Tag Archives: Hebdige

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.]


  • 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.


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.]


  • 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


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?