Counterculture Essay

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Similar in meaning to the more inclusive term ”subculture, counterculture designates a group whose norms, values, symbolic references, and styles of life deviate from those of the dominant culture. Indeed, sociological commentary on the counterculture of the 1960s is so deeply informed by the rubric of subculture as to render the terms inseparable in many respects. Yet while subculture is the generic term typically applied to a range of such groups, from post war British youth cultures to inner-city African American youth cultures, counterculture is typically invoked with specific reference to the youth movements that swept American and Western European societies in the late to mid-1970s. First introduced by Roszak (1968), the term came to refer to a diffuse movement of students, youth, and other marginalia whose mobilizing strategies rejected that of traditional social movements, and appealed to diffuse concepts of anti-technological sentiment to achieve spontaneous and widespread reforms. It had an alternative strategy of political agitation to that of other subcultures.

The appeal was more to a presumed mentalist, spiritual, and lifestyle development which, members of the counterculture argued, would serve as a basis for overturning hierarchical structures implicit within advanced technological societies.

The counterculture of the 1960s is typically traced to early reactions to the conformity and mediocrity associated with the years of the postwar economic expansion. Beatniks and others drew on African American expressive traditions to fashion a vanguard sensibility in music, drugs, philosophy, literature, and poetry. Amid accelerating popular opposition to the war in Vietnam and an emerging student left, together with the growth of hippie enclaves and the increasing thematization of drug experiences in music, film, and media, a distinctly oppositional culture formed around what was termed a new ”consciousness.” Rejecting not only the values of the mainstream middle class from which it emerged, but also the class-based political traditions of an older generation of leftist opposition, the counterculture advocated an immediate and practical approach to social reform, beginning with the individual reform of personal relationships and daily habits, and the adoption of utopian egalitarianism in one s everyday style of life.


  1. Brooks, D. (2000) Bobo’s in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. Simon & Schuster, New York.
  2. Roszak, T. (1968) The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

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