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Understanding Sub-culture

Updated on April 12, 2012

Within a large cultural context, particularly in complex societies, a group may possess certain distinctive ways of thinking feeling and acting that in a number of respects sets its members apart from the larger society. A subculture is thus characterized by.
1. A distinctiveness in some ways from the larger culture within which the group exist, and
2. some features in common with the large culture.
Usually a group that forms a subculture have some form of shared identity which marks them off distinctively from the rest. A subculture can develop anytime a group of people share some situation or experience that is different from that of others in their society. some of the groups of people that commonly form subcultures are age-groups, social and ethnic groups, religious groups, people in a particular geographic area, people of common occupation, recreation interest or humanitarian aspirations. it is important to note that subcultures are not in conflict with the rest of society. They constitute a major part of the total culture but also a distinct part of it.

More typical of subcultures are those based on ethnic groups or social class. These subcultures tend to be found in separate localities such as immigrant neighborhoods with their native language or dialects, customs, special shops and food, churches and school, but its members still participate in the overall culture of their adopted country. subcultures also permit specialized activities particularly among professional subcultures. They use their professional languages and are understood by insiders. This is prominent among professionals- sociologists, demographers, doctors, pharmacists, lawyers e.t.c. Thus subcultures of this form are relevant to the divisions of labor and specialization of functions in modern, complex, industrialized societies. Again, subcultures provide a source of identity necessarily to preventing feelings of isolation and anomie in our modern mass-urbanized societies. in our mass societies of numbers instead of names, people can easily pass for a social security number or an officer in room 10. This creates a situation of anomie and loss in the crowd.

A subculture provides the distinction from the crowd and the social identities that restore dignity and a feeling of "i am somebody" They provide effective norms for the small group when the norms of the larger society seem meaningless. Although subcultures perform important functions in society, they can also be dysfunctional. They can erode society's consensus. if a culture contains subcultures whose attitudes are too different from one another, or who are excessively at odds with the larger culture, co-operation can be hindered. Each group may think of itself first and the concerns of the larger society only later. on this basis, functionalist generally seek to place bounds on cultural diversity, opposing policies that encourage it, such as bilingual education and criticizing social programs that emphasize group right rather than individual rights or the needs of the larger society.


A Counterculture exist when a subculture adopts values and beliefs that are predominantly in opposition to those of the larger society. Examples of Countercultures are religious cults like Hare-Krishna, Maitaitsine islamic movement, extremist political groups like the Ku Klux Klan and other groups espousing radically different lifestyle with politics, such as the Hell's Angels. some groups combine lifestyle with politics, such as the Hippies in the 1960s in U.S.A. such groups often challenge authority and sometimes engage in direct conflict with government representatives. They are often proponents of new and bizarre ideas concerning such topics as sexuality, the role of women and men and the recreational use of drugs like cocaine, heroine e.t.c.

It is important to make a distinction between contra-cultures or Counterculture and deviant subcultures. while counter cultures are subcultures which desire total change of the dominant culture, deviant cultures where ever they exist, operate in an illegal manner. They operate almost like a criminal gang. They reject traditional means of attainment of social and individual goals. Every society has set up standards of acceptable behavior. Thus there came to be unacceptable behavior. People whose behavior are not acceptable to society are called deviants, when people institutionalized unacceptable behavior, it becomes a deviant culture or lifestyle. Thus the emergence of a culture within a deviant segment is determined by the severity, illegality or immorality of the behavior. Deviant do not conform to the cultural norms or mores of a society.

culture of poverty

A group may possess certain distinctive ways of thinking, feeling and acting in a number of respects set its members apart from the larger society. They are victimized by a lack of economic resources, segregation, discrimination and pervasive fear. The poor experience strong feeling of marginality, helplessness, dependence and inferiority. such circumstances breeds weak ego structures, a lack of impulse control, and a sense of resignation and fatalism. These life ways referred to as culture of poverty, is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their disadvantaged position within society. The culture of poverty becomes self-perpetuating. its distinct social ethos of defeatism, dependence and a present time orientation, comes to be transmitted to successive generations through socialization. In this fashion it becomes embedded as a cultural way of life among poor people. This is what is something related to be vicious cycle of poverty.


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    • Chris Neal profile image

      Chris Neal 5 years ago from Fishers, IN

      Interesting. Most of this I had read before in other places, but the part about poverty culture caught my attention. Where did you get the information? Is it really documented that poor people truly become stuck in their poverty and transmit a poverty mindset to successive generations?

      Wouldn't the Hell's Angels actually qualify more as a deviant subculture?

      Are there instances where a counter-culture is considered a good thing?

      Voted up!