Cultural Subsets: High Culture, Popular Culture, Subculture, Counterculture & Multiculturalism

Cultural Subsets: High Culture, Popular Culture, Subculture, Counterculture & Multiculturalism
Coming up next: Perceptions of Culture: Ideal Culture and Real Culture, Ethnocentrism, & Culture Relativism

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  • 0:05 Cultural Subsets
  • 0:45 Subcultures
  • 1:27 High Culture vs.…
  • 2:50 Multiculturalism
  • 3:56 Counterculture
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
In this lesson, we identify several categories of cultures that can exist within a large culture. We define and discuss subcultures, high culture versus popular culture, and countercultures. We also discuss the view of multiculturalism in the U.S.

Cultural Subsets

There are many, many different cultures throughout the world. Interestingly, we are all typically part of several cultures at the same time. For example, someone who lives in the U.S. could be part of the national culture, in addition to the distinct culture of the South, a religious community, a heritage group and more. In this lesson, we are going to focus on identifying different subsets or categories of cultures that can exist within a larger one and also discuss how these subsets are viewed.


First, it's important to understand the concept of a subculture. A subculture is a unique culture shared by a smaller group of people who are also a part of a larger culture. A larger culture often contains many subcultures, and an individual can be part of several of them. Each subculture has distinct norms and customs that aren't a part of the broader culture in which it is enveloped. Think of the Amish, or bikers, or hippies, or Whovians. Each of these groups has unique cultures, yet they all exist within the broad culture of the United States.

High Culture vs. Popular Culture

There are so many subcultures in America that it would be extremely difficult to identify all of them. And, though some subcultures are basically like an open group that anyone could join, others are only available to some members of a society. For example, the term high culture is used to describe a subculture shared by the elite in a society. In fact, many associate the word 'culture' with high culture - someone who attends the ballet and collects museum-quality artwork is often considered 'cultured.'

High culture isn't considered to be better by sociologists - just interestingly different from popular culture, which is the dominant subculture shared by the majority of a society's population. The elements of popular culture have mass accessibility and appeal. For example, high culture includes expensive restaurants that serve caviar and play classical music. This isn't typically appealing to the bulk of citizens in the U.S. On the other hand, popular culture includes cheap fast-food restaurants that serve hamburgers and play top 40 pop music. These restaurants are so appealing that they are everywhere you look.


Of course, our entire country does not consist only of high culture and popular culture. It's well known that we have immigrants from many countries who bring their culture with them and make our population quite diverse. Have you ever heard that America is like a melting pot? It could be said that our national culture is a blend of many cultures. They are like soup ingredients that, once mixed together, contribute to the whole and are difficult to separate from each other.

Yet, multiculturalism, which is the view that cultural differences should be respected and celebrated, is on the rise in the U.S. In contrast to the melting pot metaphor, multiculturalism promotes diversity through the recognition and continued celebration of separate cultures that co-exist peacefully. Rather than creating one culture from aspects of other cultures, multiculturalism focuses on the preservation of separated individual cultural traditions and customs.

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