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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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).
- hardcore punks
- 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