Category Archives: Dominant Ideology

Relative Poverty

Relativity, by definition, is when one thing is dependent in relation to something else. So in layman’s terms, an example would be that pain is relative. If I drop a stone on my hand it may hurt me more than if someone else dropped the same stone on them; so how does this relate to sociology? This affects about 46 million United State citizens currently according to official calculations. Any clue yet?  Well, I will begin by explaining what poverty is. Poverty is often defined as the base line which is the bare minimum for someone to survive on. This is referred as the “absolute poverty.” For someone to be classified as in poverty, by the definition of absolute poverty, they would have to be unable to afford clothing, shelter, and food. Whereas “relative poverty” is a comparative standard by which someone’s lifestyle is considered to be in poverty in comparison to that of the majority. An example would be someone who does not own a TV. and a car, yet can afford to stay fed and clothed with a roof over their head. Relative Poverty often shifts and changes due to the times, whereas absolute poverty stays almost the same. The power of relativity associated with poverty is fueled and manifested through our media/marketing dense culture.

Take The United States for example (as I am from here), we have a culture where what you have plays a large part in how others interact with you. This relates to the idea of face work, where effort is put into maintaining a proper image to avoid public scrutiny. You may ask how this is associated with relative poverty. Well I will share a story in this blog to explain the connection, which will begin with a close friend of mine who lost his job. While he lost his job his wife still worked however, they suffered financially, struggling to pay the bills. Let’s call my friend Bill.  Bill shared how at the time he was so self-conscious about his friends and family knowing his status, that he created a story, using “face work” so that none of his friends and family knew until years later. I felt this was a very important piece to share about relative poverty because even though they still had clothes on their back, and food on the table, Bill felt he needed to present to the world that he was still working and nothing was going wrong. Face work is at times a factor in people suffering from relative poverty, especially if they moved down the socioeconomic ladder. For example, having lost your job, you still dressed up and left as if you were heading to work, even though you were no longer working.

As I mentioned before, absolute poverty is the base line that no family should live below. Although Bill’s wife was able to work full-time and still earned more than a majority of the world’s population, they still were suffering from poverty compared to the standards within their community. He was an owner of a contracting firm and lost his business during 2008-2009, at the same time they continued to live in an upper-middle class neighborhood. So, while Bill and his family would be considered poor, they did not suffer like many others do globally. Many nations, sometimes referred to as less industrialized nations, suffer from widespread absolute poverty. An example would be someone who is below absolute poverty would not have enough to meet even the basic needs.

I believe dominant ideology, which is the set of cultural beliefs and practices that legitimates existing powerful social, economic, and political interests, plays a role in relative poverty. Because, once there is a set of ways that are deemed superior, people will try to aspire to that and place people either in it or out. From his family or friends, Bill was taught that it is weak for a family man to fall to his knees and lose a business. This concept connects to relative poverty because in many developed countries like the United States what we perceive as poverty is largely linked to the dominant ideology. Bill perceived that not having a male income is “bad”, and that by cutting his expenses his peers would look down on him.  This is all based on how the media portrays those who are financially restricted.

Some of the problems associated with face work is that people like Bill have to present themselves as if their life hasn’t been altered. Bill should have had faith in his peers and family to support him and get him back on his feet, but to do so would mean he’d have to disclose his job loss. We have detached from communalism, where no one helps one another. Absolute poverty is a world issue, and we could increase international efforts by sending more aid and education to help pull those who live on a dollar a day to higher paying jobs.  Finally we need to shift our perception about lower income lifestyles so that people do not get caught up and unable to move out of poverty.

Relative poverty really is a made up idea within society; we have the ability as a society to alter what is considered poverty. We can start by increasing programs to offer to people to get out of poverty. We can also bring awareness and understanding to what poverty is so that people like Bill, even after losing his job, can get support. Below is a link to a video relating to this topic that I find to be of great interest!

— Ian



In today’s social structure, it is almost everyone’s goal to “fit in”. However it is becoming less rare to have large groups of people choosing to not fit into the dominant group. As a result of people’s different interests, beliefs, and goals there are a variety of different groups that people typically identify with such as sports fans, the party crowd, computer nerds, academic nerds, preps, video gamers, and even hipsters. Individuals tend to choose a group and conform to their values and norms. Norms are considered an established standard of behavior maintained by a society, where values are a collective conception of what is considered good, desirable, and proper or the opposite like bad, undesirable, and improper in a culture(Witt,57,59). The mass majority of people’s cultural beliefs and practices along with values and norms help create the dominant ideology(Witt,62). This mainstream ideology legitimates existing powerful social, economic, and political interests. However in the United states we have a difficult time identifying a singular and inclusive dominant core culture. We have a lot of cultural variation between the subgroups in our society because many people are not able to connect or agree with dominant ideology. Sometimes members of our society completely oppose almost every single value and norm of the mainstream group, and this is where countercultural groups find their members, from the outcasts or objectors of the dominant ideology.

Subcultures are an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society (Subculture,1).  These subgroups within a culture typically share some values and norms with the dominant ideology. Subcultures are closely similar to countercultures, however countercultures deliberately opposes certain aspects of the core culture (Witt, 65). It can be very challenging to distinguish a group as a subculture or a counterculture, I personally decide the difference based on if they coexist with the dominant culture or not. If the group coexists peacefully with the dominant culture I would consider the group a subculture and if the group does not want to be involved with the dominant culture I would them consider the group a counterculture. People of countercultures often fight to affect some kind of essential change to mainstream culture. Some clear and obvious examples within the last century include feminists, hippies, and punk movements. They all tested the dominate culture to break down previous norms and values that the countercultures did not agree with.

A very small counterculture arising in my hometown is a group that is refereed to as “The furries”. In a larger, more commonly known group they would be considered Therians. A therian is a member of a contemporary subculture of therianthropy, which is based upon a spiritual or psychological identification and relationship with animals and sometimes they believe themselves to be actual animals trapped inside a human body. The furries all believe themselves to literally be wolves. Therians normally try to follow the animal interactions, such as the furries creating a hierarchy of order, such as ‘Alpha Wolves’ and also howling at the moon. They also believe in openness about their sexuality, their animal instincts, and as a cause are normally very sexual in general. The furries typically refuse to talk to other people outside their culture group, and disobey authority figures every chance possible and this is why I would consider them a counterculture.

The subculture I think everyone notices taking over currently is the hipster culture. There is even a television series based on this subculture called Portlandia, centered in Portland, Oregon, the Hipster Capitol. Hipster refers to a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream, fashion sensibility, liberal or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism or agnosticism, and alternative lifestyles (hipster,1). Hipsters mesh well in most cases with the dominant group because they follow music and fashion trends. The group has become so accepted that lots of their adopted trends are extremely popular and readily available in retail stores. Because they coexist with and accept some dominant ideology’s norms and values, I would consider them a subculture.

The problems we are faced with as a result of countercultures in our society is a lack of harmony between groups and extreme forms of countercultures can be dangerous to society.  The dominant ideology needs to be accepting of being disagreed with, because it is only natural to have a few people with opposing view points. When there is a counterculture of people who want to create tension between themselves and the dominate group it creates a negative atmosphere. The only solution to get rid of the tension between the two culture groups is to agree to disagree and be tolerant of one another. Extreme forms of counterculture in the past include groups such as the Klu Klux Klan. This counterculture was derived from hate ideologies and made the group extremely toxic to society. It is important for the government to keep restrictions on these dangerous counterculture groups to keep society safe.

There is no possible way to rid our society of countercultures, nor should we all wish for that. Countercultures provide us with a variety of types of people and scenes to explore and find new aspects of ourselves within them. Everyone is different, some more then others and that should be okay.


Works Cited

Haddow, Douglas. “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization | Adbusters Culturejammer            Headquarters.” Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters | Journal of the mental      environment. The Big Ideas of 2013, 29 July 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.            <;.

“Hipster (contemporary subculture) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free   encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.         <;.

“Subculture – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary     and Thesaurus – Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.         <;.

Witt, Jon. SOC. 2012 ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 20122011. Print.


Jon Witt defines a dominant ideology as “a set of cultural beliefs and practices that legitimates existing powerful social, economic, and political interests” (SOC 2012, 62). It is often thought of in contrast to the smaller subcultures and counter-cultures that exist within them. A dominant culture generally will be a body that assimilates the smaller cultures around it, taking in little bits of the surrounding cultures, but making the adherents of the other cultures lose their former cultural identities. It affects every aspect of human life: social issues, the economy, politics, religion, education, language, et cetera.

One can find examples of dominant cultures throughout human history. Some examples include the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) in America, the British Empire in the 1600s-1800s, Communism in the 1900s, the “Culture of Death” talked about by Bl. Pope John Paul II, Jim Crow and Segregation in the American South, the Roman Empire in Europe and North Africa from 100 BC to 400 AD, and the “Dictatorship of Relativism” talked about by Pope Benedict XVI. All of these examples, while they have major differences (some are cultural trends, some are groups within a society, others are the societies themselves), are good examples of a dominant culture.

Alexander the Great

One example I would like to look more in depth at is the Hellenizing cultures of the Seleucid Kingdom (one of the nations that split from Alexander the Great’s Kingdom after his death.) Hellenization (a reference to Homer’s character in The Iliad: Helen of Troy) is the name given to the cultural diffusion that would take place whenever Alexander’s armies would take over a new country. It would happen in two primary ways: the Greek armies would adopt some of the local customs (exs: Alexander became King of Persia and Pharaoh of Egypt [instead of just simply saying these places were part of the Kingdom of Macedon], foreign deities were added to the Greek Pantheon [not the building, but a general term for their religious system], and the religious/cultural texts of the various peoples taken over were translated into Greek and collected at Alexandria [like the Jewish Scriptures being collected in the Septuagint]) and the peoples that were taken over were also expected to take on different aspects of Greek culture (adopting the Greek gods as their own, learning Greek language and philosophy, using Greek currency [drachmas, denarii, et cetera], having deference to Alexander in varying degrees, among other things.) Most took to the change pretty well, but Helenization effected different peoples differently.

After the death of Alexander, his Kingdom (which stretched from Italy to India) was split up by his generals in a civil war, in the end leaving four Greek Kingdoms. The Seleucid (centered in Syria) Kingdom is especially interesting. Sitting right on the border of the Seleucids and the Ptolemys was a small area called Palestine. This was one of the smaller areas that Alexander had allowed to retain a certain degree of cultural identity (not requiring them to adopt Greek religion, being partially governed by their priesthood). Because this area was on the border of the two nations, it was often fought over by them and changed hands a lot (cf. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 11.8-13.16).

The inhabitants of Palestine were mainly Abrahamic Monotheists who followed the Torah (Law) of Moses. There were Samaritans to the North (Samaria) and Jews to the South (Judaea) and the East (Galilee). To generalize, the Samaritans had been more assimilating than the Jews (some even accepting a looser form of Monotheism which believed the God of Israel was the God, while the gods of other nations were lesser gods), and the Jews held more steadfastly to their ancestral beliefs (strict Monotheism, keeping certain dietary laws). Though there were more moderate forms of diffusion that retained cultural traditions yet also learned from Greek culture (like the author of the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, the sage Yeshua ben Sira, the philosopher Philo, et cetera); some even leaving Palestine for other parts of the Greek Kingdoms.

Antiochus IV

Because of the various subcultures found in the area, when Antiochus IV (Epiphanes “[God] manifested”, “called Epimanes, ‘madman,’ by his enemies” [note on 2 Maccabees 4:7 in NOAB]), a Seleucid King, came to power in the area he pushed for Hellenization to be hurried up (for greater unity/social cohesion in the kingdom). He encouraged people to worship the Greek gods, and reject their ancestral traditions. The Samaritan Temple was rededicated to Zeus Hellenius and the Jewish Temple rededicated to Zeus Olympius (Antiquities 12.5). Antiochus also established a gymnasium in the city of Jerusalem and required the breaking of the Jewish Dietary Laws (Antiquities 12.6). The Bible records it like this, “Then the king [Antiochus] wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs…whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die” (1 Maccabees 1:41-42,50 NRSV). Because of the varying levels of diffusion and accepting of Greek culture among Palestinians, there were a couple of different reactions to this. Samaritans and more Hellenized Jews tended to support such moves. Jews more faithful to their way of life ended up doing one of two things: they were either martyred for not following the King’s orders or they violently fought against it. One can see from an account of the martyrdom of Eleazar the priest, that pressure to conform to Hellenization came not just from the Greeks, but often from their Jewish country men (“Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh [considered unclean in Judaism]…Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintancewith him, and privately urged him…to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them” [2 Maccabees 6:18,21-22 NRSV]). In the examples of Eleazar and of Mattathias (the original leader of the Hasmonean/Maccabean Revolt), one can also see that the government authorities often would go to the elders of the community first, to try to help lead the rest of the people to follow suit, but often these elders would end up becoming examples for the people to be deviant in response to the king’s demands. (cf. 1 Maccabees 1:15-28, 2 Maccabees 6:18-31, Antiquities 12.5-6). Both martyrdom and the military responses clearly exemplify what we mean by a counter-culture that rebels against the dominant ideology of the time. Eventually the rebellion was successful and took back Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple (the root of the feast of Hanukkah), and established the Hasmonean line of kings/priests (cf. 1 Maccabees 4, 9-16).

As Sociologists and Historians today, we constantly must look back on Dominant Ideologies of the past, and then take a look at our culture, and pick out the similarities and differences, to try to avoid the inevitable (or at least become aware of whatever we find.)

Works Cited

Josephus, Flavius. JOSEPHUS: The Complete Works. Trans. Whiston, William. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Ed. Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. Print. New Revised Standard Version.

Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.