Williams & Copes—How Edge Are You?

“How Edge Are You?” Constructing Authentic Identities and Subcultural Boundaries in a Straightedge Internet Forum

by J. Patrick Williams & Heith Copes

[Williams, J. Patrick, and Heith Copes. ““How edge are you?” Constructing authentic identities and subcultural boundaries in a straightedge internet forum.”Symbolic Interaction 28, no. 1 (2005): 67-89.]

Points

  • based on several years of online participant (and non-participant) observation on an Internet forum catering to the Straightedge community
  • good section on methodology of subcultural social media study
  • Uses Fine and Kleinman’s (1979) concept of communication interlocks, describing the way subcultures’ influence spreads to other areas. These work in four ways:
    1. members of a subculture are simultaneously members of multiple networks
    2. this involves maintaining weak social ties with many other people, so some subcultural info moves past subcultural boundaries
    3. some subculturists hold key structural roles (representatives, musicians, etc.) and spread cultural information officially through outside structures (fans).
    4. The mass media spreads information back and forth across subcultural boundaries, introducing nonmembers to the subculture through journalistic exposés or a subcultural music style finding mainstream success
  • articles argues against Fine and Kleinman, who assert that self-identification is a necessary part of Subcultural membership
  • Instead, the Internet “facilitates subcultural diffusion via nomadic internet users who may share subcultural values and feel a part of a virtual community but who do not feel the need to self-identify as subcultural members” (86).
  • Thus, Internet forums can be seen as a new communication interlock, lying between face-to-face interaction and mass media communication
    • acting as an example of the general ‘postmodern condition,’ characterized by “the fragmentation of identity and the weakening  of commitment to anything but oneself” (86).

straightedge—a subculture that mixes punk music and aesthetics with a non-drug/alcohol/sex lifestyle

Abstract

We analyze how participants in an internet forum dedicated to the straightedge subculture articulate and express subcultural identities and boundaries, with particular attention to how they accomplish these tasks in a computer-mediated context. Through participant observation, “focused discussions,” and interviews, we explore the complexity of identity-making processes in terms of cyberspace and subculture, conceptualizing identification as occurring at the intersection of biography, subculture, and technology. We find that the internet influences how individuals participate in subcultural communities by analyzing their claims for authenticity and how they position themselves in relation to subcultural boundaries. This article provides insight into the dialectic relationship between participation in a subculture and in an internet community.

Annotation Summary for: Williams & Copes – How Edge Are You?

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We analyze how participants in an internet forum dedicated to the straight- edge subculture articulate and express subcultural identities and bound- aries, with particular attention to how they accomplish these tasks in a computer-mediated context. Through participant observation, “focused dis- cussions,” and interviews, we explore the complexity of identity-making processes in terms of cyberspace and subculture, conceptualizing identifi- cation as occurring at the intersection of biography, subculture, and tech- nology. We find that the internet influences how individuals participate in subcultural communities by analyzing their claims for authenticity and how they position themselves in relation to subcultural boundaries. This article provides insight into the dialectic relationship between participation in a subculture and in an internet community. “How Edge Are You?” Constructing Authentic Identities and Subcultural Boundaries in a Straightedge Internet Forum J. Patrick Williams University of Georgia Heith Copes University of Alabama, Birmingham”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As social life has become more fractured, fragmented, and isolating, subcultures have become more visible and varied as collective reactions to what Moore (1998) terms a “crisis of meaningfulness.””

Page 2, Note (Orange): Has this not always been the case for youth?

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Subcultural participation is one consequence of this search for meaning. Yet for youth especially, subcultural membership often involves a process of stigmatization.”

Page 2, Underline (Red): Content: “Delinquent Boys (1955),”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In Delinquent Boys (1955), Cohen introduces his conceptualization of subcul- ture, wherein individuals with similar problems who interact with one another may develop solutions to collectively experienced social problems by developing an al- ternative frame of reference. Conceptualized as both social psychological and cul- tural, this frame of reference provides individuals with a subcultural identity.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “[C]ircumstances may limit this process of mutual gravitation of people with like problems and free and spontaneous communication among them. People with like problems may be so separated by barriers of physical space or social con- vention that the probability of mutual exploration and discovery is small. Free choice of associates may be regulated by persons in power, as parents may regu- late the associates of their children. (Cohen 1955:70–71) The internet offers a means to overcome such barriers by minimizing or eliminating geographic and parental control barriers.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Researchers have yet to pay adequate attention to the internet as a social space where subcultural communities emerge, develop, and change.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Our research inves-tigates this gap in the literature. We focus on a single straightedge internet site inorder to provide new insights into how individuals develop subcultural identitiesin computer-mediated contexts. ”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE STRAIGHTEDGE SUBCULTURE”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Straightedge emerged as an offshoot of the punk subculture in the early 1980s in the United States and now claims worldwide adherents.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The term was taken up by an emerging youth subculture whose members actively resist what they see as consumer-driven and self-indulgent youth cultures, including the nihilism and apathy of many punks.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t fuck, at least I can fucking think. I can’t keep up. . . . Out of step with the world” (Minor Threat 1981a). The subculture is populated mainly by white males and”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “females between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five from moderately religious, middle-class families.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “within a decade of its genesis, various straightedge scenes and individuals adopted radically different frames. Some incorporated a militant frame of reference toward outsiders and see themselves as soldiers engaged in a war. Others see straight- edge as encompassing vegetarian-vegan ethics, an anticorporate or do-it-yourself ethic, animal rights activism, and religious cultism, including Krishna Consciousness (Tyler 1997).”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Straightedgers now gather in chat rooms, post on internet bulletin board forums, trade music MP3s, and publish internet infozines and fan- zines. In this respect, participants use the internet both as a subcultural resource and as a medium for participation.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “SUBCULTURE AND BOUNDARIES”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We see subcultures as culturally bounded (but not closed) networks of people whocome to share the meaning of specific ideas, material objects, and practices throughinteraction. Over time, members’ interactions develop into a discourse that struc-tures the generation, activation, and diffusion of these ideas, objects, and practices.We do not conceptualize subcultures as having rigid boundaries but rather, follow-ing Fine and Kleinman (1979), we are interested in how actors transmit subculturalcomponents via a series of communication interlocks, social linkages or conduitswithin and among local networks.”

Page 4, Underline (Red): Content: “Fine and Kleinman (1979),”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Fine and Kleinman (1979) identify four types of communication interlocks.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “First, they note that subcultural members are simultaneously members of multiple net- works, which”

Page 4, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “communication interlocks.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “(second) involves maintaining weak social ties with many other people. An individual’s social ties within and among multiple networks facilitate the flow of information across subcultural boundaries.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Third, cultural information can be spread by individuals or groups who inhabit key structural roles. The role of musi- cian, for example, is one through which subculturally relevant information may spread to multiple subcultural scenes as well as outside subcultural networks,”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Fourth, information is transmitted back and forth acrosssubcultural boundaries via mass media. Information about a subculture is dissemi-nated to nonmembers, such as when a journalist reports on a local straightedgescene, or when subculturalists bring mass-mediated information to bear in subcul-tural interaction. ”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “According to Fine (1983), individuals identify themselves as participants in a particular subculture by interacting with subcultural and nonsubcultural members alike, as well as with subcultural symbols.”

Page 5, Underline (Red): Content: “Fine (1983),”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Identity theorists posit the self as reflexive and as mediating the relationships among the individual, culture, and society.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Theories of social comparison have focused on how the desire to positively evaluate one’s self leads to the construction of cognitive boundaries that differentiate those who are similar to us from those who are different (Rosenberg and Kaplan 1982).”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When studying subcultures, the bound- ary concept is likewise useful for highlighting the social processes, rather than cul- tural differences, that distinguish subcultural “insiders” from “outsiders.””

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Researchers who focus only on cultural differences among groups risk reifying boundaries as natural and unproblematic (Barth 1969). A symbolic interactionist approach to boundaries emphasizes the contexts and interactions through which boundaries are organized, as well as the cultural repertoires, narratives, and practices on which”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “individuals rely to construct them (Thorne 1993).”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “IDENTITY AND CYBERSPACE”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The literature on identity and cyberspace is replete with a discourse on boundaries. Much of it is a kind of utopian rhetoric in which “new technology promises to de- liver its users from the constraints and defeats of physical reality and the physical body” (Robins 2000:81).”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “cyberspatial experiences highlight the boundaries between physical and computer-mediated spaces, as well as socially constructed boundaries among categories of people (Turkle 1995).”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Turkle argues that people use the internet as a space where identities, grounded in particular sets of norms, beliefs, and values, can be played out without the same kinds of fears that might exist offline.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Turkle’s em- phasis on the association between anonymity and identity construction, however, suggests that identity-making processes in cyberspace are relatively inconsequential to life off the screen.”

Page 6, Stamp (I don’t like this)

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “screen. If others reject an online presentation of self, an individual can simply avoid or ignore many of the negative consequences that might accompany rejection in less anonymous circumstances.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “outsiders regularly pene- trate subcultural sites, condemning or “flaming” (Dery 1994) subcultural members, who in turn post reactionary messages. These interactional moments provide the”

Page 6, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““flaming””

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “opportunity for multiple actors to construct meaningful identities and cultural boundaries.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In the analysis that follows, we highlight some of the ways that subculturalists articulate authentic identities and boundaries in an internet forum. We also emphasize the impact of the medium on subculturalists’ narratives and in- teractions.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “METHODS AND DATA”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The internet forum we examine is dedicated to the straightedge subculture. This fo- rum fits previous definitions of an online community as it has its own “norms, its rules (netiquette), its own emotional vocabulary—guidelines for posting, acceptable sub- jects, regular users, leaders, oldtimers, and a constant circulation of newcomers” (Den- zin 1998:99–100).”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We collected data using two methodological strategies that Bain- bridge (2000:57) calls “observation ethnography” and “informant ethnography.” data. Our analysis thus focuses on two separate iterations of the forum: the first ex- isted between February and September 2001; the second, between October 2001 and March 2003.”

Page 8, Underline (Magenta): Content: “unobtrusive research role in which we conducted content analysis of forum threads without focused interaction with participants. During the obser- vation ethnographic phase, Patrick (the first author) analyzed the first message of every thread posted on the forum (n 5 285) between February 2001 and September 2001, when it crashed, using interpretive and ethnographic content analysis meth- ods (Altheide 1996). He saved each thread as a text file and imported it into QSR NVivo, a computer application designed to handle and interpret qualitative data (Welsh 2002).”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “soon discovered that there was a significant amount of discussion about subcultural identity—namely, what kinds of people were or were not considered “really” straightedge and what kinds of behaviors were or were not appropriate for straightedgers.”

Page 8, Underline (Magenta): Content: “soon discovered that there was a significant amount of discussion about subcultural identity—namely, what kinds of people were or were not considered “really” straightedge and what kinds of behaviors were or were not appropriate for straightedgers. Informed by these topics, we began to develop emergent coding schemes to categorize our initial understandings of what was theo- retically significant.”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Informed by these topics, we began to develop emergent coding schemes to categorize our initial understandings of what was theo- retically significant.”

Page 8, Underline (Magenta): Content: “we started threads that asked participants about their affiliation with straightedge, their understandings of subcultural rules, and their opinions about mainstream culture. By monitoring the threads daily, we could guide conversations, bring them back on track when participants strayed off topic, ask follow-up ques- tions based on initial responses, and request participation from those who might be following a discussion but who may not have posted.”

Page 8, Underline (Magenta): Content: “During this stage of the data collection, we acted as regular participants of the forum. When participants posted messages we regularly posted our own ideas, opinions, and beliefs about certain as- pects, regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with the participants.”

Page 9, Underline (Magenta): Content: “Early in the informant ethnographic stage, Patrick posted a message in the fo-rums stating that he was a researcher who was analyzing the textual conversationsin which people engaged. Heith (the second author) was a participant observerthroughout 2002 and 2003 but did not explicitly identify himself as a researcher. Toensure that participants understood what the research project was about, Patricktyped a short description of the research plan and the website’s owner-administratorpinned it as a message at the top of the forum’s main page. He made clear that hewould change the usernames of all participants and not disclose the website’s ad-dress so as to protect users’ online identities. Anonymity was promised to all partic-ipants, thus ensuring that individual voices have been protected to the fullest extentpossible. Patrick invited participants who wanted to know more about the researchproject or who did not want to be involved to contact him to discuss any problemsor fears they might have or to opt out of being included in the research. Participantsviewed the message 416 times during 2002 and 2003; one participant sent a messageasking that her or his posts not be included in the resear”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “EXPRESSING AUTHENTIC IDENTITIES ONLINE”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When subculturalists interact with one another it is important for them to appear authentic. Subculturalists regularly claim to “be” real while charging others with simply dressing or speaking certain ways in order to appear cool or to fit in (Widdi- combe and Wooffitt 1990).”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Those unable to convey their authenticity are often la- beled as poseurs, pretenders, wannabes, or weekenders (Fox 1987; Yablonski 1968).”

Page 9, Underline (Magenta): Content: “weekenders”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “When interacting face-to-face with other subcultural members, it is possible to express”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “one’s authenticity through a variety of ways, including argot, style of dress, and be-havior. In the internet forum, however, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identifyother users in such embodied terms”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Participants inthe straightedge forum do not agree on what constitutes this authenticity. Facedwith the diverse beliefs about straightedge expressed online and the lack of face-to-face information about each other, they often articulate their authenticity by em-phasizing either their participation in a straightedge scene or their adherence to astraightedge lifestyle. ”

Page 10, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Articulating Participation in a Community”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Be- cause many of the forum participants are relatively new to straightedge, they seek out stories about what straightedge means to other participants in order to frame their own expressions of straightedge identity.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “During our participant observation, we noticed some antagonism among various participants. This antagonism revolves around the issue of authenticity—who has the “right” to claim to be straightedge.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Authenticity itself is not an objective category. Rather, participants construct sym- bolic boundaries as a means of differentiating themselves as authentic from certain other forum participants whom they see as poseurs.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “many participants express their conviction that an individual can be straightedge without participating in a face-to-face straightedge music scene. For instance, MeanBug posts: I’ve been officially straight edge for about 1.5 years now. I believe this is a life- long promise. However, some guy said I wasn’t sXe because I don’t listen to any sXe hardcore type bands or go to sXe shows. I tried to explain that I live in Idaho (self explanatory there) but he said hanging out with other sXe people was a must. Now, I’m the only one I know. Do I have a problem?”

Page 11, Note (Orange): Otherkin link

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” There aresix replies to her post. In one of them, a straightedge music fan suggests that she re-think her “official” claim. Each of the five subsequent posts seeks to invalidate thisparticipant’s position and to support MeanBug’s identity claim. ”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Articulating a Subcultural Lifestyle”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The claims of authenticity that forum participants advance must be understood in terms of the internet forum in which they occur.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “some claim that strong attachment to the label is evidence of simply “doing” rather than “being” straightedge. They view straightedge as a philosophy for living rather than as a clique to join.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Ethical Underground writes:”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “You will see a lot of new kids on this forum asking “is this edge?” and shit like that. People are trying to fit into the label of “edge,” rather than let being edge fit into themselves. This is what is wrong with sXe.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Terry posts a similar sentiment in another focused discussion: A lot of people say that they do not call themselves “straight edge” because they do not like to affiliate themselves with a certain “group.” But I feel it’s not a group, it is about my life and my future.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Much early research on youth subcultures conceptualized them in terms of norms, values, and beliefs or in terms of class position In contrast,symbolic interactionists emphasize that each participant’s perspective on the sub-culture is unique”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Posts, conceptualized as subcultural artifacts that outlive the moment when they are created, build up a “dis- cursive environment, [an] interactional domain characterized by distinctive ways of interpreting and representing everyday realities” (Gubrium and Holstein 2000:103).”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “CONSTRUCTING SUBCULTURAL BOUNDARIES ONLINE”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Our analysis focuses on bound- ary making and negotiating processes.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Interacting with “Outsiders””

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “1982; Widdicombe and Wooffitt 1990). Whether on- or offline, participants who claim the straightedge label use social comparisons in an attempt to view them- selves favorably against outsiders, particularly members of “the mainstream.””

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “By comparing oneself with others who behave or believe differently, participants enforce a politics of exclusion against perceived outsiders.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “enforce a politics of exclusion against perceived outsiders. According to Travers (2000), the internet is a liminal space that serves to empower the exclusion of others”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “based on racial, gender, and sexual differences. People are less likely to see other participants as fully human, instead reducing them to the posts they make online.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Participants communicate negative stereotypes in their posts, which solidify the other against whom their straightedge identities become relevant and meaningful.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “One way that straightedge participants make social comparisons is by defining themselves as unique individuals while defining drug users as an undifferentiated and monolithic category.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Norm Violations and Insider/Outsider Distinctions”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Participants who learn about straightedge online are not socialized into the sub-culture in the same ways members of face-to-face groups are portant because they have no friends in the face-to-face world who would under- stand its symbolic value.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This finding contrasts with Fine and Kleinman’s (1979) thesis, which argues thatself-identification is a necessary component of membership in a subcultural group.We agree that self-identification is certainly one way of defining subcultural bound-aries, but our analysis of the straightedge forum shows that the site consists of indi-viduals who do not self-identify as straightedgers but who play instrumental insiderroles, actively defining and maintaining boundaries and facilitating the spread ofstraightedge culture”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “CONCLUSION”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We have described how participants in a straightedge internet forum construct and express authentic subcultural identities and boundaries. The analysis supports an in- teractionist conception of subculture as arising through interpersonal communication and suggests the importance of further developing research on subcultures to include computer-mediated environments.”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We suggest that internet forums should be concep-tualized as one new example of a communication interlock that lies between immediateface-to-face situations and mass media. ”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The subculture is spread online by people sharing stories with others they likely will never meet face-to-face. These are often “self-stories, stories that might not otherwise be told” were it not for the liminal characteristics of the medium and the expansion of weak ties it pro- motes (Denzin 1998:97).”

Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the internet, as a communication interlock, facilitates sub- cultural diffusion via nomadic internet users who may share subcultural values and feel a part of a virtual community but who do not feel the need to self-identify as subcultural members.”

Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In this respect, our findings corroborate a more general under- standing of the postmodern condition, which has been characterized by the frag- mentation of identity and the weakening of commitment to anything but oneself.”

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: “Cohen, Albert K. 1955. Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang. New York: Free Press.”

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: “Gottschalk, Simon. 1993. “Uncomfortably Numb: Countercultural Impulses in the Postmodern Era.” Symbolic Interaction 16:351–78.

Fox, Kathryn Joan. 1987. “Real Punks and Pretenders: The Social Organization of a Countercul- ture.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 16:344–70.

Fine, Gary Alan and Sherryl Kleinman. 1979. “Rethinking Subculture: An Interactionist Analy- sis.” American Journal of Sociology 85:1–20.

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: “Hall, Stuart and Tony Jefferson, eds. 1976. Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. London: Hutchinson.”

Page 21, Underline (Red): Content: “Hebdige, Dick. 1988. Hiding in the Light: On Images and Things. London: Routledge”

Page 22, Underline (Red): Content: “Kendall, Lori. 1998. “Meaning and Identity in ‘Cyberspace’: The Performance of Gender, Class, and Race Online.” Symbolic Interaction 21:129–53.”

Page 22, Underline (Red): Content: “Turkle, Sherry. 1995. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.”

Page 22, Underline (Red): Content: “Turner, Victor. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine.”

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