Black and white photo of female activists linking arms at a women's march, 1970

Photo of Women’s Rights March, 1970, taken by Diana Davies/International Film Circuit

Social movements have long played an integral part in our societies, forming as groups of people mobilize in opposition to ideologies and institutions in order to champion things such as gender equality. Social movements have often been met with disdain, such as the civil rights movements, because they may sometimes go against the mainstream ideals of their time. The people who take part in social movements are often marginalized or looking to protect a marginalized group. Arising on the fringes of society, social movements have a deviant aspect and are often hard to separate from subcultures. These movements can help create subcultures or often arise from subcultures, such as the Rock Against Racism movement that used punk rock in battling fascism. Therefore, social movements cannot be discussed without discussing subcultures and deviance. Considering both subcultures and deviance will allow for a closer examination of the overlaps between subcultures and social movements, while also discerning the differences.



Subcultures, Deviance, and Social Movements

Black and white photo of a packed audience at the opening ceremony of Woodstock

Opening Ceremony at Woodstock

In Subcultures: The Basics, Ross Haenfler defines subcultures as “relatively diffuse social networks that have shared identities, distinctive meanings around certain ideas, practices, and objects, and a sense of marginalization from or resistance to a perceived ‘conventional’ society” (2014:16). Subcultures form when marginalized people with shared interests come together looking for affirmation and a place to belong. They have no formal leadership or bureaucratic structure opposed to political parties or even educational systems which means that they rely on diffuse social networks to engage others in their lifestyles. In order to identify with a subculture, there must be a unique collective identity and meaning to that group, composed of certain values or qualities that individuals within a subculture deem as the most important. In addition, subcultures also build cultural capital through specialized vocabulary, distinct music, style, and behavior (Haenfler 2014:18). Having cultural capital strengthen their identities within their respective subcultures while at the same time demarcating them as different from mainstream society.

There are two distinct schools of thought on subcultural theory. In 1964, Richard Hoggart created the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), also known as the Birmingham School (Agger 1992). CCCS theorists believed that subcultures arise from the inopportunity of social mobility and the decreasing size of the working class. Additionally, the CCCS’ approach to their written theory allows for a broad definition of culture to include concepts such as nationality, ethnicity, and social class (Agger 1992). On the other hand, the Chicago School emphasizes the social aspect of the theory of deviance rather than taking an individual focus on criminal or psychological theory. Sociologist operating from this school of thought approached subcultural theory in an empirical rather than theoretical way, meaning that sociologists relied on ethnographic research. Based in the large, diverse urban center of Chicago, sociologist were easily able to study those who considered themselves outsiders such as gangs, the homeless, and youth (Gelder 2007: 27). They perceived deviance in society as a symptom of social problems. Through the application of multiple theories to discuss subcultures, it becomes evident that mainstream society labels subculture as a deviant problem.

Black and white picture of sociologist, Howard Becker sitting in front of a piano

Sociologist, Howard Becker, pictured from his website

Previously, many scholars have defined deviance in its simplest form as the “failure to obey group rules” (Becker 1963:20). However, Howard Becker, a major contributor to the sociology of deviance, adds another dimension to it. He introduces the idea of labeling theory, explaining that deviance occurs when one social group labels the other as different, causing them to experience an “outsider” status (Becker 1963:20). 

Becker lays the foundation for deviance and labeling theory for sociologists Patricia A. Adler and Peter Adler, who theorize that deviance arises when one group with greater social capital and influence has the power to label the lesser as deviant (Adler and Adler 2009:61). Becker concludes that deviance is a social construct created and perpetuated by the opposition of a dominant groups’ doxa and rules (1963:20Bourdieu 1977). Adler and Adler extend this notion of labeling theory to explain that dominant groups label others as deviant in order to normalize their ideologies and behaviors, thus legitimizing their own power (Adler and Adler 2009:70). 

The imbalance of power and the marginalization of different groups has led conflict theorists to argue that deviant subcultures emerge from conflict as a consequence of status frustration and blocked opportunities. For example, working class youth mobilize to create subcultural identities such as punks and skinheads, where they embrace the deviance of their class even as it is shunned in mainstream society.

Photo of Anonymous protestors in the streets with signs. Ex: Scientology is a Cult

Anonymous Protestors, 2008

Similar to subcultures, social movements come about when individuals mobilize under a shared ideology that has been formed in response to something in mainstream culture. However, social movements differ because their purpose is not to provide people with a space to express themselves but to “capture the attention of masses of people and have varying effects on their respective societies” (Kornblum 2012:216). In order to do this, social movements must have a way to draw people to their cause and join in. An identity that people recognize themselves to belong to is thus necessary to mobilize them and it can be created through the process of framing. Sociologists Francesca Polleta and James Jasper define framing as “the interpretive package that activists develop to mobilize potential adherents and constituents” making “clear the ‘identities’ of the contenders, distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘them'” which overlaps with the idea of collective identity found within subcultures (2001:291).

Framing can be done through activists recounting what they do within social movements to familiarize others with it, which can then help recruit them as they identify with the cause and are not as far removed from it. Framing can also be achieved through the way that social movements address certain issues. For example, there are certain movements that address political issues through an injustice frame, “that includes not only an ideological but also an emotional component of righteous anger and outrage that can be mobilized for political action”, which lets people involved know that their personal is political, creating an identity around that (Roberts and Moore 2009:30). As Ross Haenfler explains, “framing is also about the intentional use of language, imagery, and emotion to shape people’s interpretation of events – and thereby shape their interpretation of problems, motivate them to action, and suggest courses of action” (2017).

In “Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation” David Snow et al. go on to list a number of different tactics of framing that are frame bridging, frame amplification, frame extension and frame transformation (1986). Frame bridging is “the primary form of alignment” where social movement organizations reach out to communities who may share the same sentiments but have not mobilized (Snow et. al 1986:467). Frame amplification is when organizations attempt to pinpoint what values and beliefs possible constituents may have, and then amplifying them so that they are central to the social movement organization’s central identity (Snow et. al 1986:469). Frame extension is similar to frame amplification in that organizations attempt to extend the collective identity framework that they have to encompass prospective adherents (Snow et. al 1986:472). Finally, frame transformations occur when certain things must be reframed because the current frame is no longer compatible with the time (Snow et. al 1986:473).

Black and white photo of the Rock Against Racism March in Victoria Park, London

Rock Against Racism March, 1978

Using frames in order to recruit individuals to a cause and create a collective identity is reminiscent of subcultures. Frame transformation has occurred in the punk world over the years, with Dylan Clark going as far as to claim that “punk had to die so it could live” in his piece on “The Death and Life of Punk, The Last Subculture” (2003:223). There is an intersection between social movements and subcultures as they often use similar modes of resource mobilization and as stated previously, both arise from resistance to the mainstream. Some scholars go as far as to categorize the punk subculture as an expressive social movement, while others prefer to look at how subcultures can attach themselves or create social movements. Formed out of conflict and cultural resistance, subcultures often evolve into or join social movements because they have a collective identity shaped by their resistance that they can adapt to fit in with certain movements. For example, abstinence pledgers join the cause of the abstinence only education movement created by conservative Christian groups, vegan subculturists may join environmental movements, and working class subcultures may join movements against economic disparity . Just like subcultures, activists and protesters within social movements are inherently deviant in their resistance of social norms that allow for the pervasiveness of certain social issues, even if their deviance is less scrutinized because scholars consider social movements to be a normal function of society (Lindblom and Jacobson 2014:133).

With subcultures forming as a way for people to find a social network in which they are accepted, subcultures can provide priceless cultural capital in mobilizing and building movements because “social movements may be mobilized on the basis of social networks that are not explicitly political, such as friendship, family, and neighborhood” (Roberts and Moore 2009:25). Some examples include hippies and the free love movement, hackers and the free information movement, and punks with the antifascist movement.



Page Created By: Ala Akkad, Cara Bresnahan, and Natalie Niederman

Social Movements

Lifestyle Movement: Hippies

Colored poster for Woodstock music festival with a bird resting on the neck of a guitar. Large letters read 3 days of Peace & Music.

Woodstock Music Festival Poster

The 1960’s were filled with social justice efforts and many different social movements. There was the women’s rights movement, civil rights, labor, and the environmental movement. Hippies would be a largely recognized group that gained significant media attention (Kornblum 2012: 2001). They protested, they gathered, so they basically created a ruckus and became a “distinctive feature of a very colorful decade” (Pendergast and Pendergast 2005)  Hippies would be considered a counterculture rather than a subculture. A “counterculture seemed to fill a conceptual gap between social movement and subculture”(Haenfler 2014:18). The reason for this is because countercultures are normally more changed oriented and less focused than normal subcultural groups.

The Hippie Counterculture was not just a single movement but instead a collective of many different subcultural groups under a common defiance of mainstream society. One of the many groups was the New Left. The New Left was a group of people who believe America did not consider the needs of the common people. They urged youth, African Americans, and poor people to take political action and address these issues. Later in the 60’s almost all of those who identified as the New Left focused on the Anti-Vietnam movement also largely associated with Hippies (Pendergast and Pendergast 2005). The New Left is unlike Hippies in one key way. Hippies instead of encouraging others to take political action, wanted nothing to do with the government (Boggs 1995). They instead stood for the idea of peace, love, and pleasure and wanted a new society based on that.

Colored picture of hippies lounging on a decorated bus

Hippies lounging on a colorful bus featured in All That Is Interesting (Gen Fash)

As each social movement arises in opposition to the mainstream practices of its time, for Hippies, the time to act was created with a need to change society from one of material goods and competition to a society that focused on peace, love, pleasure. This happened through music and events such as Woodstock, which gathered 500,000 people. Woodstock was paramount to promoting Hippie values of peace, love, and pleasure. Though even before Hippies there were groups that influence and practiced many of the same values, as subcultures and social movements fall into a cycle of unrest over time. The group before Hippies were the Beatniks. The Beatniks were people who rejected ‘old fashioned society’ of the 1950’s and instead dressed in jeans, leather jackets, and smoked marijuana which was still illegal (Pendergast and Pendergast 2005).  This rejection of mainstream culture and embracing of values of deviant subculture lead the Beatniks to be the rebels of the 1950s. There can be changes seen between the Beatniks and Hippies, as the Beatniks prided themselves with the production of art and literature. The Hippies alternatively created “art” that was scattered and incoherent much like the hallucinations that produced the work itself. Thus, in turn, Hippies produced music to promote the ideas upon which they valued. The music created during this period is still listened to and regaled about today.  With a subculture before the Hippies, there is also a subculture that comes after them to continue the cycle of unrest.


Rock Against Racism: Antifascist Punks

Antifascism is a movement that opposes the far-right nationalistic sentiments of fascism. It has been around for a long time and grew in response to the fascist social movement. Much like other social movements and protests, the antifascist movement has arisen in cycles and waves of unrest across the globe.

Fascism arose post World War I in Italy as the National Fascist Party. Groups such as the Italian Anarchist Union formed in opposition, showing how some social movements can lead to the creation of others. The leftist movement then spread to other parts of Europe, before arriving in the United Kingdom. In 1976 music subcultures such as punk and reggae created the antifascist Rock Against Racism movement in the UK in response to racist remarks made by stars Eric Clapton and David Bowie, hoping to deter youth from embracing racism (Roberts and Moore 2009:25). At the time, the National Front had already formed so “while the need for a response to Clapton and Bowie may have been the most immediate catalyst for RAR’s formation, the movement was also shaped by a broader context of intense racial conflict throughout Britain during the mid-1970s” (Roberts and Moore 2009:25).

Pink and black star Rock Against Racism buttonFronted by bands such as The Clash, the movement was able to garner a large following, with over 100,000 people attending shows (Roberts and Moore 2009:26). In addition to mobilizing through music and concerts, they also created the fanzine Temporary Hoarding “that served as the central medium for communicating the movement’s ideas”, further adding to the ways that the collective identity was framed (Roberts and Moore 2009:26). As Roberts and Moore explain, part of the success of the Rock Against Racism was the ” ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic of independent media construction that was at the center of the punk movement [which] made it possible for punks to make connections to various other social movements as well as alter the dynamics of those social movements” (2009:21). They were able to tap into the antifascist movement and then employ the self expressive ways of their subculture to reach the youth culture that the Left may not have been able to do if left to their traditional devices. If we look back to the different methods of framing, we find that the Rock Against Racism movement performed frame transformation on the punk subculture by reframing “the meaning of punk so that its rebellious collective identity came to be seen as incompatible with racism” (Roberts and Moore 2009:31).


The Free Information Movement: Hackers

Anonymous protestor with a sign saying "the corrupt fear us. The honest support us. The heroic join up"Hackers are individuals who use their computer expertise to gain access to data and software. The general public perceives hackers as lone criminals with malicious intentions of causing anarchy and destruction due to a disregard of boundaries and authority. Contrary to popular belief, hackers do not exist in isolation rather in social groups, forming a hacker subculture (Coleman 2011: 512). Like most subculture participants seeking a place to belong, the hacker subculture developed as a way for the marginalized community of hackers to find a space where their interests are validated (Thomas 2002). Hacking began as a way to identify and modify flaws in the software of video games, and still exists today in that most hackers are benign hackers (often referred to as white-hats) seeking to improve systems such as video games of cybersecurity. However, with the help of the media, non-hackers twisted the intentions of early hackers to now classify them as unusual for their “addiction” to computers and lack of ethical concerns (Jordan and Taylor 1998:768). Their “addiction” and lack of concern lead the public to believe hackers show little regard to social norms and are therefore deviant. While all hackers do not inherently defy laws, the nature of hacking has always had a criminal, thus deviant, association due to the idea of changing or stealing information from others to share with the public.

Photo of Julian Assange

Julian Assange, Founder of Wikileaks

The current, popular notion of hackers identifies a faction of hackers known as crackers, with the intention of making all information accessible to the public without interference from authorities such as the government (Richet 2013:55). Anonymous and WikiLeaks emerged as organizations within the free information social movement, made up of crackers, whose goal is to combat the censorship and restriction of information at a macro level (McCarthy 2015:439).  The internet creates a multimodal space of resistance for these groups to allow for dissent and discussion. These groups of hackers are framed as especially deviant due to their opposition to large corporations and the government, thus, since they challenge the dominant social group, they are labeled deviant. Even though hacking sensitive information is highly illegal, hackers are still successful in mobilizing by forming strong collective identities and commitment to freedom of information (Jordan and Taylor 1998). Anonymous and WikiLeaks exists solely on the internet, thus the internet is instrumental in providing a method for easily distributing information and mobilizing potential supporters. Yet, hackers do not only take part in the free information movement, they enable other social movements to gain momentum by leaking confidential information.





Grateful Dead

Footage from the Grateful Dead’s performance at the Woodstock Festival that took place in the summer of 1969 on a dairy farm just outside of New York City.


Woodstock 3 Days of Peace and Music

A documentary from the Woodstock Festival, one of the largest events held at the time and a defining moment for countercultures and music history.


Rock Against Racism

The Clash

Footage from The Clash’s performance at a Rock Against Racism concert in Victoria Park in London, 1978.

Syd Shelton

Syd Shelton discusses the Rock Against Racism movement from his perspective as a photographer documenting the movement.

Free Information Movement


Trailer for a movie based on Edward Snowden, the whistleblower known for leaking classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).


A documentary by Anonymous, a network of activists and hackers from around the world committed to the freedom of information.



Becker, Howard. 1963. “Definition of Deviance” in Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Becker provides basic theories of deviance, most notably on labeling theory that suggests deviance is not an inherent trait, rather a social construction.


Gelder, K. 2007. Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gelder provide an content for Sociological Theory overview. Along with other information about subculture and deviance that was useful in creating the page.


Haenfler, Ross. 2014. Subcultures: The Basics. New York, NY: Routledge.

A great tailored source to what we learned in class and how it applied to the topic at hand. It was also easily accessible to the find topics like subcultural definitions, certain social movements, and deviance.


Kornblum, William. 2012. “Collective Behavior, Social Movements, and Mass Publics“, Sociology in a Changing World. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

This book provides a lot of background and theory on social movements especially from pages 213 and out. It classifies them and highlights key terms.


Lindblom, Jonas and Kerstin Jacobson. 2014. “A Deviance Perspective on Social Movements: The Case of Animal Rights Activism”, Deviant Behavior, 35, 133-151.

Lindblom and Jacobson thoroughly explain how protestors and social movements are considered deviant as they oppose the dominant social norms. They also discuss how activists and protesters are entrepreneurial deviants in that they aim to recreate norms.

Cover for the Outsiders by Howard Becker

Cover for Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practices by Ken Gelder

Book cover of Subcultures: The Basics by sociologist Ross Haenfler

Book Cover for Sociology in a Changing World by William Kornblum










Adler, Patricia A. and Peter Adler. 2009. “Theories of Deviance”, Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context and Interaction, Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomas Higher Education.


Agger, Ben. 1992. Cultural Studies as Critical Theory. New York, NY: Routledge.


Barrett, Dawson. 2013. “DIY Democracy: The Direct Action Politics of U.S. Punk Collectives”, American Studies, 52(2), 23-42.


Becker, Howard. 1963. “Definition of Deviance” in Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York, NY: The Free Press.


Boggs, Carl. 1995. “Rethinking the Sixties Legacy: From New Left to Social Movements“, Social Movements: Critiques, Concepts, Case-Studies, 331-355. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Clark, Dylan. 2003. “The Death and Life of Punk, The Last Subculture,”  The Post-Subcultures Reader, 223-236. 


Coleman, Gabriella. 2011. “Hacker Politics and Publics”, Public Culture, 23(3), 511-516.


Corte, Ugo and Bob Edwards. 2008. “White Power Music and the Mobilization of Racist Social Movements”, Music And Arts in Action, 1(1), 4-20.


Dawson, Ashley. 2005. “Love Music, Hate Racism”: The Cultural Politics of the Rock against Racism Campaigns, 1976-1981. Postmodern Culture, 16(1).


Gelder, K. 2007. Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.


Haenfler, Ross. 2014. Subcultures: The Basics. New York, NY: Routledge.


Jordan, Tim and Paul Taylor. 1998. “A sociology of hackers”, The Sociological Review, 757-780.


Kornblum, William. 2012. Sociology in a Changing World. Australia. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


Lindblom, Jonas and Kerstin Jacobson. 2014. “A Deviance Perspective on Social Movements: The Case of Animal Rights Activism”, Deviant Behavior, 35, 133-151.


McCarthy, Matthew T. 2015. “Toward a Free Information Movement”, Sociological Forum, 30(20), 439-458.


Pendergast, S. & T. Pendergast. 2005. “Sixties Counterculture: The Hippies and Beyond”. The Sixties in America Reference Library (Vol. 1, pp. 151-171). Detroit: UXL.


Polletta Francesca, and James M. Jasper. 2001. “Collective Identity and Social Movements“, Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 283-305.


Richet, Jean L. 2013. “From Young Hackers to Crackers.” International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction 9(3):53-62. 


Roberts, Michael J. and Ryan Moore. 2009. “Peace Punks and Punks Against Racism: Resource Mobilization and Frame Construction in the Punk Movement”, Music And Arts in Action, 2(1), 21-36.


Snow, David A., E. Burke Rochford, Jr., Steven K. Worden and Robert D. Benford. 1986. “Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation”, American Sociological Review, 51(4).


Thomas, Douglas. 2002. Hacker Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.