Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

11.3: Counterculture Groups

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    A counterculture is a subculture whose values and norms differ substantially from those of the mainstream society. Often these norms are in opposition to the current culture, and arise from a “fringe culture” that expands. The terminology became popular during the 1960s during the social revolutions that swept the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

    A more common day example of counterculture and its effects would be the LGBTQ community. Starting with the gay liberation in the late 1960s through the 1980s, the movement was known for its actions to abolish the fundamental institutions of society including gender and the nuclear family which promoted a heterosexual lifestyle. The counterculture continued through the 20th century, during which homosexual acts were still largely punishable offenses in a number of countries. Politicians, literature, and media played important roles in protesting the abusive treatment towards gay persons and calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In 2003, the United States Supreme Court officially declared all sodomy laws to be unconstitutional.


    Cooperatives are a form of economic group whose members share the profits and/or benefits, of which decision-making follows the democratic principal of one vote per person. Cooperatives often play a large role in the local community, since they help local businesses and the profits remain local within that community.[1] Agricultural cooperatives often help shape and define the community in which they're in, as many small farming areas are extremely rural and disconnected from other areas of civilizations. Cooperatives serve as a common area where community members can do business as well as socialize and feel connected. The Dairy Farmers of America is one of the largest cooperatives in the United States, it is owned by 15,000 dairy farmers who work together to represent 30% of the US's raw milk production.

    Self-Help Groups

    Self-help groups consist of individuals coming together to achieve common goals and overcome personal adversities, typically in the form of meetings that operate locally within churches, schools, homes, or community centers. Members discuss their experiences or feelings toward a specific problem, often involving disease or addiction, with the expectation of receiving support from the rest of the group and to hopefully overcome their problem. This can reduce feelings of isolation one may feel when facing their problem, providing an "instant identity" in an atmosphere without judgment from the group's members. In many cases, physical contact in the form of hugging, is an important aspect of the program. Open discussion and guest speakers are also common activities among these groups. Self-help groups attracts individuals who may not have the traditional support of family and friends available or as an active support system in their lives.

    There are more than 1,100 self-help groups officially recognized nationwide in the United State. Some common self-help groups are Alcoholics Anonymous, Divorce Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Neurotics Anonymous. Several self-help groups choose to be anonymous in order to preserve members' identities and their issues outside of the meetings. Self-help groups typically remain free of any controversy. They do not formally oppose or support any cause and decline all outside support to maintain their independence.

    Social Stratification, Power and Conflict

    Stratification is the arrangement or classification of something into different groups [4]. Social stratification is hierarchical relationships between different groups, usually based off inequality and access to wealth, power, and prestige [5]. Some anthropologists believe social stratification is necessary to keep a society functioning at its desired level of proficiency. Karl Marx saw social stratification as similar to a caste system, a class structure that is determined by birth. Loosely, it means that in some societies, if your parents are poor, you're going to be poor, too. Same goes for being rich if you're a glass-half-full person. Gender is often times part of the stratification system. In patriarchal societies, men rank above women of the same race and class, and in matriarchal societies, women are ranked above men. The degree of social stratification in a given society is dependent at least partially on what type of society it is. For instance, in a hunter-gatherer society or a pastoral society, there is very little economic and social stratification, because everything is shared. In an industrial or post-industrial society, economic stratification is greater and social stratification grows partly out of that economic disparity. The reason for economic stratification is that in the modern workplace, the amount of money that someone earns varies greatly based on location, education, competence, and luck. The CEO of a large corporation might make millions of dollars each year, while the lower level employees of that same corporation might make minimum wage. What makes social stratification based on wealth better than other forms of social stratification is that although it might be very difficult, it is possible for someone to move up or down in their status. This Materialist analysis is also referred to Marxism.


    Discrimination is the differing treatment or consideration, by an individual or group, of an individual or thing based on a group, class, or category to which that individual or thing belongs to. Individuals or groups often treat those they discriminate against worse than they would treat an individual of their own group. Discrimination typically involves the exclusion or restriction of individuals or rights. Discrimination does not exclusively occur in interpersonal relationships, discrimination can manifest in tradition, policies, ideas, practices, and laws. One practice of discrimination is segregation, where human groups are physically separated based on attributes or qualities. Examples of segregation include racial segregation, religious segregation, and hierarchical segregation.

    Explicit Discrimination vs. Disguised Discrimination

    Explicit discrimination is an accepted norm in society and is distinct in laws and institutions. It is also far easier to identify than disguised discrimination because of the little effort being made to hide it (James 2017). Disguised discrimination is more difficult to pinpoint, and is thus more difficult to get rid of, allowing the likelihood that it will live on, to be much greater than that of explicit discrimination.

    Similar to how disguised discrimination allows and encourages racism to live on, naturalization also makes racism and racist discrimination feel as if it is the natural order of things, or the way things should be. Even if explicit discrimination was completely eliminated from society, it is likely that racism would continue to exist through less direct forms of racial discrimination, like disguised discrimination. It is difficult to eliminate disguised discrimination because it is less obvious than explicit discrimination.


    Racialization is the social, economic, and political processes of transforming the population into races, creating the social construct of race. Racialization occurs under a particular set of cultural and historical circumstances, which means that different societies racialize groups differently. It is the processes of ascribing ethnic or racial identities to a relationship, social practice, or group that did not identify itself as such.[2]

    The absence of race in Colonial Virginia- After the English settled Jamestown, people in Colonial Virginia grew tobacco as cash crops. Labor shortages became a problem so the settlers brought in indentured servants from England, specifically people who were looking for entry into the U.S. However, in 1619, English-speaking Africans came over on similar labor contracts. Once their debts were paid off, many became prosperous traders and plantation owners and even gained the right to vote and serve in the Virginia Assembly, just as any other man with property. Interracial marriages were not uncommon and carried no stigma. The English considered Africans to be equals because of their success at growing food in tropical conditions, their discipline, and their ability to work cooperatively in groups. In sum, in the early 1600s, Africans and their descendants were considered like any other settler as members of the community, interacting with other settlers on an equal footing.[3]

    By the mid 1600s a few men had the majority of the land and freedmen were struggling to find land of their own, so they rebelled. Most were Europeans, but there were several hundred of African origin among the rebels. To prevent future unrest, the leaders began passing laws aimed at controlling laborers, and a number of those laws separated out Africans and their descendants, restricting African rights and mobility including, among others, the ability to vote, own property, and marry Europeans. These laws took away the basic rights that African settlers had previously held, and they opened the door to outright slavery, which followed several years later when the English began bringing slaves directly from Africa. [4]

    Race & Racism

    A race is a concept that organizes people into groups based on specific physical traits that are thought to reflect fundamental and innate differences (Cultural Anthropology, 2015). It is a social creation and not biologically supported. There have been four approaches into how to categorize humans into racial groups, with each being based on trait-based, geographic origin, adaptation to the environment or reproductively isolated groups. The problem with trying to categorize humans into race groups is that often times these categories to not fit an entire group of individuals. Even though origins of racial groups are neither biological nor genetic, they can shape people's biological lives and beliefs due to the disparities between the races of access or exposure to health care, disease, and other factors. Through this, a race has the capability of influencing an individual’s social perception and life possibilities.

    Racism, by its simplest definition, is 'the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race'. It is the repressive practice, structure, belief and representation that upholds racial categories and social inequality (Cultural Anthropology, 2015). People with racist beliefs may resent certain groups of people according to their race. In the case of institutional racism, certain racial groups may be denied rights or benefits, or get preferential treatment. According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination. Racism encompasses both prejudice and discrimination, yet there is a distinction between the two factors. Prejudice is the attitude that a person possesses about a certain group or category of people (for example a particular race or religious group), while discrimination is the actual act of racism towards that particular group or category of people.[5]

    Some people like to use the term "reverse racism" to refer to racist acts carried out against white people. However, terms such as reverse racism carry an inherent danger. Trying to classify acts of racial violence towards any one group of people as being of a lesser or greater importance can be harmful to society, and in turn contribute further to racism. In the end racially motivated violence is an act of racism, regardless of who the target is. Racism may appear in the form of discrimination, prejudice, racially motivated violence, beliefs of racial superiority due to ones own race or beliefs of racial inferiority towards another. Racism is deeply rooted in the institutions and societal structures that are built to hold certain races up and push others down. The exploitation and racism people of color have faced since the genesis of the United States began with genocide and slavery, followed by segregation. Eventually anti-discrimination laws were implemented, however many issues remain prevalent to this day. The concept of unearned entitlements is the idea that ones' racial group determines privileges that are not based on merit or achievement. White privilege occurs frequently within the United States and other countries. It is defined as "societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances," as defined by Wikipedia (reference). There are two ways to deconstruct privilege:

    1. Personal deconstruction of privilege: acknowledging privilege and acting to earn status through virtue, limiting unearned status, and countering and taking on one's share of unjust suffering.
    2. Social deconstruction of privilege: making a conscious effort to guarantee social group is granted earned status and sharing privileges with oppressed groups.

    Examples of Racism:

    • Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks

    Parks, who was sitting in the section of the bus designated for whites, refused to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested, and then the Montgomery Bus Boycotts started. This was a classic example of the lower status that was given to black people in the 1950s.

    • Segregation in the secondary school systems throughout the southern states

    Allowing legal segregation within the school system, which was inaccurately classified as separate but equal, produced disheartened black children. This also kept them from experiencing equality under the law, however opened the door to institutionalized racism. In the landmark legal battle of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that separate educational facilities for people of color are inherently racist, therefore declaring school segregation unconstitutional in a unanimous 9-0 decision.[6]

    Oftentimes, the separation between majority and minority group can lead to racism. Elements that define the minority group:

    1. They receive unequal representation and treatment compared to other groups in the political area.
    2. The group is easily identifiable and devalued physical and or cultural traits.
    3. The group have a sense of self-consciousness, the knowing that they are different or stand out.
    4. Membership is based on descent or hereditary.
    5. Most marriage is pursued within the group with their own members.

    Elements that define the majority group:

    1. Superior in the political arena.
    2. They have valued physical and/ or cultural traits.
    3. A lower sense of self-consciousness, not aware that they are not the common man.
    4. Membership is also by descent.
    5. Marriage usually occurs within the group.[7]

    These five major credentials for both groups allow for social and political separation to occur and flourish in the United States. Especially since the membership is based on descent and marriage tends to stay within the group. If these ideas and components are never to overcome the inequality between races will last for many years.


    From an anthropological perspective, ethnicity can be defined as a social classification used to create groups based on cultural features such as religion, language, dress, food, family, and art. Ethnicity is slightly separated from race because the ethnicity can be acquired, while race is largely based upon the biological and geographic characteristics of an individual of which they have little control. Thus, here where we can implement the importance and the difference in the anthropological terms Emic and Etic. Ethnicity develops as a result of the struggle between self-ascription (cultural insiders’ attempts to define their cultural identity) and other-ascription (cultural outsiders’ attempts to define the cultural identities of other groups) This struggle often forms new ethnic groups that are not the identical to earlier ethnic groups. [6]


    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Baptism of a child by affusion

    An individual's ascribed status can also be characterized through one's religion. People tend to identify with the religion that their family has chosen to follow. Certain religions assign specific social norms to the followers of the religion, these norms tend to, by design, differ from those of the rest of society. A family's religion has the potential to play a major role in the upbringing in their children's lives, therefore they have ascribed a specific religious status within the religious rite. Religion or lack of religion are both attributes of that ascribed status. Religion may be a factor of achieved status in certain situations as well. Some people find a religion that helps bring them to peace from a past life of hardship and difficulty. Undergoing baptism or even just being born into a family that follows a specific religion gives a child an ascribed status based on that religion. There are many different ways that people practice religion. In America, specifically, while it may be a country considered a "melting pot" of different cultures, ethnicities, and corresponding religions, Christianity is the predominant religion.

    In different societies, however, there are different religions and different religious leaders. Shamans, for example, are religious leaders that communicate the needs of the living with the spirit world, often with a specific authority in the spiritual world that has connected with that shaman, called a spirit familiar. Unlike in America, where the spiritual leader, often a pastor, is that religion's higher authority, a shaman is considered an individual that has a connection with the spirit world, and the spirit world is the way of effecting change.

    Some religions have a symbol that they worship, rather than a spiritual authority. Totemism is a system of thought associating particular social groups and leaders with specific animal or plant species. Further, with these symbols, comes animism and rituals. Much like totemism, animism is placing a spiritual authority on the surrounding physical environment, like trees and rivers. Rituals are performances regarding symbols that are associated with social, political, and religious activities. While rituals are present every day and in most cultures, it is most prevalent in societies that worship spiritual authorities rather than a specific religion.

    This page titled 11.3: Counterculture Groups is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

    • Was this article helpful?