Cultures, Subcultures, and Countercultures

Summary of Video #11 of Crash Course Sociology.

Cultures can be categorised in several ways:

  • High culture refers to cultural patterns that distinguish a society’s elite.
  • Low or popular culture refers to the cultural behaviours and ideas that are popular with most people in society.
  • Mainstream culture refer to the cultural patterns that are broadly in line with a society’s cultural ideals and values.
  • Subcultures are cultural patterns that set apart a segment of a society’s population.
  • Counter-cultures push back on mainstream culture in an attempt to change how a society functions.

Typically, cultural groups with the most power and societal influence get labelled the norm, while people with less power get relegated to sub-groups. Counter-culture are a cause of cultural change, but cultures can also through the invention of new things or ideas, or through cultural diffusion.

We can judge cultures through the lens of ethnocentrism (i.e. judging one culture by the standards of another) or multiculturalism (i.e. recognises cultural diversity while advocating for equal standard for all cultural traditions).


Structural functionalists say that cultures form to provide order and cohesiveness in society, while conflict theorist might see interactions of sub-cultures as creating social inequalities and disenfranchise.


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