Wilkins, Amy C. 2008. Wannabes, Goths, and Christians: The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status.

Wilkins, Amy C. 2008. Wannabes, Goths, and Christians: The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Subcultural membership as a means of protection, prominence, a source of authenticity – despite contradictions inherent with memberships and transitioning into adult life. “Each is a way to manage success and failure, risk and security, membership and personal identity[…] Gender, race, and class fashion the constraints and contradictions young people face, but they also provide resources for solving them. The negotiations between constraints and solutions, in turn, shape the cultural meanings local young people give to gender, race, and class” (2). — how people create individual and collective identities, how they use these identities to solve issues of race, class, gender.

Identity construction as “public, performative, and often spectacular” (Perry 2002, 10); Wilkins: identities as malleable, as projects which “draw on available cultural resources and gain meaning in interaction with others” (4) – but also how people use these to construct coherence with selves and others (see also Hewitt 1989, Mason-Schrock 1996). Subcultural membership as identity and cultural projects – “collected, patterned repertoires that give rise to situated strategies” (4). Some are deliberate in the achievement of status, authenticity, membership – may not see ties to race, class, gender (kx^ which serves to cement power of strategies, as well as systems of power supporting them). However, youth are not unaware of these repertoires’ power – they utilize cultural resources to the best of their ability (though not always rationally).

Bettie (2003) – failure to take on intersectional perspectives not only obscures complexity of social phenomenon, but may work to misrepresent them.

Gender, race, and class as emergent from historical, political, and economic contexts and processes that shift in subjectivity (Omi and Winant 1986, Laqueur 1990, Nagel 1996) – also enacted everyday through inter/actions creating sustained illusion of “realness” of RCG (Butler 1990, West and Zimmerman 1987, West and Fenstermaker 1995) – (kx^ subjective definitions, objective realities). Performance of RCG without knowing, OR having learned RCG so well that performances can be used to claim categorical membership (Garfinkel 1969, Bettie 2003). Construction of competencies that forms worldview and makes it “common sense” (Bourdieu 1984). Performative nature offers nebulosity to RCG, so that people work (un)consciously to reinforce these categories (Connell 1987, Pascoe 2005 – kx^ cite 2007). Boundaries play important role in RGC in defining memberships (Lamont and Fournier 1992, Lamont 1999). “Boundaries create not only insiders and outsiders, but also hierarchies among groups. In drawing boundaries, groups make claims about the value of their cultural capital (e.g., Lamont 2000). To be effective, symbolic boundaries need to be adaptable – capable of responding to new threats by shifting or by selectively incorporating outsiders (e.g., through “tokenism”). Thus, boundaries are necessarily local and contingent. Accordingly, cultural capital is dynamic and variegated; not only does it vary by region and group, but status groups may also rely on multiple forms of capital, drawing on one form in one context and another in other contexts (Hall, J. 1992, Carter 2003)” (7).

Shifts in gender, racial, and class hierarches impact each other – performances in one group demonstrate modeling success of “dominant” groups. Though “class-aware” (Stuber 2006) – many Americans struggle to identity class as significant in comparison to gender or race, placing it as outcomes of other factors. Though class system is heavily racialized and gendered, we cannot just ignore it, as it is not just about material goods, but social status and power within the system.

Whiteness as providing material and psychological benefits (the esteem and protection of being in a dominant group) – (Blumer 1958, Roediger 1991), but presumption of cultural vacuousness of Whiteness – taken for granted, normalized, “goodness” – whereas racial minorities are offered difference, deviance, and “coolness.” Coolness as racialized, classed (Maira 2002). Use of codified traits and symbols have different outcomes based on who uses them – that is “it is not that cultural symbols have inherent meaning, but rather that symbols take on a particular meaning depending on who uses them (Eckert 1989)” (here 12).

Gendered participation in coolness and subculture – masculinization of subculture as contrary to feminized mainstream (Thornton 1996).

“Sexuality is a principal means by which young people claim and repudiate intersected gender, race, and class identities. But it is also the key limit on the solutions they enact” (3). Sexuality viewed as something you are, not just what you do – relies on symbolism heavily – “managing sexuality is central to developing a sense of personal integrity and autonomy” (Gamson and Moon 2004, 53 here 13). Sexuality as used strategically, picked from pre-existing fields of choice that offers privilege to some practices, stigma to others, and offers linkages to meanings that are intertwined with race, class, and gender. Feminists: sexuality as inextricable to power relations. Heterosexuality based on sexual double standard – however, feminist concern about sexual revolution promoting behaviors that girls would not have otherwise engaged in. Sexual practices as critical to marking subcultural membership, as well as racial boundaries. Historical context of racializing sexual practices, appetites, deviances (Loewen 1971, Roediger 1991), and the use of contrast between “pure” white femininity to women of color has been used to defend long history of denigration (Davis 1981, Hill Collins 2004) and control.

Goth “freakiness” expressed in sexuality, which allows bending of gender norms and sexual stigmas, but only through the raced/classed ability to be allowed privacy (sans policing), and without stigma of being hypersexualized. “Women’s sexual agency contributes to both goth women’s sense of themselves as independent women and to the community’s collective sense that they are more politically progressive than others. At the same time, progressive gender relations are an often invisible means of drawing symbolic races and class boundaries (Hondagneau-Sotelo and Messner 1994; Pyke 1996)” (55-56). See Tannenbaum (1999) where connotations of “slut” have classed origins.


“Freakiness thus allows young people who at other times and in other context might be isolated as geeks to gain social visibility, community, and a version of hipness, bringing validation and desirability, while keeping the path to socioeconomic success as white middle-class adults uncluttered” (26). Goth as a way to construct substance in middle-class whiteness, but simultaneously seeks to subvert/reproduce this privilege. Coolness as not just an adolescent trope, but offers power within the structures of adult hierarchies (Bettie 2003); contested through local meanings, as different groups offer different meanings and methods to achieve coolness. Coolness exchanged in later life for more traditional forms of cultural capital (socioeconomic success, competence) – resistance to authority while young may offer esteem of peers, but may have harsh long-term consequences.

Geekness coded as white and feminized, marked by social undesirability, but offer resources that will lend to later-life success (such as skills training in lucrative fields, schooling, discipline, etc.); freakiness as a way to tap into “coolness” without long-term consequence, or having to give up these types of capital, or to incur race-class penalties (Sennett and Cobb 1972, Bettie 2003). Women, particularly, moving in and out of “gothness” – primarily for employment – women as more harshly policed upon appearance (Wolf 1991) – particularly as women are more prominent in customer-interactive fields.  Mainstream is also offered as white and feminized (Thornton 1996) – being in control of social responses, eliciting acknowledgement of deviance (often performed through modifications and presentation of the body – dress, make-up, piercings). Consumptive practices, then, help to shape membership and subcultural performances – offering access to all, but “better” goths may have to have a stronger set of resources to “do goth” better. Thornton (1996) – more valued subcultural executions of identity are associated with masculinity, defining membership, maintaining men’s dominance even in these “deviant” realms (McRobbie and Garber 1997).

Color, class reflect in the ways that goths idealize fearlessness, pain, death, hypothetical violence, creativity – what would be considered criminal in some groups would be idealized; likewise, many of these white middle class youth do not have to live in areas where death and fear are commonplace.

Goth as a feminist arena, but more about emancipatory sexuality rather than promoting gender equality outside these worlds. Reflects postfeminism – aka “babe feminism” (Quindlen 1996) – “a focus on women’s right to active sexuality rather than on broader issues of gender equality” (62) – basis of individual and collective identity. Highly sexualized wear of goth clubs offers “freedom” to women, but is also accompanied by a myriad of social norms that promotes women’s sexual aggression, stigma to instigating men, and spatial norms of individualized, de-sexualized dance. However, the absence (or invisibility) of sexual assault does not mean sexual objectification does not occur. Corseting and associations with restriction are overthrown with narratives of choice, “flipping” the constraint into rebellion, agency. Femininity is a performance (as is masculinity) – however, when biologically-sexed males or females do not perform these genders, it is stigmatized (Butler 1990; Lorber 1994).

~Goth club as site of experimental self-presentation, sexualized interactions and experimentation (VERY much like the festival).

Bisexuality is considered a “mandate” for women, but offers a symbolic social prestige for men, offering a very curious new form of double standard, where women are still predominantly sexual actors, or are performing sexualities for their predominantly heterosexual relationship. This type of queer play can offer stigma, but offers challenges to femininity (Schippers 2002 – see applications for hard rock music scenes).

“music is the cultural form privileged within youth’s subcultural worlds” (Thornton 1996, 12),


“false normalcy” and discipline of studied group – purposefully setting selves away from coolness, but often participating (covertly) in more secular activities. Omnivorous eclecticism as a marker of class status (Peterson and Kern 1996) – combining secular and sacred into identity construction. Relationship to middle-class goals marginalizes Christians with their peers, but offers cultural capital later on; however, significantly based on sexual identification, (non)practice, and even abstinence from romantic relationships. Abstinence, though typically not associated with the hyper-heterosexuality of “cool” men, offers men more power within this subculture than women, as it “goes against their nature” – exacting more discipline, offering more social power to the control they “exact” on selves and others.


Performing race – “race is performed symbolically through ritual participation in ethnic celebrations or through the display of specific commodities (Gans 1979, Waters 1990)” (here 154). Contention between performance of ethnicity, which seems to locate race as “fixed” – crossing these barriers can have stigmatizing results. Classing of race creates double-binds. In transgression, the wannabe offers interrogation of whiteness, colorblindness – instead of hybridizing these categories and expanding them, their interactions often serve to reinforce boundaries of whiteness, gender, sexuality, and class. Adoption of wannabe status is viewed as a rejection of white, classed, heterosexual capital.

“As Tanenbaum (1999) documents, the slut label can be used to stigmatize girls for a wide variety of behavioral transgressions, including ones that have nothing to do with sex, and girls whose class or racial status deviates from the white middle-class norms are the ones most likely to be subject to the label” (190). Sluttiness as self-identification, a label put onto you, something an act could be. Manipulation of gender performance to access membership in racial and class groupings. Because race and class are read as “isomorphic” (Ortner 1998), class behavior is read as race behavior – whiteness read as middle-class, POC read as working or lower class. Stigmatized labels for whites who do not do class properly (redneck, white trash) – but also POC who do not “do class” properly either – “bougie”)

The subversion of hypersexualized role of women in hip hop (Rose 1994) through the use of masculine dress, adoption of sexual autonomy, agent work roles within deviant groups instead of being sideline to them (Schalet, Hunt, and Joe-Laidler 2003) ~ (kx^ similar to the masculine dress of female heady-bros and treethuggers?)


“Authenticity is an ongoing achievement that relies on the display of the race, class, and gender meanings assigned to the identity. These projects manipulate race, class, and gender expectations, yet authentic membership also relies on identities achieved through the ‘proper’ performance of race, class, and gender. Thus, ‘authentic’ identities allow some shifts in race, class, and gender meanings, while hardening other dimensions” (244).

Fashion demonstrates membership – offering group and individual boundaries. “By demarcating boundaries between groups, fashion communicates both inclusion and exclusion, while allowing for individual differentiation (Simmel 1972). Fashion thus allows participants to demonstrate membership as well as to claim status within the group” (244) – also used to create hierarchies within and between groups. Despite exploitation by markets for ages, fashion acts as a site of identity production and play.

“The symbolic efficacy of style resides in its visibility: fashion has great shock value and its message is easily communicated to all onlookers […] Identity accoutrements are, for the most part, easily put on and taken off, allowing individuals to slip out of confrontational identities if necessary” (245)

Eckert (1989): “As a social marker of group membership, clothing style is closely associated with social and cultural characteristics of groups and can elicit powerful emotional reactions. Style is interpreted not just as an indication of social affiliation but as a direct and intentional expression of group values, a marker of group boundaries, and thus a rejection of alternative values” (62 here 245).

Subcultural emotional patterns as critical to authenticity of participant identity and worth of subcultural participation (kx^ thus, headiness is revered). These act also as sites of coping, solutions to problems presented to subcultural participants.

Subcultures as ways of diversifying and complicating the meanings of whiteness.


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