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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Ken Gelder. Subcultures This book presents a cultural history of subcultures, covering a remarkable range of subcultural forms and practices. Subcultures are always in some way non-conforming or dissenting.

Subcultures looks at the way these features find expression across many different sub- cultural 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.

No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Includes bibliographical references and index. Culture—Study and teaching. G45 '. Subcultures: a vagabond history 5 2. The Chicago School and after: sociology, deviance and social worlds 27 3.

Bar scenes and club cultures: sociality, excess, utopia 47 4. Literary subcultural geographies: Grub Street and bohemia 66 5. Subcultures and cultural studies: community, class and style at Birmingham and beyond 83 6. Subculture, music, nation: jazz and hip hop 7. Anachronistic self-fashioning: dandyism, tattoo communities and leatherfolk 8.

My thanks go to various people at Routledge, past and present — Rebecca Barden and Natalie Foster in particular — for encouraging me to write in much more detail on the subject.

I want to thank Clara Tuite for so kindly looking at some of the chapters and offering excellent suggestions; and thanks, too, to Justin Clemens for his encouraging reading of Chapter 4. Writing a book is an intense process and, as authors are well aware, it requires a great deal of planning, commitment, hard labour and focus.

You affect some people more than others when you do it, in which case I must especially thank Hannah, Christian and Julian for their patience and support as well as their occasional and much- appreciated curiosity. I wrote it in Melbourne, Australia, where I live, a city which — like so many other cities around the world — no doubt has its fair share of subcultural activity.

Goths congregate in the inner- city suburbs; for a few recent years a representative magazine, Goth Nation, was published out of Melbourne and circulated through the various Goth boutiques and specialist nightclubs. It also has a number of drag nightclubs and gay and lesbian bars, along with a wide range of gay and lesbian niche media activity. In the outer suburbs there is the reclusive Seahorse Club, founded in , for older crossdressing participants.

There is a criminal underworld, which police in Melbourne have had great difficulty in regulating — and there are street gangs of one kind or another right across the city. The city has its hippies and its ferals, its fregans who recycle and re-use waste , its neo-punks and its metal death metal, especially enthusiasts.

The Australian and New Zealand hip hop magazine Out4Fame is published in Melbourne, which also has a lively local hip hop scene. Automobile dragsters around town, on the other hand, are constantly being moved on by police, encouraged to do what they do elsewhere or not at all. Melbourne has seen its teenage subcultures clash in the streets: like the Mods and Sharpies in August Sparrow and Sparrow 73— It has also played host to various literary and artistic Bohemian communities, identified as far back as the s by the novelist and journalist Marcus Clarke and again more recently by the writer and poet Alister Kershaw Each of these subcultures — and one can think of many more — creates its own geography, a set of places or sites some of which last longer than others through which it gains cohesion and identity.

This book will develop the notion of a subcultural geography as it charts a range of subcultures and — just as impor- tantly in a study like this — a range of approaches to subcultures. It is true that subcultures have been around in one form or another for a very long time. But they have been chronicled by others for a long time, too: documented, analysed, classified, rationalised, monitored, scrutinised, and so on.

Every subculture — every social group, large or small, which can be consid- ered as in some way subcultural — carries a set of narratives about itself, some of which are generated internally while others, usually more visible and perva- sive, are developed and deployed in and by the society around it. The notion that subcultures are a matter of narration will also be important to this book which generates a further set of narratives about subcultures in its turn. How accurate or real a narrative about or even by a subculture might be is a question that has rightly preoccupied researchers and commentators.

From another perspective, however, accuracy is beside the point. Narratives by or about a subculture come into being and produce a set of effects or, affects and reactions: fascination, envy, anxiety, disdain, revulsion, legislation, social reform, etc. They are never neutral. Every narrative by or about a subculture is a matter of position-taking — both within that subculture and outside it — a feature this book will spend much of its time accounting for.

My aim, however, is to be diachronic, giving subcultures and, in particular, approaches to subcultures a deeper history. There are at least six prevailing cultural logics about subcultures — that is, six ways of accounting for and identifying subcul- tures, culturally speaking — that we can list here. First, subcultures have routinely been understood and evaluated negatively in terms of their relation to labour or work.

Second and this point follows on from the first , sub- cultures are often understood ambivalently at best in relation to class. On the other hand, for Karl Marx around the middle of the nineteenth century — as I shall also note later on — subcultures were in fact the lumpenproletariat: that is, groups of people below class-based identity and without class consciousness, self-interested rather than class affiliated: a view that has persisted. Third, subcultures are usually located at one remove from property ownership.

Subcultures territorialise their places rather than own them, and it is in this way that their modes of belonging and their claims on place find expression. We shall also see this cul- tural logic at work throughout this book, although its explanatory force can ebb and flow allowing some subcultures, in fact, even to be identified with restraint itself, with austerity, self-discipline, etc. Here, subcultural identity is pitched against the conform- ist pressures of mass society and massification.

The kinds of narratives through which these various cultural logics are conveyed are not new and, as I have said, this book will in fact give them a his- tory: a cultural history, or perhaps I should say, a subcultural history. But there is one more point to make about subcultures in this Introduction, before the book properly begins.

But the social here is understood in a particular way. This book will outline a set of key terms for understanding the social aspects of subcultures — community, scene, network, tribe, club, gang, and so on.

Each of these terms has a particular application and relevance, depending on the subculture, the predicament in which it finds itself and the kinds of meaning or significance that commentators invest into it.

This, too, is as much imagined and narrated as it is experienced and indeed, as this book will suggest, the one constantly works to inform the other. Criminal underworlds certainly existed before this time and in many other places. However, early modern London saw not only the rise of a myriad of discrete, underground criminal networks but also a pro- liferation of imaginative narratives about them.

The term thus already carries with it imaginative possibilities: implying a kind of performative act, the creation of a fictional self, as well as linguistic display. Even so, Judges wrote, still they came, tramping singly or in groups along the country highways, sneaking into barns and hovels on the fringes of the towns, adapting themselves to city life to swell the ranks of the criminal classes of London…everywhere unsettling the common folk, and disturbing the conventions of an orderly regime.

In a later anthology of rogue literature, however — this time compiled by a literary critic — the focus was on the nature of those crimi- nal classes and whether or not they might indeed be understood as subcultural. But seen from within, they appear to be like nothing so much as a mirror-image of the Elizabethan world-picture: a little world, tightly organized into its own ranks and with its own rules, as rigid in its own way as the most elaborate protocol at court or ritual in church.

Salgado 13 This remark is no doubt a reply to E. It evokes a sense of six- teenth-century London as overrun by underworld folk of various kinds, each of them inhabiting their own zones — the brothel districts, for example — but also flowing freely through the city: segregated in some respects, all too proximate in others.

This is a picturesque and picaresque account, relish- ing its rogue characters or types which it describes at some length. But other disciplines were also interested in Elizabethan underworlds.

I have wanted to suggest that the Elizabethan figure of the vagabond is especially important to subcultural studies because it was understood in terms of its parasitical relations to labour and its root- lessness and the fact that it was not tied to property, even though it might be tied for a time to a particular place. For McMullan, the root- lessness of vagabonds and rogues was in fact directed at London itself, since the population of the city increased dramatically in the late sixteenth century.

We shall also come to see in Chapter 2 especially that migration and immi- gration are so often the foundational events for subcultural identity, and this is certainly how McMullan saw it as vagrant groups moved into London to take advantage of its wealth, its size and its social complexities.

Dionne and Mentz are literary critics, however, and naturally enough they return our attention to the imaginative features of rogue literature. They criticise Salgado, too, for accepting these underworld narratives as real.

But just how imaginary were the subcultures of Elizabethan London? Subcultural studies can also be divided along similar lines, as later chapters will suggest. Other narratives about subcultural types were much less sentimental, however. As we have seen with rogue literature, however, fact and fiction — narrative and reality — are not so easy to disentangle.

And the persuasiveness of a culturally available narrative may indeed be great enough to make what- ever realities one might uncover pale into insignificance. Certainly the image of the prostitute as a figure migrating into the city and then inhabiting particular zones within it retained — and still retains — its cultural force.

The prostitute here also parallels the narrative of the vagabond, a rootless character similarly understood as innately drawn to vice. Rogues and vagabonds preoccupied social legislators and moral crusaders in Britain throughout the eighteenth century and into the Regency period: a period which, as Donald A. He chronicles a range of moral and legal concerns amongst respectable citizens and officials; but he also notes the ways in which rogues and vagabonds worked as a kind of spectacle, eliciting fascination just as much as repulsion.

The gypsy, too, figured in this way, especially through the romantic autobio- graphical novels of the English linguist George Borrow, Lavengro and its sequel, The Romany Rye , which see the author leaving London to go out on the open road to mix with gypsies and celebrate their wanderlust.

Subcultures are sometimes sentimentalised, sometimes not; and the narratives they are given are therefore sometimes romantic, sometimes anti- romantic, depending on the case or, rather, depending on the uses to which a subculture is put and the investments being made in them.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, Karl Marx had argued that the working classes or proletariat carried with them the possibility of revolution precisely because their labour both organised and defined them: making them conscious of their classed position and therefore enlightened about the level of their exploita- tion.

But the vagabond underclasses — what Marx unflatteringly called the lumpenproletariat — only attracted his scorn. To lend support to his cause, Louis Bonaparte had gathered together not a revolutionary working class but a ragtag of vagrant subcultures, which Marx lists as follows: On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpenproletar- iat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section being led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole.

By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the problem for political and social theorists, among many others, was that itinerants and vagabonds of var- ious kinds were increasingly inhabiting the major cities across Europe and in the United States — and it was proving difficult just as it still is, today to know exactly what to do with them. What does a city do with its prosti- tutes and brothels?

Or its beggars and vagrants? Or its street gangs? Or its criminal underworlds? Policing is one way of dealing with these phenom- ena, typically with little success; but social classification and identification has been another, and by the later part of the nineteenth century these kinds of projects could also be tied to large-scale programmes of social reform. Studies of subcultures as we know them today find their origins in sev- eral of the human sciences emerging during this period: criminology and social reportage, as well as anthropology and ethnography, those classifica- tory human sciences which had gained momentum in the wake of colonialism and the spread of the various European empires into other countries.

In England in the late s and s, these disciplinary positions were won- derfully combined in the work of Henry Mayhew, a journalist for the Morning Chronicle newspaper who travelled across London interviewing and chronicling its many underclasses.


Ken Gelder

Friday essay: the art of the colonial kangaroo hunt. Displaying the 6 most recent projects by Ken Gelder. This project aims to consider how colonial Australian literary writing shaped Australia's environmental consciousness. It will explore how c.. This project investigates the vast array of character types mobilised by colonial writers in Australia from the mids to the beginning o.. Colonial magazines were a vibrant part of Australia's emergent literary culture. They fashioned new writers, investing in local identities w..


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Introduction -- Subcultures : a vagabond history -- The Chicago School and after : sociology, deviance, and social worlds -- Bar scenes and club cultures : sociality, excess, utopia -- Literary sub View online UGent only. Reference details. Open print view.



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