more than others in the US. For example, everyone gets Christmas off
from school, because Christian culture holds
a privileged role in American society. That might not seem fair, if you’re a member of a
sub-culture that isn’t folded into mainstream culture. So, it’s not really a melting pot if one flavor
is overpowering all the other flavors. And this brings me to another subject: How
we judge other cultures, and subcultures. Humans are judgmental.
We just are. And we’re extra judgmental when we see
someone who acts differently than how we
think people should act. Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging one
culture by the standards of another. In recent decades, there’s been growing
recognition that Eurocentrism – or the preference
for European cultural patterns – has influenced how history has been
recorded, and how we interpret the lives
and ways of people from other cultures. So what if, rather than trying to melt all the cultures
into one, we recognize each individual flavor? One way to do this is by focusing research on
cultures that have historically gotten less attention. For example, afrocentrism is a school of thought
that re-centers historical and sociological study on the
contributions of Africans and African-Americans. Another option is expanding and equalizing
your focus. Instead of looking at behavior through the
lens of your own culture, you can look at it through
the lens of multiculturalism – a perspective that, rather than seeing society as a homogenous culture, recognizes cultural diversity while advocating for equal standing for all cultural traditions. In this view, America is less a “melting
pot” and more like a multicultural society. Still, the ways in which cultures and subcultures
fit together – if at all – can vary, depending on your
school of thought as a sociologist. For example, from a structural functionalist
perspective, cultures form to provide order
and cohesiveness in a society. So in that view, a melting pot of cultures
is a good thing. But a conflict theorist might see the interactions
of sub-cultures differently. Prioritizing one sub-culture over another can create
social inequalities and disenfranchise those who belong
to cultures that are at odds with the mainstream. It’s hard to encourage individual cultural
identities without promoting divisiveness. In the US at least, it’s a constant struggle. But sometimes, sub-groups can be more
than simply different from mainstream culture
– they can be in active opposition to it. This is what we call a counter-culture. Counter-cultures push back on mainstream culture
in an attempt to change how a society functions. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble to take a
trip back to one of the biggest counter-cultural
periods of the 20th century: the 1960s. In the United States, the 1960s were rife
with countercultures. It was a time of beatniks, and hippies, of
protests against the Vietnam war, and of protests
for civil rights and women’s liberation. These movements were often led by young people
and were seen as a rebellion against the culture
and values of older generations. This was the era of free love, where people
embraced relationships outside of the traditionally
heterosexual and monogamous cultural norms. Drug use – especially the use of psychedelic
drugs – was heavily associated with this sub-culture
and was celebrated in its popular culture – think Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
or the Beat authors’ books about acid trips. But this counter-culture was also a push back
politically against mainstream culture. Many cornerstones of the politics of the American left
have their origins in the counter-culture of the 1960s: anti-war, pro-environmentalism,
pro-civil rights, feminism, LGBTQ equality. From the Stonewall riots to the Vietnam war protests,
‘60s counter-culture was where many of these issues
first reached the public consciousness. Thanks Thought Bubble! So, counter-cultures can often act as
catalysts for cultural change, especially if they
get big enough to gain mainstream support. But cultures change all the time, with or
without the pushback from sub-cultures and
counter-cultures. And different parts of cultures change at
different speeds. Sometimes we have what’s called a cultural
lag, where some cultural elements change more
slowly than others. Take how education works, for example. In the US, we get the summer off from school. This is a holdover from when this was a
more agricultural country, and children needed
to take time off during harvest. Today, there’s no real reason for summer
vacation, other than that’s what we’ve always done. So how does cultural change happen? Sometimes, people invent new things that change
culture. Cell phones, for example, have
revolutionized not just how we make phone calls,
but how we socialize and communicate. And inventions don’t just have to be material. Ideas, like about money or voting systems,
can also be invented and change a culture. People also discover new things. When European explorers first discovered tomatoes in Central America in the 1500s and brought them back to Europe, they completely changed the culture of food. What would pizza be without tomatoes?! A third cause of cultural change comes
from cultural diffusion, which is how cultural
traits spread from one culture to another. Just about everything we think of as classic
“American” culture is actually borrowed and
transformed from another culture. Burgers and fries?
German and Belgian, respectively. The American cowboy?
An update on the Mexican vaquero. The ideals of liberty and justice for all
enshrined in our founding documents? Heavily influenced by French philosophers
like Rousseau and Voltaire, and British philosophers like Hobbes and Locke, as well as by the Iroquois
Confederacy and its ideas of representative
democracy. Whether we’re talking about material culture
or symbolic culture, we’re seeing more and more aspects of culture shared across nations
and across oceans. As symbolic interactionists see it, all of
society is about the shared reality – the
shared culture – that we create. As borders get thinner, the group of people
who share a culture gets larger. Whether it’s the hot dogs we get from Germany or the jazz and hip hop coming from African traditions, more and more cultures overlap as technology and globalization make our world just a little bit smaller. And as our society becomes more global, the
questions raised by two of our camps of sociology, structural functionalism and conflict theory,
become even more pressing. Are the structural functionalists right? Does having a shared culture provide points
of similarity that encourage cooperation and
help societies function? Or does conflict theory have it right? Does culture divide us, and benefit some
members of society more than others? In the end, they’re both kind of right. There will always be different ways of
thinking and doing and living within a society –
but culture is the tie that binds us together. Today, we learned about different types of
culture, like low culture and high culture. We looked at different ways of categorizing
cultures into sub-cultures. We contrasted two different ways of
looking at cultural diversity: ethno-centrism and
multi-culturalism. We discussed the role of counter cultures
and explored how cultural change happens. And lastly, we looked at a structural
functionalist and a conflict theory perspective
on what cultures mean for society. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s made with the help of all these nice people. Our Animation Team is Thought Cafe and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank all of our patrons in general, and we’d like to specifically thank our Headmaster of Learning David Cichowski. Thank you for your support.

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