The term counterculture refers to those cultural movements that are opposed to the dominant or hegemonic culture. As a rule, these movements directly or indirectly confront the established social order, which generates in them discontent, malaise, frustration, anger or resistance.
Counterculture groups oppose dominant social values through symbols or public actions. In this sense, they challenge the established norms within society through many resources. Such resources may include elements such as dress codes, verbal language, body language, lifestyle, artistic expressions, and political activities, among many others. The trends will depend on the type of motivation that motivates the groups, as they differ in their objectives. However, they have in common the rejection of cultural hegemony and the feeling of marginalization in the system.
Two senses can be recognized in the use of the term counterculture: a historical sense, where there is room for all the countercultural groups recognizable throughout history, and a sociological sense, which refers to the groups that have manifested themselves from the 1960s to the present with very particular characteristics.
Origins of Counterculture
The expression counterculture was coined by historian Theodore Roszak, who in 1968 published a book called The Birth of a Counterculture. In the book, Roszak reflects on the technocratic society and the mechanisms that then activated the youth sectors to confront it. Although it is clear that countercultural phenomena are older than this term, it makes sense that it was born in the context of the changes that occurred in the mid-20th century. In the mid-20th century, society began to be constituted as a mass and consumer society, leaving behind the still recent traditional order.
The mass media and the cultural industry, which reached its peak at that time, played a leading role in reconfiguring society and the modes of appropriation of information. The atmosphere of confrontation promoted by the Cold War and the Vietnam War also made a dent, generating great anxiety in the social environment. If we consider that everything that challenges the dominant culture is counter-cultural, we can include in the list the movement for civil rights in the United States, the movement for freedom of expression, feminism, environment, totalism and gay liberation, which appeared or became stronger in the 1960s. They are also joined by groups that rebelled against the dominant order and proposed other lifestyles, such as hippies, psychedelia and urban tribes.
Popular music, in fact, was also a counter-cultural phenomenon in the 1960s. Since then, other counter-cultural groups have emerged along with new realities. The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s generated such groups as well. We can mention punk, grunge, and many more.
Although counter-cultural movements appear as a reaction and alternative to the hegemonic society, some of them have not really managed to capitalize on a social transformation. For certain researchers, such as the Venezuelan writer Luis Britto García, countercultures are captured by the dominant order and transformed into consumer subcultures, which makes their power invisible or nullifies them and makes them part of what they oppose. The commodification of countercultural symbols would be proof of this, since these symbols, available in a commercial display cabinet, express nothing more than individual tastes and orientations, but do not move the foundations of society.