Category Archives: American Subcultures

Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the “Fluffy Bunny” Sanction

by Angela Coco & Ian Woodward

[Coco, Angela, and Ian Woodward. 2007. “Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the ‘Fluffy Bunny’ Sanction.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (5): 479–504.]

Points

  • Discussing “fluffy bunnies” is “a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments.”
    • It explores pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings.
    • Implicit in the discussion is a sense of a “them” who are seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distance ourselves from such things (480).
  • “In a consumer society one purchases objects—commodities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self.
    • These objects then act as material boundary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others” (482).

 

  • pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny” (499).
  • “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity” (483).
  • “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice” (499).

 

  • Fluffy Bunnies defined:
    • “those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices” (500).
    • “uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic”—informant (500).
    • “a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”—informant (500).
    •  “perhaps what bugs me most about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fashion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing the results of their own actions”—informant (501).
    • “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only on the light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficult aspects of experience” (501).

 

Abstract

The commodification of the religious impulse finds its most overt expression in the New Age movement and its subculture neopaganism. This article examines discourses in the pagan community in an Australian state. Pagans, who have been characterized as individualist, eclectic, and diverse in their beliefs and practices, network through electronic mail discussion lists and chat forums as well as through local and national offline gatherings. We explore community building and boundary defining communications in these discourses. In particular, we examine interactions that reveal the mobilization of pagans’ concern with authenticity in the context of late-capitalism, consumer lifestyles, and media representations of the “craft.” Our analysis highlights a series of tensions in pagans’ representations of and engagement with consumer culture which are evident in everyday pagan discourse. These notions of in/authenticity are captured by invoking the “fluffy bunny” sanction.

Continue reading Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community

Advertisements

boyd—None of This Is Real

None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster

by dana boyd

[Boyd, Danah. 2008. “None of This Is Real.” In Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis. Social Science Research Council.]

Points

  • Based on fieldwork among users of the social networking site Friendster, specifically during the year 2003
  • Explores how the built in affordances of what was intended to be a dating site both constricted user communication and provided avenues for creative expression

Initial design of Friendster

  • Friendster allows users to see people at up to four degrees distance from themselves, which is much more than is possible in face-to-face social engagement
  • however—”Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds” (134).
  • So—”Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiating texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social networks by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system” (134).
  • This lead to the invention of fakesters—”fake profiles that signaled not the individuals behind the profile but communities, cultural icons, or collective interests” (139).

Participatory Performance

  • “The performance of identity relies on the active interpretation of social contexts. Familiarity with a context increases a person’s ability to navigate it—to understand what is appropriate or advantageous within it—and thereby shapes choices about the persona one tries to present within it (boyd, 2002). Contexts are not static backgrounds, but constantly evolve through this process (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992). Digitally mediated performance is no different, but the novelty and narrower channel of interaction affect our capacity to interpret context” (141).
  • The user interface started to interfere with users’ performance of impression management (Goffman 1956)
    • “A growing portion of participants found themselves simultaneously negotiating multiple social groups—social and professional circles, side interests, and so on. Because profiles presented a singular identity to the entire network, however, this diversification brought with it the potential for disruption of individuals’ carefully managed everyday personas” (142-43)

Articulated Participation

  • “Although transparency of information poses an interesting challenge, where the information comes from is also a problem. As Jenny Sundén (2003) noted, digital embodiment requires writing yourself into being. On Friendster this means an explicit articulation of who you are and how you relate to others, using the predefined mechanisms for expression. Through a series of forms, profiles must be crafted to express some aspect of identity and relationships must be explicitly acknowledged in order to exist within the system. Unlike everyday embodiment, there is no digital corporeality without articulation. One cannot simply “be” online; one must make one’s presence visible through explicit and structured actions” (bold added 145).
  • Friendships became strategic—”Impression management is encoded into articulated networks. The variable ways in which people interpret the term friend play a critical role, as does the cost of signaling the value of a relationship” (147).

Rise of the Fakesters

  • Many Fakesters began as practical endeavors to connect groups of people; alumni networks were constituted through Fakesters representing universities, and Burning Man was crafted to connect Burners .., Fakesters were a way of “hacking” the system to introduce missing social texture. These purposes were not limited to group networking: The vast majority of Fakesters were exercises in creative and usually playful expression” (148).
  • Friendster began cracking down on the Fakesters, deleting profiles that seemed fake, and the Fakesters became political.
    • “the Fakester Revolution … crafted “The Fakester Manifesto” (Batty, 2003) “in defense of our right to exist in the form we choose or assume” which included three key sections:
      1.  Identity is Provisional
      2. All Character is Archetypal, Thus Public
      3. Copyright is Irrelevant in the Digital Age (151).
    • Fakesters created Fraudsters, who impersonated other people on the service. Fraudsters were meant to confuse both the Friendster service and serious users …
    • Pretendsters combined random photos from the Web and random profile data. They were not fraudulent portrayals of any particular person, but automated Fakesters that mimicked real profiles” (152).
  • “Although Fakesters had taken on a collective impression of resistance, their primary political stance concerned authenticity. In discussing Fakesters, Batty was quick to point out that there’s no such thing as an authentic performance on Friendster—“None of this is real” …
    • “Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions” (153).

BIG POINTS

  • The abolition of distance—the classic Internet virtue—rendered many social distinctions invisible; the impact of Friends’ performances on individual profiles undermined the individual’s control over social performances; and the binary social network structure—Friend/not-Friend—erased a broad field of relationship nuances. Absent these strong orienting features, participants negotiated new norms and reintroduced new forms of social complexity” (154).
  • “digital networks will never merely map the social, but inevitably develop their own dynamics through which they become the social. The interaction of people with information systems is recurrently marked by play and experimentation, as people test the limits of their settings and manage the consequences of unexpected interactions and altered contexts” (155).

Continue reading boyd—None of This Is Real

Fine—Small Groups and Culture Creation

Small Groups and Culture Creation: The Idioculture of Little League Baseball Teams

by Gary Alan Fine

[Fine, Gary Alan. 1979. “Small Groups and Culture Creation: The Idioculture of Little League Baseball Teams.” American Sociological Review 44 (5): 733–45.]

Points

  • based on participant (kind-of) observation over three years with little league baseball teams in three different communities in America
  • “in order to avoid treating cul­ture as an amorphous, indescribable mist which swirls around society members, it is necessary to ground the term in interac­tion” (733).
  • To do this, Fine asserts that each small group has an intercation based culture of its own, and calls this the group’s idioculture. 
    • “Idioculture consists of a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and employ as the basis of further interaction” (734).

Rationale for the deployment of idioculture as a classificatory tool

  • “Five arguments are proposed here for the utility of the construct of idioculture in sociological research” (735).
    1. specificity of cultures
      • The relatively limited extent of the par­ticularistic aspects of small-group culture lends itself to examination by the partici­pant observer, and thus idiocultures can be specified by the researcher to a much greater extent than is true for either societal cultures or subcultures” (736).
    2. Comparative analysis of groups
      • “By comparing groups in terms of their experiences and shared meanings as influencing their culture, one is able to explicate the process of cultural differentiation—a process Fischer (1968) has termed microethnography” (736).
    3. Cultural creation and diffusion in societies and subsocieties
      • “In ob­serving a small group one can pinpoint precisely and with confidence the circum­stances under which an item of culture was created” (736).
      • esp. informal cultural products like jokes or slang.
    4. Groups as cultural units
      • “groups do not exist in a content-free con­text, but are continuously engaged in the construction of a social reality, a history, and a sense of meaning …
      •  Following interactionist theory, we assume that cultural content derives its shared social meaning through interaction, rather than through an a priori assignment of meaning. Groups negotiate meanings, and this ongoing negotiation structures the culture of groups” (737).
    5. Culture as mediation between environment and action
      • “Idioculture is proposed as a mediating element between constraints external to the group and the behavior of the group in dealing with these constraints. It is the process by which collective decisions ares elected, and thus permits an under­standing of how a group increases its sense of “groupness,” cohesion, and commitment” (737).

The Social Production of Idioculture

  • “At the inception of any group, an idioculture does not exist; however, the formation of a culture may occur from the opening moments of group interaction …
  • Eventually idioculture becomes self ­generating, and direct solicitation and re­ciprocal inquisition are no longer neces­sary for social solidarity” (737).
  • Five Filtering elements that establish a piece of idioculture—it must be perceived as:
    1. Known
      • either the item or components of the item must be based on information poreviously known by one or more members of the group
      • ” Since members have access to other idiocultures (or latent cultures)through previous or concurrent member­ships, the range of potentially known in­formation may be extensive” (738).
    2. Usable
      • i.e. must be mentionable in the context of group interaction
      • “Some elements of the latent or known culture, although shared by mem­bers of a group, may not be shared pub­licly because of sacred or taboo implica­tions” (739).
      • this can lead to strategic avoidance of the item (situational racism or foul language)
    3. Functional
      • “its perceived congruence with the goals and needs of some or all group members, and whether it is defined as facilitating the survival and successful operation of the group as a unit” (740).
      • If something is arbitrary or extraneous to group functioning, members won’t feel the need to adhere to it, and it won’t survive
    4. Appropriate
      • “Some potential elements of a group’s culture, while func­tional for satisfying group goals or per­sonal needs, do not occur or continue be­ cause they undermine the group’s social structure in not supporting the interper­sonal network and power relations in the group. Those potential cultural elements which are consistent with the patterns of interaction of the group are the appropri­ate culture of the group” (741).
      • example – the ironic nickname “Tiny” for an overweight member cannot survive if that member loses weight.
    5. Triggered
      • Some event has to bring the item into the group’s use—best if the event is notable or unusual
      • creates a type of genesis mythology for the item
  • These elements are contingent and hierarchical, in that “K>U>F>A>T” (738).

Final thoughts

  • “For both theoretical and methodological reasons, an examina­tion on the level of the small group seems desirable. Small groups can be examined adequately, and they represent locations where much culture, subsequently spread to larger social units, has its origin. This procedure, in addition to increasing understanding about the social role of culture itself, also has the potential for bettering knowledge about small groups …
  • Culture is a construction based upon the consensual meaning sys­tem of members; it comprises the interac­tional products that result from a verbal and behavioral representation of that meaning system.” (744).

Abstract

Following interactionist theory, this study argues that cultural creation and usage can be examined by conceptualizing cultural forms as originating in a small-group context. Those cultural elements which characterize an interacting group are termed the idioculture of the group. This approach focuses on the content of small-group interaction, and suggests that the meanings of cultural items in a small group must be considered in order to comprehend their continued existence as communication. Five characteristics of cultural items affect which items will become part of a group culture. Cultural forms may be created and continue to be utilized in situations if they are known to members of the interacting group, usable in the course of group interaction, functional in supporting group goals and individual needs, appropriate in supporting the status hierarchy of the group, and triggered by events which occur in group interaction. These elements have impact only through the interpretations of group members oftheir situations. Support for this approach is drawn from a participant observation study of Little League baseball teams.

Continue reading Fine—Small Groups and Culture Creation

Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet 

graduate thesis by Eric Stephen Altman

[Altman, Eric Stephen. 2010. “Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet.” Thesis, Appalachian State University.]

Points

  • based mostly on online written materials, as well as 10 interviews
  • an English department MA thesis
  • looks at Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin as three fandoms with three similar aspects
    1. emphasize an online avatar that represents identity to members
    2. engages in fan fiction
    3. has a sexual, fetishistic component as a prominent feature
      • “The object of this thesis is to engage in and describe three different communities that engage in community behavior that deviates from and challenges mainstream culture. Each of these communities is primarily based on the Internet and their members consistently identify with an identity that is not human. These communities often express discontentment with their human body or existence and instead idealize the conception of another state of existence. Interestingly enough, many members justify their beliefs by stating that they must have once been the creature that they identity with so, believing their past lives to be the one where they were once happy and accepted, as opposed to the sham of their human existence” (7).

By describing Otherkin as a fandom, Altman misses the boat completely

  • the piece references the furry subculture along with Otherkin & Otakukin as if they were comparable levels of identity
    • the problem= Furries identify with a non-human entity; Otherkin/Otakukin identify as a non-human entity
    • this leads the author to treat Otherkin identity as a fundamentally fictional construct, which is not the case to Otherkin
    • “Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction” (33).

Altman gets close to describing Otherkin belief as a valid religion-like system by linking fandoms to mythology and religious structure:

  • “The devotion of fandoms to media is a new kind of mythology. Fans have the opportunity to adhere themselves to a system of fundamental guidelines that appeal to them, and these moral and societal edicts are transmitted through the narratives that are crafted by media and literature. The heroes and saints of religion are transmitted within the narrative of popular culture, and archetypes of mythology continue to define the way in which the viewer experiencing the media understands characters … A key difference between fandoms and religions is that fandoms are inherently outside of cultural hegemony” (41).

But then falls prey to the fandom construct by viewing Otherkin personal histories and narratives of awakening as genres of fan fiction—governed by rules, but completely fictional:

  • “if I were to endeavor to make a persona in the Otherkin community, I would have the nearly limitless horizons of fantasy literature and media from which to draw inspiration. I could easily craft a creature that defies all logical sense, but under the loose framework of fantasy, could indeed be completely plausible; if I establish enough background and history then my idea could be “believable” within the context of the fan community” (63).

Since the Otherkin belief system is based around the cultural productions of a fandom, it is an alternative ontological choice the members have made rather than a true belief system

  • “trappings of humanity isn’t so much an indication of the fandom’s sanity so much as a critique of a world that discarded them; humanity hasn’t worked, and so therefore the alternatives are explored” (89).
  • This is not necessarily true or false, but the fact that Altman starts from the position of a fandom precludes any exploration of ontological possibilities and does not take the participants of his research seriously.

Abstract

The Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin are Internet fan subcultures whose members personally identify with non-human beings, such as animals, creatures of fantasy, or cartoon characters. I analyze several different forms of expression that the fandoms utilize to define themselves against the human world. These are generally narrative in execution, and the conglomeration of these texts provides the communities with a concrete ontology. Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction. Through the use of the mutability of Internet performance and presentation of self-hood, the groups are able to present themselves as possessing the traits of previous, non-human lives; on the Internet, the members are post-human. The members no longer need to suffer through the society of humans around them: they can reclaim their past lives and live out a posthum/an/ous existence

Continue reading Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Fox—Real Punks and Pretenders

Real Punks and Pretenders: The Social Organization of a Counterculture

by Kathryn Joan Fox

[Fox, Kathryn Joan. “Real Punks and Pretenders The Social Organization of a Counterculture.” Journal of contemporary ethnography 16, no. 3 (1987): 344-370.]

Points

  • Based on participant observation in a Southwestern American punk scene in 1983
  • broke the punk counterculture in a ‘social organization’ of four typologies
    1. hardcore punks
      • core of the group, small in number
      • exclusively wore punk clothing and hairstyles (mohawks, etc.), often had tattoos (swastikas—not because of anti-semitism, but embracing a symbol that the mainstream found offensive)
      • fully committed (through conversion) to the punk lifestyle and ideology (belief that the punk movement stood for something politically important, anarchic and anti capitalist)
      • usually into hard drugs (glue huffing) and living in poverty by choice
    2. softcore punks
      • linked socially with the hardcore, but larger in number
      • exclusively wore punk clothing and hairstyles, rarely had tattoos
      • committed to the punk lifestyle temporarily, and often ambivalent about the ‘meaning’ of the punk movement
      • softer drugs (marijuana, binge drinking) and living in semi-poverty by choice temporarily
    3. preppie punks
      • peripheral to the hard and softcore members, even larger in number, often the butt of core members’ jokes
      • wore punk clothing only when attending punk events, wore hair in punk styles that could be restyled into a mainstream look during the week for school or work
      • not interested in the punk lifestyle beyond the fashion and spectacle
      • usually younger, middle class, lived with parents or went to school
    4. spectators
      • on the scene regularly, but not identified as punks
      • sometimes became punks over time
      • punks liked having them around, “every type of punk thrived on an audience. The punks needed people to shock” (364).
  • As a group, central members (hard & softcore) provided ideology and mentorship to the peripheral members—in turn, peripheral members served to insulate central members from larger society.
    • peripheral members often helped the central members financially through money, food, drugs, and rides
    • says Fox: “The peripheral groups thus filled ironically polarized roles: buffering the central mem­bers from contact, yet, at the same time, maintaining contact for them with the conventional society” (366).
    • and “It is, I believe, characteristic of antiestablishment counter­ cultures in general for members to subsist parasitically on the societies that they oppose” (366).
  • Fox believes that, for a counterculture to be successful, it needs to have this dual strata (core and marginal—the core to provide a ‘counter’ ideology and opposition to the status quo, and the marginal to facilitate dialogue between the counterculture and the dominant culture that it opposes.

Abstract

Very little has been written from a sociological perspective about the punk counterculture in the United States. Further, few studies of antiestablishment style cultures deal with their implicit social organization. In this essay I describe and analyze the informal stratification of a local punk community. I based members’ positions within the hierarchy on their perceived level of commitment to the scene. Within the group, three categories of punks emerged: hardcore punks, softcore punks, and preppie punks. Another type appeared that was peripheral to the scene, referred to as “spectators.” In discussing each type, I describe their appearance, lifestyle, and attitude and how these factors affected members’ positions in the larger scene. I conclude by analyzing the function of each group for the social organization of the scene, and for antiestablishment cultures more generally. Continue reading Fox—Real Punks and Pretenders

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. Continue reading Williams & Copes—How Edge Are You?