Gelder, K. 2007. Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice.

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

Subcultural geography – documenting and orienting subcultures in relation to each other. Subcultural narration – the stories, opinions, positions that are created by a subculture, within and using responses to it. All subcultures have narratives, but these may vary in accuracy. Many subcultural narratives work to display noncomformity, non-normativity.

Many subcultures have previously been defined in terms of their relation to labor and work – non-working, alternative economies, relation to consumptive practices. Also understood as being either class-based or transcending class. Relation to ownership – subcultures territorialize rather than own (?), work to manifest in the public sphere rather than domestic ones – creating a sense of home outside the home (^maybe so, but what about subcultural practices that are intergenerational?). Subculture as associated with excess/exaggeration – consumption, modification, language that differs from “normal” populations – refusal of mass cultural norms.

Chapter One

Elizabethan London and the documenting of criminal underworld and fraternal orders – “rogue literature”. Citizenship standards, poor laws made itinerancy illegal, promoting excommunication from “proper” societies – aided to form classes, promote dominant social orders. Underworld belonging documented as social and sexual license and excess. Marx’s lumpenproletariat – beneath class consciousness, incapable of producing revolution. “Slumming” of middle-class adventurers into “vagrant” activities, spaces – also used in context of white participation in jazz districts, homosexuality. Differentiation between jargon (“used by distinct professional working groups and/or those with an interest in technical matters” [14]) and slang used “’by a closed group of people, often united by common interests’” [Coleman 2004a pg4 here 14]).

“trips” of hippies –a singular psychedelic experience, or a compounded series – a journey (Yablonsky 1968). Promotion of counter-culture, demonstrating alternatives to dominant culture, promoting wider social change.

John Robert Howard: typologies of hippies:

  • Visionaries (“’utopians who pose an alternative to existing society’(Howard 1969 43 here 22)” – against work, commerce)
  • Freaks and heads (drug-oriented)
  • Plastic hippies (“those for whom being a hippie is merely a matter of ‘fashion’ or appearance” (22) – ‘inauthentic hippies’
  • Midnight hippies (“considerable numbers of usually older people ‘integrated into straight society’ who are nevertheless in sympathy with the bohemian values that hippies espouse” (Howard 1969, 50 here 22).

Construction of new families as alternatives to nuclear families, in the midst of housing crises – migrant. Mary Douglas (1966 Purity and Danger) – the migrant as ‘matter out of place’, thus contaminated/contaminating. The promotion of liminality, communitas, ritual- “liminal personae – “threshold people” Turner 1995 95). Relationships of communitas as personal, immediate rather than contractual or obligatory.

Chapter Two

Robert E Park and the Chicago school – drawing from Tonnesian definitions of community (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft) – promoting the idea of isolation as a means to create static, stable cultures in society. Migration and mobility “complicate” social relations. Isolation promotes “eccentricity”, creating “moral milieu” – codes and regions of values as a way to offer personal forms of social control (rather than the excess philosophized earlier on) – urban ethnic segregation as a way to support this claim. Sub-democracies/monarchies of subculture – hierarchy (or lack theirof) – rejection of dominant norms does not mean that there are not norms. Increased focus on the role of ethnography and participant observation in the study of subculture. Subcultures as a masculinized realm (study of hobos, gangs proved mostly gender-segregated membership, though some were exclusively women, or even mixed). Gendered subcultures – taxidancers, for example – were based around sexuality and commerce. Subculture often associated with ethnicity, and the process of assimilation; however, deviant subgroups often labeled on the inability to assimilate (tying the study of subculture into criminology). Labelling theory of Howard Becker, “social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction constitutes deviance” (Becker 1967, 9 here 42).

Performativity and interpretative communication as means of social interaction, decoding transmitted meanings – Goffman: relating to the world and interpreting meanings may have very different subcultural outcomes. Urban subculture as a way of coping with large alienation and heterogeneity of cities.

Chapter Three

Political and social clubs arising out of eighteenth century occupational interests, even more so historically – also a site for deviant acts within public spheres, such as violence. However, promotion of these subcultures even in secluded clubs enhanced presence and acceptability within larger public spheres.

Gay and lesbian clubs’ presence enhanced ties from politics and social groups; provided economic and social support. Drag queens as “ a curious mixture of conformity and nonconformity” (Perkins 1983, 159), creates visible membership in homosexual groups – now popularized, but stigmatized for being “too” invested in group. Embrace of camp, which has three elements: “incongruity (i.e. the juxtaposition of features or things – or sexualities – not ‘normally’ meant to go together, theatricality (the performance of that juxtaposition, its exaggeration, its ‘stagey’ quality, and humour” (56-57). Lack of drag kings is noted to be distinguished from butch lesbians, who may cultivate feminine/masculinities, whereas the king places masculinity at the center of the performance, yet downplay its centrality (Halberstam 1998). Camp’s tie with disco – African American music popularized by gay men, drag queens, performed by DJs for seamless dance experiences. A tie in to sexuality, whole-body experiences.

Dancehalls as a “a world of make-believe, that thrived on spontaneity, embraced flirtation, and had the potential to upset certain gender norms” (McBee 2000, 114 here 63). Segregation of dance clubs by sexuality, promoting certain types of cultural distinction (a la Bourdieu) for white and heterosexual clubs – promoting a cultural capital, field, and cultural practices. Emergence of subcultural capital – (Thornton 1995) – the knowing of cultural practices that aid thriving within the subcultural field.

Feminization of mainstream – where “burlesque exaggerations of an imagined other” (Thornton 1995 101 here 64) emerge , which demonstrates low status within club culture. However, women are already presumed to have low subcultural capital, and to have a less “authentic” investment within the subcultural participation. Thornton’s review of gendered club participation: “It is much more about the ‘dynamics of distinction’ (163) which subdivide club cultures than about their shared, community-oriented ideals; much more about their hierarchies and elitisms than ‘the promises of freedom and egalitarianism’ that dance clubs might bring to their participants; and more about clubbing as a managed area of leisure activity than a site for imaginative play and performance” (64). Clubs as “ a fantasy of liberation, an escape from identity. A place where nobody is, but everybody belongs” (Melechi 1993, 37 here 64). Malbon 2001’s assessment of communitas as erasing hierarchy, emphasizing unity and oneness – however, this may be a rewarding experience but may have larger social implications, based upon exclusions and outcomes of play within this sphere.

Chapter Four

Beats relationship to historical libertine writers, The Ranters, who started as a pantheistic Christian religious movement – taking up arms with the government, society – writing about sexual exploits, social exploits, and social justice. Bohemian pursuits transcended class – rich Beats, but were expected to adopt the “penniless” norms of other writers and artists. Utopia as imagined; heterotopia (a la Foucault 1986) is enacted in some regard of on-ground community. Heterotopia as “real places – places that do exist and are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, al the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality” (Foucault 1986 24 here 81). Differs from alternative community – which “looked to folk, popular, and transgressive subcultural styles, as well to religious ritual, for means to reject the values of both the previous generation of artists and the socio-political establishment” (Banes 1993 7 here 81) – based within the appropriation from minority and global cultures and stylings.

Chapter Five

Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) – centrality of class to subculture, and how subculture transcends class. Subcultures in response to top-down oppression, response with bottom-up innovations (in fashion, language, etc.) – industrialization’s role in offering mass communication and culture that works to interrupt and dominate working class life (with notions of bourgeoisie individuality). Conformity, though, at risk of cementing too much togetherness of working class life. Punk as a performance of working class life (a la Hebdige) – a translation of ethnicity into daily lives (Hebdige 1988), tying the lumpenproletariat into personal pride and promise. Bricolage – reconfiguration of signs to denaturalize meanings, construct new semiotic relationships (taken from John Clarke). Normalization of anti-authoritarian symbols (or creating a fashionability about them) takes away from the semiotic and anti-structural power that they convert.

McRobbie and Garber (1991) examine the invisibility of girls and women within subcultural studies – women cast as closer to consumerism (giving them less resistance to dominant ideologies), but at the same time, permitting the consumption required to obtain subcultural distinction. Kahn-Harris (2004) – solipsism of subculture – involvement to the point where there is no further interaction with “normative” worlds – defies the CCCS casualness/lifestyle approach, where subculture becomes life. Thornton (1995) – subculture attempts to obscure class, unify or present one type of class – overlooking hierarchies external to this, which promotes different participations.

Subcultures in postmodern times – Muggleton (2000) – how can there be subculture when there is no “coherent dominant culture against which a subculture can express its resistance” (48 here 105). Post-subculturalists = no single mode of cultural expression is more in/authentic than any other, offering pluralist visions of sub/culture.

Chapter Six

Racialization of jazz – differentiating between appropriated and hybrid forms based on “whiteness” and “blackness” – revolutionary in its challenges to appropriation, commercialization; focusing on location and geographies as points of authenticity, refusing to incorporation globalized influences, or reappropriate what has been long appropriated from them. Indigenizing influence, incorporating vernacular as used in rap and hip hop across the globe – native and disappearing languages construct “loose” communities within nations and abroad.

Chapter Seven

Constructing of the body to “look” subcultural – fashioning through rituals – “The act of preparing the body for public display involves a set of rituals – cleansing, grooming, applying make-up, dressing, decorating in various ways – which are designed to help people to conform to the conventions of the places they go into, or alternatively, to ‘stand out,’ to look and be different” (122). Tattoos “appropriate elements of living indigenous cultures, ignorant and indifferent to indigenous notion of cultural property” (Thomas 2005 29 here 129). Sanitization through upper-class vogue, ripping it of its ‘traveler’ roots in lumpenproletariat and working classes.

Chapter Eight

Virtual communities as decentralized, interest-based, but also requiring on-ground components and identity work to membership.




Banes, Sally. 1993. Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent Boy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Coleman, Julie. 2004. A History of Cant and Slang Dictionarie 1567-1784, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1986. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics 16(Spring): 22-27.

Halberstam, Judith. 1998. Female Masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kahn-Harris, Keith. 2004. “Unspectacular Subculture? Transgression and Mundanity in the Global Extreme Metal Scene,” in Andy Bennett and Keith Kahn-Harris (eds), After Subculture: Critical Studies in Contemporary Youth Culture. Houndsmills: Macmillan.

Malbon, Ben. 2001. Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality. New York: Routledge.

McBee, Randy D. 2000. Dance Hall Days: Intimacy and Leisure among Working-Class Immigrants in the United States. New York: New York University Press.

McRobbie, Angela and Jenny Garber. 1991. “Girls and Subcultures” in Angela McRobbie, Feminism and Youth Culture: From Jackie to Just Seventeen. Houndsmills: Macmillan.

Melechi, Antonio. 1993. “The Ecstasy of Disappearance,” in Steve Redhead (ed), Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture. Aldershot: Avebury.

Muggleton, David. 2000. Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style. New York: Berg.

Perkins, Roberta. 1983. The “Drag Queen” Scene: Transsexuals in Kings Cross, Sydney. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Thomas, Nicholas. 2005. “Introduction,” in Nicholas Thomas, Anna Cole and Bronwen Douglas (eds), Tattoo: Bodies, Art and Exchange in the Pacific and the West. London: Reaktion Books.

Thornton, Sarah. 1995. Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Turner, Victor. 1995 (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Yablonsky, Lewis. 1968. The Hippie Trip. New York: Pegasus.


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