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27 June 2007

So, what is counter culture anyway?

The term 'counter culture' was coined by Theodore Roszac in 1968. Roszac used the term to refer to those western left-leaning youths and a few of their older mentors who challenged what he saw as the Technocracy (as Roszac defined it: 'that social form in which an industrial society reaches the peak of its organizational integration'). Roszac noted that, unlike previous revolutionary movements, the counter culture operated during a time of plenty (between 1942 and 1972), as opposed to the times of dearth more commonly associated with revolutionaries - such as the sans culottes of the French Revolution. Roszac also associated the movement with the middle-class youth, those best equipped to challenge the political status quo from a position of relative economic security. These leftist youths of the 'middling sort' eschewed traditional methods of resistance, which would only have co-opted them into the Technocracy, but rather offered an alternative communal lifestyle where every act could be an act of resistance.

My usage of the term 'counter culture' is much wider. I use it to refer to any movement which promotes a lifestyle that is a direct challenge to the socio-political norms. This usage allows me to include movements and groups that emerged in a variety of societies and economic conditions, such as the Diggers during the British Republic. What makes a counter culture, as far as I am concerned, is the choice of lifestyle as resistance; a lifestyle which is independent of the wider politics of the day.

Sources: T. Roszac, The Making Of A Counter Culture (1995 edition) [pdf]


Ian Thal said...

I found Roszak's work fascinating when I came upon it on recommendation by an older friend. Did anyone ever do anything resembling a follow-up of similar depth of analysis on the counter-culture of the 1970s and '80s?

Unknown said...


I don't know about general surveys but there have been analyses of various specific subcultures of the 70s and 80s like Jon Savage's seminal England's Dreaming about the punk rock scene.

If you do find any general works on the subject please feel free to share them with the readers here by adding a comment.


Ian Thal said...

I've seen some good works that analyze the punk-rock scene like Steve Blush's American Hardcore: A Tribal History which is something of an oral history-- that certainly shows how a scene developed and operated independently of the commercial music world-- and also Mark Andersen's and Mark Jenkin's Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital which discusses quite in depth the interface between politics and music in Washington, D.C. but neither quite go onto the level of analysis we see in Roszak's work (which is indebted heavily to the thought of the Frankfort School.) Anderson & Jenkins come closer than Blush does, but ultimately they are all writing for fans of the music.

Of course, punk music isn't the only counter-cultural phenomenon that came after Roszak's book.

Unknown said...


Absolutely. Savage's book was just the first that sprang to mind. I have seen books on skinheads, ravers and goths on the Cultural Studies shelves in the library at my university.

If I remember, I will browse through the books there to see if there is something along the lines of Roszak's work.