Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice

Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice

Ken Gelder

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 0415379520

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This book presents a cultural history of subcultures, covering a remarkable range of subcultural forms and practices. It begins with London’s ‘Elizabethan underworld’, taking the rogue and vagabond as subcultural prototypes: the basis for Marx’s later view of subcultures as the lumpenproletariat, and Henry Mayhew’s view of subcultures as ‘those that will not work’. Subcultures are always in some way non-conforming or dissenting. They are social - with their own shared conventions, values, rituals, and so on – but they can also seem ‘immersed’ or self-absorbed. This book identifies six key ways in which subcultures have generally been understood:

  • through their often negative relation to work: idle, parasitical, hedonistic, criminal
  • their negative or ambivalent relation to class
  • their association with territory - the ‘street’, the ‘hood’, the club - rather than property
  • their movement away from home into non-domestic forms of ‘belonging’
  • their ties to excess and exaggeration (as opposed to restraint and moderation)
  • their refusal of the banalities of ordinary life and in particular, of massification.

Subcultures looks at the way these features find expression across many different subcultural groups: from the Ranters to the riot grrrls, from taxi dancers to drag queens and kings, from bebop to hip hop, from dandies to punk, from hobos to leatherfolk, and from hippies and bohemians to digital pirates and virtual communities. It argues that subcultural identity is primarily a matter of narrative and narration, which means that its focus is literary as well as sociological. It also argues for the idea of a subcultural geography: that subcultures inhabit places in particular ways, their investment in them being as much imaginary as real and, in some cases, strikingly utopian.



















40 Eco, Umberto 93 INDEX Ecology 136 ecology, social 28, 30 ecstasy (drug) 65 Egan, Pierce 15 Ehrenreich, Barbara 98 Electronic Frontier Foundation, the (EFF) 155 Eliot, T.S. 94–5 Elizabethan 3, 5–9, 13–14, 21, 66, 143, 156 Ellington, Duke 108 Elliott, Luther 147–8 Ellison, Ralph 108 Eminem (musician) 116 empiricism 27 English, Standard 14 engrossment 141, 142 Enlightenment, the 13 ethnicity 34, 35 ethnography 11, 56, 64, 78, 79, 89, 132; and the CCCS 91, 93, 98, 105, 107, 132; and the Chicago

their own ‘moral milieu’, developing their own ‘divergent moral code’, and inhabiting their own ‘moral region’. They become social; they are marginal, rather than alienated; and they might very well be difficult to control or restrain, being defined instead by ‘excess’ (46). The problem for Park was that they might also, as a result, be just as segregated in the city as the community from which they departed. In his book The Pig and the Skyscraper: Chicago: A History of Our Future (2002), Marco

problem with gangs, however, is that the sources for their stories come not from experience and ‘personal narratives’ but from the movies and cheap popular fiction. The hobo remains grounded in reality which is then a source for his narratives and conversation; the gang member, on the other hand, is ‘fanciful’ and, for Thrasher, actually finds it difficult to ‘distinguish between what is real and what is not’ (130). The dominant genre used by Chicago-based sociologists and novelists during the

guises (show girls, prostitutes, sex kittens, Hollywood starlets). (cited in Bergman 1993: 6) Perkins has also noted that the Kings Cross drag queens played out (albeit in an exaggerated fashion) the ‘stereotyped norms’ of femininity, becoming ‘a curious mixture of conformity and nonconformity’ (1983: 159). But drag queens – precisely by performing as women – also undo the normative maleness of homosexuality, crossing gender boundaries. Drag queens and their culture were the subject of Esther

generated their own levels of moral panic with parents banning their use, laws passed against some of them, anxieties expressed about game ‘addiction’, and a general ‘anti-gamer sentiment’ (277) intensifying in a society that continues to invest in productive labour and remains suspicious of ‘excessive’ forms of fantasy play. Again, these games are understood as both escapist and reconstructive in terms of identity: ‘Whatever you may not like about your body here, it can be undone in the building

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