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Kelly Cowan
POLS 321

Interactions among Subcultures


Introduction
No single nation is homogenous in culture. Every society has differing populations of
race, religion, and age that yield variance in culture. The United States is no different as it has a
highly heterogeneous culture. The state is divided in varying age cohorts, ideologies, and
political groups1. It is the nature of the U.S., which protects the rights of expression and free
religion, to practice such diverse beliefs and cultures. The result is a society that is composed of
many subcultures, Subcultures are subdivisions within dominant culture with their own norms,
values, and beliefs2. Feminism, the social and political movement dedicated to the equality of
men and women, is an example of such a subculture. Feminism is a haven for beliefs that oppose
the primary culture and seek social progression.
Many feminists speak of the prevailing culture that favors men. It was Bell Hooks that
eloquently categorized this culture as the patriarchy which is the political social system that

Gary Allen Fine and Sherryl Kleinman. "Rethinking Subculture: An Interactionist


Analysis." American Journal of Sociology 85.1 (1979): 1-20, accessed 22 April 2016.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778065
2

Liwei Zhu. "Woman Subculture Development Seen from Woman Language." Journal of
Language Teaching and Research JLTR 2.3 (2011): 5-30, accessed 22 Apr. 2016.
doi:10.4304/jltr.2.3.613-617

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insists that males are inherently dominating via socialization and gender roles3 as indicated by
numerous inequalities such as wage gap, gender-based violence, and so much more. Feminism
acts as a counterculture as it strives for equality through the deconstruction of the patriarchy.
These efforts threaten pre-existing establishments and normative thinking, such as gender roles
and existing power structures in business and politics.
The presence of sub societies are integral to understanding the operation of our culture.
This study focuses on the local culture on campus of California Polytechnic State University and
its subculture. There is a feminist counterculture on campus known on Triota. This organization
is important to understand the nature of the campus culture and how such groups interact. This
study looks at the interactions among counter and dominant culture and through what means.
Research Question
How does identifying with the feminist counterculture on campus impact the interactions
of its members with mainstream culture?
Hypothesis
H0: Feminism has no impact on interactions with mainstream culture.
H1: Individuals that identity as feminist (and with Triota) will choose to engage in
behaviors to preserve their ideals via advocacy and selective interaction.
Literature Review
Modern modes of communication are evolving can be seen in subcultures. There is
debate as to what the impact of this change is in the interactions and behaviors of subcultures.

Bell Hooks. Understanding Patriarchy Louisville Anarchist Federation. 1-5, accessed


May 29 2016. http://imaginenoborders.org/pdf/zines/UnderstandingPatriarchy.pdf
3

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Kahn and Kellner propose that the greater democratization of values and information is
ultimately changing relations among cultures, moving away from individual interactions4.
Contemporary subcultures, or post-subculture generation, are attempting to amend dominant
codes and thoughts through global media5. Other studies support the belief that this new media
and growing political polarization is actually having an isolative affect6. Subcultures are
becoming adversely unique in their ideals and jargon that they have become isolated from the
primary society, and that they can even alienate others7, as seen with radical feminist groups that
receive great backlash. There is also researchers who refute this commonly held belief and claim
that subcultures are emerging from isolation and are becoming less concerned with cultural
identities and therefore better connecting with other subcultures and the dominant culture8.
Despite the degree to which subculture interactions are changing, subcultures still
maintain their original purpose. Phil Cohen was vital in coining subcultures and stated that their
resolve in formation was in response to primary culture, that they pose a solution to a collective

Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner, "Oppositional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/
Reconstructive Approach." Cultural Politics: An International Journal 1.1 (2005): 75-100,
accessed 10 May 2016. https://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/oppositionalpolitic
stechnology.pdf
5

Kahn and Kellner, "Oppositional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/ Reconstructive
Approach, 79.
John D. Massengale, Coaching as an Occupational Subculture, Phi Delta Kappa
International 56.2 (1974): 140-145, accessed May 5, 2016.
6

Massengale, Coaching as an Occupational Subculture, 142.

Chijioke J. Nwalozie, Rethinking Subculture and Subculture Theory in the Study of


Youth Crime, Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology 7.16 (2015): 1-16, accessed
June 1, 2016. http://www.jtpcrim.org/January-2015/Rethinking-subculture.pdf
8

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problem9. Thus their objective is to counter to the mainstream society as they combat normative
behavior and express their own marginal thought10. Essentially, their interactions with
predominant society are to further their own ideals or oppose primary culture. This is seen within
feminism organizations that seek to progress women.
Those that identify as feminist experience a different reality than non-feminists. Pearl
Green The Feminist Consciousness stated that becoming feminism leads to a transformation of
consciousness11. Many researchers believe that the feminist ideology results in greater awareness
of gender issues but Green argues that feminism alters an individual's experiences and life. This
is because subcultures are more likely to incorporate their core beliefs into daily life; similar to a
religion where education and socialization patterns occur12. To support, Grossberg attributes a
subculture to be a powerful social influencer for those involved by creating a sense of purpose
and identity13. This leads to subjective interpretations and perceptions of daily life that differs
from the mainstream society which lacks the same cognizance.

John A. ODonnell, The Rise and Fall of a Subculture, Oxford University Press 15.1
(1967): 73-84, accessed June 6, 2016. Doi: 10.2307/798871
9

Nwalozie, Rethinking Subculture and Subculture Theory in the Study of Youth


Crime,4
11
Pearl Green, The Feminist Consciousness, The Sociological Quarterly 20.3 (1979):
359-74, accessed April 2016. Doi: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.1979.tb01221.x
10

12

13

Green, The Feminist Consciousness, 370

Grossberg, Lawrence. "Some preliminary conjunctural thoughts on counterculture,"


Journal of Gender and Power 1.1 (2014.): 13-23, accessed May 25, 2016

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Subcultures function both in and out of society14. They are a part of larger society but
hold values that differ or even oppose, making it difficult to interact with the dominant culture.
Their interactions with dominant culture depend on their status within society. While some
choose to interact and attempt to educate, other try to distinguish themselves from mainstream
society. However, all subcultures have a common denominator that their ideals are the primary
agent of their core values and prompts the seeking and joining a subculture15.
Research Design
Variables
The purpose of this study is to observe the interactions of an on-campus subculture,
Triota, with the dominant culture. The behavior of Triota members in regard to the dominant
cultures will be studied. The interactions, including both on the individual and organizational
level, will be observed via personal interviews and observing of Triotas functions. The study
will also look at the impact of the feminist ideals in these interactions by gauging the importance
of the ideals in the individuals lives. Belonging to the subculture emerges with the incorporation
of feminist ideals in personal lives, as well as the identification with Triota. Ideals are
measured by the presence of common principles of gender equity including equal opportunity,
pro-choice/reproductive rights, pro LGBTQ+. Ideals are measured as present based on the
individual identification, rather than on a spectrum of feminism/radicalism. Interactions are
indicated by the engagement in activities to raise awareness or advocate ideals, including events,
dialogues, discussions, or personal actions. They will be measured by personal accounts or

Nwalozie, Rethinking Subculture and Subculture Theory in the Study of Youth


Crime,10
14

15

ODonnell, The Rise and Fall of a Subculture, 80.

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ratings of interactions by members of Triota as well as observed interactions, including verbal
and nonverbal communication, among the cultures in events.
The independent variable is the ideals of an individual whereas the dependent variable is
interactions. The study is looking as the associative relationship between ideals of counterculture
and consequential interactions with the predominant culture. The control variables include
personal prejudice of the individuals being studied with members of the predominant culture.
Methodology
The study is looking as the associative relationship between ideals of counterculture and
consequential interactions with the predominant culture. First, the ideals and presence of
feminism needs to be measured within the counterculture. Then these ideals will be used to
assess the interactions with the main culture. The primary mode of collecting data will be
through interviews and observations of individuals who identify as feminists or are members of
campus organization. These questions will be geared towards understanding their ideals and the
role those play in their lives. Interactions with the community, primarily via events and outreach
with other clubs, will be observed. This will serve as research for the interactions with other
cultures.
Questions include:

What feminist ideals are most significant to you?

Do you incorporate feminist ideals into daily life? If so, how?

What role do these ideals play in your shaping your belief system or how you think?

In what ways do you act differently with individuals that share your ideals versus those
who do not?

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Do you interact with individuals of the dominant culture? Are you comfortable in those
interactions?

Events organized by Triota also provide valuable insight in the communitys interactions
with the campus. These events serve as an interaction or attempt to educate the predominant
culture to challenge their normative beliefs that oppose that of the counterculture. I will observe
the feminist ideals addressed, as well as the purpose and mode of interaction with the campus
community.
Analysis
Before analyzing the results, it is significant to highlight some findings. 12 interviews
were conducted of members of Triota, as well as the observation of five of their events over a
three week period. Each interview and event pertained to Triota and their core beliefs of enacting
social change. When asked to reflect on their interactions with the different cultures on campus,
they were insightful. 100% of respondents identified as feminist and cited feminist ideals as
integral to their core belief system. There were varying ideals to which were weighted as most
important spanning from reformation of LGBT issues to job discrimination, all of which were
considered to be issues relevant to feminism.
From the findings, it was discovered that Triota operates in response to the dominant
culture, much like any other subculture, and attract analogous individuals. On another survey
open to the student body, only 50% or respondents identify with feminist values and only 35%
label themselves as feminists. This suggests that the Triota subculture differs in its ideals and
vocabulary from the mainstream campus culture. It is reasonable, then, that about 80% of the
Triota members partake in advocacy or activism on campus both in and outside the club. The

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formation of Triota was in response to the weak feminist community on campus and now allows
for a community to gather and conduct feminist dialogue. Ultimately it is their beliefs that are
centrifugal to their belief system of which they act on. It prompts their behavior, including who
they recognize as their community and friends to be as well as interactions with other cultures.
The group isolates itself from the dominant culture. Of the interviews, 90% of the
members primarily or exclusively interacted with people of similar mindsets. About 80% of
interviewees stated that they were more comfortable around similar individuals whereas 50%
claimed to be uncomfortable in groups or around individuals that they perceived to be outside the
realm of their subculture.
When the majority does interact with the dominant culture, primarily via their events, it is
tailored to the subculture. This supports the hypothesis which states that Triota members engage
in selective interaction. Because they are immersed in a community that recognizes and
preserves their ideals, all but 10% choose to voluntarily interact substantially with students
outside their subculture.
When asked the leading reasons for interacting with people outside the subculture, the
main responses were to educate/advocate and school. The dominant culture is interacted with via
events and (voluntarily and involuntarily) in class. This suggests that the primary mode of
interaction with the main culture is done on the organizational level rather than the individual
level. This is presumably due to comfort levels as 80 % are more comfortable in their subculture.
The following section of the research was observation of Triotas events, both their
meetings and open events. The events purpose are to interact with the dominant culture and
educate via dialogue or information. The events were based around feminist themes, such as

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gender roles and sexual assault. The meetings were utilized to interact among the community and
discuss issues on campus. These meetings highlighted the discrepancy in ideals with the
dominant culture as the discussion usually focused combatting a campus issue. The entire
motivation of Triota is to respond to the campus culture and provide a community for liked
minded individuals. However, the attendees of the events tended to be members of the
community, despite the objective being to engage the campus. In one event, Donuts and
Dialogue, about 45 individuals were in attendance. Of those 45 people, only 11 were not
involved in the club and only 6 where completely unaffiliated with the club (no friends in the
club). This indicates little contact with the larger campus community.
In a separate event, Manifest, more individuals not associated with the club attended for
class credit. Unfamiliar individuals yielded a change the atmosphere of the event. It transformed
from an open-dialogue to a more informative presentation where there was less exchanging of
ideas or questions being asked. This was due to the perceived sentiment that the new attendees
opposed or were ignorant to feminist ideals. In an interview following the event, a member
expressed that this modification in tone is due to an uncertainty of how the attendees would react
to the event; and so the presenters become more reserved and alert rather than easy-going and
humorous.
Ultimately this selective behavior creates an exclusive effect for the subculture. While its
primary purpose is to improve campus culture, the club is not successful. Its events are largely
for the benefit of the club to provide spaces to gather and connect. This was made evident by the
nature of the exclusive meetings and their events. When they allowed in outsiders, the tone
completely changed. Not many members actually interacted with the perceived individuals of the

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mainstream society, but rather presented to them. Their main mode of interaction with the
dominant culture, being the events, were not successful.
Moreover, Triota has garnered recognition for itself on campus. This is in part due to its
exclusive quality and in part due to the lack of interest on campus as 50% of survey respondents
claimed to disagree or be disinterested in feminist rhetoric. Because Triota is a niche subculture,
it has not gotten itself out there much. In a separate survey, only about 25% of the school has
heard of Triota.
The findings support the hypothesis. Feminist ideals are integral to individuals lives.
65% of interviewees claim that feminism is the leading ideology in their life. This causes
feminists to seek out similar individuals for comfort and a sense of belonging. Once in this
comfort, their ideals are recognized and appreciated. They proved to be not only be selective in
their behavior, but exclusive by choosing to mainly interact with themselves. Furthermore, Triota
does not interact much on individual level with the predominant culture (i.e. not many friends are
from that culture). Interaction generally occur on the organizational level via events and in the
groups.
Conclusion
This study found that the Triota community, a feminist subculture on campus, engages in
behavior that preserves its ideals. The predominant culture on campus does not identify with
feminist values and so feminists have organized into a subculture. Ultimately their goal is to
educate and advocate. However due to their own comfort and ideals, they rarely interact with the
dominant culture. Their primary mode of interaction is on the organizational level via events.
Due to lack of notoriety and interest on campus, their events remain mainly Triota attended.

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Thus, Triota serves as a community for likeminded individuals to socialize and belong where
interaction and advocacy to the dominant culture remains peripheral.
The tendencies of subcultures are important to study. Understanding factions of society
can help us understand how our society operates and how different groups, interact whether they
are racial communities, religions, or subcultures. It can also give greater insight on the climate of
the campus and the desires of students. Future studies can look at why it is that Triota members
feel uncomfortable with the dominant culture, or can compare it to other college campuses and
access why Cal Poly has a smaller percentage of subculture or activist communities.

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References

ODonnell, John. The Rise and Fall of a Subculture, Oxford University Press 15.1 (1967): 7384, accessed June 6, 2016. Doi: 10.2307/798871
Fine, Gary Alan, and Sherryl Kleinman. "Rethinking Subculture: An Interactionist
Analysis." American Journal of Sociology 85.1 (1979): 1-20. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778065
Green, Pearl. "The Feminist Consciousness." The Sociological Quarterly 20.3 (1979): 35974. Accessed, 25 Apr. 2016. Doi: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.1979.tb01221.x
Grossberg, Lawrence. "Some preliminary conjunctural thoughts on counterculture," Journal of
Gender and Power 1.1 (2014.): 13-23, accessed May 25, 2016,
http://www.springerin.at/dyn/heft_text.php?textid=2366&lang=en
Hooks, Bell Understanding Patriarchy Louisville Anarchist Federation. 1-5, accessed May 29
2016. http://imaginenoborders.org/pdf/zines/UnderstandingPatriarchy.pdf
Kahn, Richard, and Douglas Kellner. "Oppositional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/
Reconstructive Approach." Cultural Politics: An International Journal 1.1 (2005): 75100. Berg. Web. 10 May 2016.
Massengale, Gale Coaching as an Occupational Subculture, Phi Delta Kappa International
56.2 (1974): 140-145, accessed May 5, 2016.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/20297823?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Nwalozie, Chijioke. Rethinking Subculture and Subculture Theory in the Study of Youth
Crime, Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology 7.16 (2015): 1-16, accessed
June 1, 2016. http://www.jtpcrim.org/January-2015/Rethinking-subculture.pdf

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Zhu, Liwei. "Woman Subculture Development Seen from Woman Language." Journal of
Language Teaching and Research JLTR 2.3 (2011): 5-30, accessed 22 Apr. 2016.
doi:10.4304/jltr.2.3.613-617