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«This book presents a cultural history of subcultures, covering a remarkable range of subcultural forms and practices. It begins with London’s ...»

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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 (as ‘idle’, ‘parasitical’, hedonistic, criminal, etc.)

• their negative or ambivalent relation to class

• their association with territory (the ‘street’, the ‘hood’, the club, etc.) 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 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.

Ken Gelder is Professor of Literary Studies and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His books include Reading the Vampire (1994), Uncanny Australia (1998) and Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field (2004). He is editor of The Horror Reader (2000) and The Subcultures Reader Second Edition (2005).

Subcultures Cultural histories and social practice Ken Gelder First published 2007 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006.

“To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.” © 2007 Ken Gelder All rights reserved. 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.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gelder, Ken, 1955– Subcultures : cultural histories and social practice / Ken Gelder.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Subculture. 2. Subculture—History. 3. Culture—Study and teaching. I. Title.

HM646.G45 2007 306'.1—dc22 2006025762 ISBN 0-203-44685-2 Master e-book ISBN ISBN10: 0-415-37951-2 (hbk) ISBN10: 0-415-37952-0 (pbk) ISBN10: 0-203-44685-2 (ebk) ISBN13: 978-0-415-37951-9 (hbk) ISBN13: 978-0-415-37952-6 (pbk) ISBN13: 978-0-203-44685-0 (ebk) Contents

–  –  –

This book has been simmering away for a long time: emerging out of an early idea for a Reader in subcultural studies and my collaboration on the rst edition of that project with Sarah Thornton back in the mid-1990s, and then developing out of further work I had since done on the revised second edition in 2005. 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. Claire Knowles has helped me with some research material for this book, and I’m very grateful indeed to her. I want to thank Clara Tuite for so kindly looking at some of the chapters and o ering excellent suggestions; and thanks, too, to Justin Clemens for his encouraging reading of Chapter 4. My department has given me the time and space to do this project, and I’m especially grateful here to John Frow. I must also thank all the students who’ve studied with me over the years in an Honours course about subcultures, some of whom have subsequently published very ne work in and around the area of subcultural studies. 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 a ect 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 muchappreciated curiosity.


T HIS IS A BOOK ABOUT SUBCULTURES, their cultural histories and their social logics and practices. 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. Skateboarders use the steps and benches in front of Melbourne’s austere public library and they criss-cross the surrounding streets, roaming in their small groups back and forth from pavement to road and in between moving cars and pedestrians. Goths congregate in the innercity 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. Melbourne in fact has an extensive nightclub ‘scene’, far too elaborate to go into here. 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 1975, for older crossdressing participants. There is a widespread ‘underground’ of strip joints and brothels, as well as street-based male and female prostitution. There is a criminal underworld, which police in Melbourne have had great di culty in regulating – and there are street gangs of one kind or another right across the city. The Ozanam Community in North Melbourne services homeless and ‘marginal’ street people and now publishes a magazine, Subterrain, which pays tribute to its itinerant population, describing it, too, as an ‘underworld’ which most of Melbourne almost never sees. 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. Most of the inner city and surrounding suburbs testi es to a remarkably active gra ti subculture; indeed, Melbourne has even been claimed as a ‘stencil gra ti capital’ (Smallman and Nyman 2005), with the work of gra ti artists in the city documented, and celebrated, in Nicholas


Hansen’s 2005 lm, Rash (‘Scratch it and it spreads…’). The Australian and New Zealand hip hop magazine Out4Fame is published in Melbourne, which also has a lively local hip hop scene. Various ‘Hell-Fire’ clubs and leatherbars have opened and closed in Melbourne at various times over the last thirty or so years, catering to S/M and fetish interests. There is the Cave Clan, a loose federation of underground travellers who would sign their name in the fashion of the CocaCola logo and explore and territorialise Melbourne’s extensive underground drainage systems – literally inhabiting an underworld, rather like the Parisian cataphiles. And there is the Melbourne branch of Critical Mass, activist cyclists who protest the way in which the city is dominated by roads and cars but who also arrange cycling events as leisured get-togethers: a small-scale social movement, although arguably still subcultural through its ‘disa liated’ structure and ‘attitude’. 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 1966 (Sparrow and Sparrow 2004: 73–77).

It has also played host to various literary and artistic Bohemian communities, identi ed as far back as the 1860s by the novelist and journalist Marcus Clarke and again more recently by the writer and poet Alister Kershaw (1991).

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 importantly 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, classi ed, rationalised, monitored, scrutinised, and so on. In some cases, societies at various times and for various reasons have legislated against them and attempted to regulate and/or reform them, sometimes successfully, often not.

Every subculture – every social group, large or small, which can be considered as in some way subcultural – carries a set of narratives about itself, some of which are generated internally while others, usually more visible and pervasive, 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 e ects (or, a ects) 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.


The most common narrative about subcultures is, of course, one that casts them as nonconformist and non-normative: di erent, dissenting, or (to use a term sometimes applied to subcultures by others) ‘deviant’. This book will give this particular narrative a history, tracing it back to accounts of the ‘Elizabethan underworld’ in order to establish the primary cultural logics through which subcultures have for so long been understood. It is worth noting that the most in uential modern study of subcultures – Dick Hebdige’s Subculture:The Meaning of Style (1979) – looks almost exclusively at post-1950s activities and has very little to say about subcultures before this time. It is, in other words, a synchronic study, reading a set of British youth subcultures in their contemporary moment and, indeed, celebrating the sheer fact of their contemporaneity as a way (so it seemed) of revitalising a moribund and demoralised cultural predicament in Britain under the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who came to power the same year Hebdige’s book was published. The present book might very well have a similar sort of purpose: speaking up for subcultures in the context of a neo-conservative cultural and political shift in the contemporary landscape, one which (in my own local context) routinely lends its privileges to ‘ordinary’ or ‘mainstream’ Australians at the expense of social minorities. 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 subcultures, 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. Many subcultures might not work at all (which means they are ‘idle’ or ‘unproductive’, or ‘at leisure’, or pleasure-seeking, hedonistic, self-indulgent);

or, their relation to labour might be understood as parasitical, or as a kind of alternative ‘mirror-image’ to legitimate work practices (so that one might even speak, in a certain sense, of a subcultural ‘career’); or, whatever labour a subculture undertakes might simply be understood as in some way unsanctioned or even criminal. In the late eighteenth century, for example, a set of narratives built themselves around the prostitute’s ‘career’ along exactly these lines, as I shall note in Chapter 1. Second (and this point follows on from the rst), subcultures are often understood ambivalently at best in relation to class. In some accounts, subcultures are seen as having deviated from their class background altogether, disavowing class a liations or even ‘transcending’ class as a result of the particular cultural adjustments they have made. 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 a liated: 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 nd expression. Fourth, subcultures generally come


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