Journal of Youth Studies Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2005, pp.

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Subcultures, Scenes or Tribes? None of the Above
David Hesmondhalgh

The concept of subculture has been criticised a great deal in recent research on youth and popular music. Two concepts have emerged as offering new ways of conceiving musical collectivities, particularly among young people: scenes, and tribes (or neo-tribes). I offer criticisms of the work of advocates of both terms. I also argue, however, that there is no possibility of a return to the concept of subculture in any adequate sociology of popular music, even if the concept may have some residual use in the sociology of youth. I discuss the potential advantages of the concepts of genre and articulation as a way of at least beginning to address some of the problems raised in the literature on subcultures, scenes and tribes, concerning the politics of musical collectivities. The common feature of the three terms under discussion is that they have been discussed by those concerned with the relationship between youth and popular music, and I close by reflecting on the relationship between the study of these two entities. I suggest that the assumption that there is a close relationship between youth and popular music was the result of particular historical circumstances and I argue that, while the study of young people’s relationships with popular music remains a topic of interest, the privileging of youth in studies of music has actually become an obstacle to a more fully developed understanding of music and society. Introduction Over the past few decades, it has often been assumed that the study of popular music is intimately connected to the study of youth culture. It is hard to imagine a major survey of the field of popular music studies that would not, at some point, pass through an examination of research that has also been important in the study of youth culture. The relationship is not quite one of equals, but popular music has been important to the study of youth too. Many key studies have something to say about
Correspondence to: David Hesmondhalgh, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK. Email: The author thanks Johan Forna ¨ s, Keith KahnHarris, Brian Longhurst, Jason Toynbee and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on this paper. ISSN 1367-6261 (print)/ISSN 1469-9680 (online) # 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd DOI: 10.1080/13676260500063652


D. Hesmondhalgh

the role of music in the lives of young people, even if youth researchers have left the theorisation of this role to music studies. On the face of it, there are good reasons for this link. Popular music is very important in the lives of young people. People seem to lose touch with innovations in popular music as they get older. The most famous popular music of the past decades seems to have been created mainly by young-ish people for young people. But these ideas rely on particular notions of what popular music is, which are derived from an era, that of the 1960s and 1970s, when popular music became tied commercially and discursively to youth. In contrast, I want to suggest later in this article that popular music should not be conceived as the privileged domain of young people. The high point of the relationship between the sociology of youth and the sociology of popular music was the work on youth subcultures carried out in the 1970s by various researchers associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). Music often featured in these studies * although far less prominently than might be assumed. As the years went by, however, there have been signs of strain in the relationship. Birmingham subcultural theory has been attacked for a variety of sins by scholars of popular music and of youth (of which, more later). In the light of dis-satisfaction with work carried out under the banner of subculture, those concerned with youth and popular music have tried to find a new term to replace it. This is apparent from the title of a recent conference organised by the youth study group of the British Sociological Association, Subcultures, Scenes and Tribes (held in Northampton, in September 2003). ‘Scene’ is a term that has become increasingly prevalent in popular music studies in recent years. In fact, it is common for it to be talked about among popular music academics as a term that has replaced subcultures as the key way in which musical collectivities are conceived. The term ‘tribe’, meanwhile, has been the basis of a recent effort, by Andy Bennett, to rethink the relationship between youth, style and musical taste in the wake of increasing criticisms of subculture-based research. Whereas tribe, or ‘neo-tribe’, has emerged from the longstanding interplay between youth research and popular music studies, the concept of scene has been developed in versions of popular music studies more influenced by cultural studies and cultural geography. Nevertheless, the abiding concern with popular music among youth researchers has made the concept of scene an object of interest for them. The terms scene and tribe, then, indicate a potentially fertile area of debate about the problems with the concept of subculture in research on youth and popular music. More significantly still, they raise important questions about the best way to conceive of ‘musical collectivities’, or collective musical identities, in the light of such problems. This is my main focus in this article, and I want to argue that the concepts of scene and tribe are not, ultimately, useful ways to conceive of musical collectivities in modern societies, whether of ‘youth’ or of any other group. I also have a secondary, and more polemical, concern. What unites the three terms under discussion here, and at the Northampton conference, is a shared concern with youth and popular music. This suggests that a quest has been under way for concepts that will continue to bring

and about whether this close relationship is desirable. in a limited way. music and style. The article therefore questions the search for particular terms that can reunite the study of youth and popular music. that we should question the assumption. p. But I will argue that scene is a confusing term. that there is a privileged relationship between the two fields of study. p. music and style than does the concept of subculture (Bennett 1999. But I recognise that the debates about subcultures. I agree with Bennett that subculture has problems as a concept in the study of youth and popular music. There is a case that it might be useful to hold on to the term. based on the concepts of genre. But I argue that subcultural analysis has never really been of much use in studying popular music. I ask whether we should return to subculture. work done under this rubric has offered useful insights into the role of place and space in musical production and consumption. I concentrate on Bennett’s article because this is by far the most substantial attempt I know to develop a theory of neotribalism in relation to music [1]. . It suggests a bounded place but has also been used to refer to more complex spatial flows of musical affiliation. I will begin with a critical reading of Andy Bennett’s adaptation of the term tribe from the work of Michel Maffesoli (Bennett 1999). music and style’ (Bennett 1999. These problems in my view undermine his proposal of ‘neo-tribalism’ as a ‘new theoretical framework for the study of the cultural relationship between youth. one that will replace subculture. Bennett identifies two main problems in uses of subculture as a framework for studying youth. I close with some observations about the close relationship between the study of youth and the study of popular music. articulation and homology. but I will argue that there are better reasons for thinking that subculturalism is flawed than the ones he offers. a concept he derives from Michel Maffesoli. I offer some thoughts on a better way to conceive of the relationship between music and collective identity. the two major ways in which the term is used are incompatible with each other. One is that the term is used in increasingly contradictory ways. 614). Finally. The second is that the ‘grounding belief ’ of the subculturalists. in the light of debates about these terms. I will then go on to offer an assessment of some work carried out using the much more fully developed concept of scene. provides a much more adequate framework for the study of the cultural relationship between youth. and indeed the attempt to reify individual terms as theories. implicit in much teaching and research in these areas. Collectively. via some comments of the British sociologist Kevin Hetherington.Journal of Youth Studies 23 together the study of youth and popular music. 614). furthermore. But I want to claim that such a quest is misguided and. under the sign of a new paradigm. Tribes and Neo-tribalism Andy Bennett has argued that ‘neo-tribalism’. scenes and tribes throw up important questions about musical collectivities. In the third section. for analysing certain youth groups. and that the criticisms he makes are based on problematic theoretical assumptions.

The term has been widely used in dance music culture. One is Hetherington. Drawing upon the work of David Chaney. We need to know how boundaries are constituted. Bennett offers what he describes as a related concept. or cultures within cultures’. it would be hard to find a concept more imbued with such connotations than ‘tribe’. 605). p. this is too polarised a presentation of the alternatives. a state of mind. quoted by Bennett 1999. in order to provide a basis for ‘a revised understanding of how individual identities are constructed and lived out’ (1999. and is preferably to be expressed through lifestyles that favour appearance and form’ (Maffesoli. ‘tribes’ carries very strong connotations of precisely the kind of fixity and rigidity that Bennett is troubled by in the work of the subculturalists. For Bennett. Indeed. p. Hesmondhalgh that ‘subcultures are subsets of society. who finds the concept of ‘tribalisation’ useful because it involves the ‘deregulation through modernization and individualization of the modern forms of solidarity and identity based on class occupation. and its concern with class. But beneath the theoretical language. the tribe is ‘without the rigidity of the forms of organization with which we are familiar. Underlying Bennett’s criticisms of subcultural theory is a particular interpretation of the historical development of youth culture and a particular view of personal identity. He finds the basis of such a term in Michel Maffesoli’s concept of the tribe in his book The Time of the Tribes (1995). whereas the concept of tribes or ‘neo-tribalism’ offers a recognition of instability and the temporary nature of group affiliation. It would be a great mistake for sociologists to take such projections at face value. but simply to offer instability and temporariness as alternatives does not get us very far. / / . Maffesoli and Shields are directing their criticisms at the sociology of mass culture * Shields (1992. overestimates the coherence and fixity of youth groups (Bennett 1999.24 D. 607). locality and gender’ (quoted by Bennett 1999. In my view. 605). lifestyle. p. a simple duality is shared by these writers: fixity and rigidity versus instability and fluidity [2]. 606). 605). p. not simply that they are fuzzier than various writers have assumed. p. but as with a great deal of dance music discourse it represents a projection of premodern symbols on to putatively new phenomena (see Hesmondhalgh 1995). p. The other is the Canadian geographer Rob Shields who argues that the ‘performative orientation’ among tribes produces temporary groups and circles. 108) writes of the ‘Reismanian vision of a faceless mob of anonymous strangers’ * whereas Bennett is directing his critique towards subculturalists. p. rather than the supposedly homogeneous identities of a perceived mass (Bennett 1999. The CCCS subculturalists might have overestimated the boundedness and permanence of the group identities they were studying. Bennett marshalls two Anglophone commentators to back up his view that Maffesoli usefully focuses attention on the temporary and fluid nature of modern group identity. 606). And confusingly. fixity and rigidity are associated with the old language of structural Marxism. published in French in 1988. it refers more to a certain ambience. The main way in which Bennett wants to move beyond these perceived limitations is to find a term that will capture the ‘unstable and shifting cultural affiliations which characterise late modern consumer-based identities’ (Bennett 1999. For Maffesoli.

p. such as the work of Paul Willis. addiction. whereas structuralism emphasises determination and that old devil called class. (Bennett 1999. All such states and processes seem to be consigned by Bennett to the category of ‘structural issues’. p. which was at pains to draw attention to the creative ways in which individuals made use of commodities drawn from consumer society. we have a polarity: the term lifestyles emphasises activity and agency. according to Bennett. modern life has seen a marked increase in the importance of aesthetics and culture. p. rather than to the elements associated with structuralism and post-structuralism). The references to choice help to reveal Bennett’s uncritical view of consumerism. Bennett’s conception of ‘the cultural relationship between youth. But it is not clear that Bennett’s emphasis on active consumers ‘whose choice reflects a self-constructed notion of identity’ (Bennett 1999. music and style’ that he is trying to theorise appears to be that youth can do whatever they want with music and style. in fact. p. his objection seems mainly to be to the Marxian elements of subcultural theory. For Forna ¨ s.Journal of Youth Studies 25 Bennett explains how the concept differs from what he describes as ‘structuralist interpretations of social life’ (although. social suffering. But what of the factors that might limit or constrain such choice: poverty. for example. It is true to say that class underpinned Birmingham CCCS theory as an explanatory factor. There is no need to take an orthodox Marxist or neo-Marxist position to find such notions troubling. For example. and young people are . p. 607) Once again. marginalisation. disempowerment. Bennett offers what is in effect a celebration of consumerism. he glosses a passage from Maffesoli as implying ‘that a fully developed mass society liberates rather than oppresses individuals by offering avenues for individual expression through a range of commodities and resources which can be worked into particular lifestyle sites and strategies’ (Bennett 1999. He anticipates the objection that the concept of lifestyle does not pay adequate attention to ‘structural issues’ (it is not altogether clear what this might mean beyond class) and makes the counter-claim that ‘consumerism offers the individual new ways of negotiating such issues’ (Bennett 1999. 608) and it is very clear that Bennett is endorsing this view. whereby lifestyle is defined as a ‘freely chosen game’ and identity is ‘self-constructed’ (Bennett 1999. The concept of lifestyle. mental illness. and it might be fair to argue that the CCCS subculturalists paid too much attention to class as a factor in understanding individual and collective identity. childcare and healthcare. at the expense of other factors. negotiable by self-creating subjects. This is an odd characterisation of some subcultural theory. 607). 607) is a more satisfactory view of the relationships between consumption and modern personhood. unequal access to education. by the Swedish writer Johan Forna ¨s. regards individuals as active consumers whose choice reflects a self-constructed notion of identity while the latter [‘structuralist interpretations of social life’] supposes individuals to be locked into particular ‘ways of being’ which are determined by the conditions of class. Tied to this celebration of consumerism is a voluntaristic conception of identity. and so on? [3]. A more satisfying account of youth and identity has been offered. 607).

The study Forna ¨ s carried out with two colleagues. is a rather more loosely defined sensibility than has previously been supposed . who lived through the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s. work and community are lost. which in Bennett’s version implies that all relations between taste and identity are pretty much contingent. they like Western pop too. Forna ¨s et al . Music generates a range of moods and experiences which individuals are able to move freely between’ (Bennett 1999. 611). Forna ¨ s is registering the ambivalence surrounding changes in youth culture. Forna ¨ s is careful to note) is the ‘problematization and intensification of identity work’ (Forna ¨s 1995. I will draw on recent work on music and identity to argue for a theoretical framework that makes it possible to examine different kinds of relations between taste and musical genre. Bennett does not specify which researchers have assumed that musical taste was a tightly defined sensibility. There are losses and gains. gender and ethnicity. How does music fit into Bennett’s theory of neo-tribes? Bennett draws on his own fieldwork on urban dance music to elucidate the framework. p. without losing the idea that collective identity can be expressed through music. These questions can only really be addressed using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data. Whereas Bennett provides an account that portrays post-war history as one of continuously rising standards of living. and cultural taste in general. 216). which is the basis of Bennett’s account. p. published as In Garageland . in keeping with other lifestyle orientations and preferences. The much more difficult and controversial questions about musical taste. The basis for this claim is that DJs mix different styles into their sets. class. as traditional positions within family. Later. but we can assume that he means the Birmingham subculturalists. but Bennett is using only a particular type of qualitative evidence here. have tended to concern the degree to which sets of musical likes and dislikes can be correlated with other key variables. unlike their parents. . school. but also because the demands of ‘goal-oriented self-control’ made on young people by school and work create compensatory needs for escape and freedom. Unemployment and marginalisation can lie behind an investment in leisure and style too. however. . or at least dependent on the whims of individuals. His claim is that ‘musical taste. including pop songs. Hesmondhalgh prominent in this: not simply. Now Bennett might be right to say that some Birmingham subculturalists did not have enough to say about the variety of musical affiliations that the young people they studied might have (see the later discussion of Paul Willis) but the uncontroversial idea that people like different musical genres does not sustain a theory of neo-tribalism. ‘stamped by a new kind of uncertainty and irremediably chronic awareness of crisis’ (Forna ¨ s et al . that clubs offer different musical genres in different rooms. because they have more spending power and access to consumer goods. write of how the young rock musicians they studied were. 151). such as age. and that young Asians do not just like bhangra. provides a more detailed account of post-war Swedish youth. The theoretical framework remains unsupported. p. .26 D. Most important of all in explaining the increased centrality of culture among young people (as well as adults. Engaging with the commodities produced by the cultural industries is a response to this problematisation. 1995.

Straw in fact developed his use of the term ‘scene’ from an earlier paper by Barry Shank. Texas (Shank 1994). is grounding it in a (Lacanian) theory of human subjectivity. prevalent in rock culture. mastery and plenitude. and in 1994 Shank produced a substantial study of ‘the rock ‘n’ roll scene in Austin. There are echoes in Straw’s piece of the emphasis in much recent cultural geography on the complexities of space and place. p. There are two main sources for the widespread use of the concept of scene in popular music studies. like cultural geographers such as Doreen Massey. Ten years later. 131). p. For Shank. Shank’s book treats scene in an equally interesting but very different way. 124). Simon Frith observed that ‘[t]he long domination of IASPM (sociology division) by subcultural theory is over. a signifying community is produced ‘based upon new enunciative possibilities within and among individual subjects’ (1994. first published in 1991. In Shank’s words. Shank develops a theory of the positively transformative aspects of rock scenes such as those of Austin.Journal of Youth Studies 27 Scenes: A Fruitfully Muddled Concept? Does the concept of scene offer more as a new key term in popular music studies? Every two years since 1981. which create ‘a productive anxiety’ (Shank 1994. which for Straw has the advantage of taking account of ‘processes of historical change occurring within a larger international music culture’ (Straw 1991. a region. of a stable community that engages with a heritage of geographically rooted forms (Straw refers to the very North American concept of ‘heartland rock’ to evoke such a link) against the idea of a scene . but unlike other studies of local musicmaking. iii). a neighbourhood). in her introductory remarks at the 2003 conference in Montreal. in a series of temporary identifications. which in turn provides the impetus to participate in a live. In effect. draws attention to the way that local processes are dependent on ‘a vast complexity of interconnections’ (Massey 1998. fans become musicians. To summarise somewhat brutally. Shank is celebrating this productive achievement. In his comments on the 1993 event.). Texas’. in the context of a scene. this results. The central concept now (a fruitfully muddled one) is scene’ (Frith 1995. the main international organisation promoting the study of popular music. and of the local and the global. Straw. published in the conference proceedings. face-to-face scene. that scene was one of the few concepts that popular music studies had made its own. One is an influential article by Will Straw. IASPM chair Anahid Kassabian commented. a theory that is based on French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s account of how individual subjects attempt to achieve wholeness. drawing on the work of feminist theorists Julia Kristeva and Jacqueline Rose (who are themselves indebted to Lacan). but constantly fail to do so. . Straw examined the difference between two ways of accounting for the musical practices within a geographical space (a country. the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) has held an international conference. musicians are always already fans’ (ibid . ‘spectators become fans. 133). p. 373). a city. He set the notion. the other is Barry Shank’s book on the ‘rock and roll scene’ in Austin. p. p.

but also * and more importantly * in how they theorise this music-making. In a brilliant comparison of the spatial and temporal dynamics of alternative rock and electronic dance music. These differences could of course be read as two sides of a productive dialogue. lacking in innovation. Miami bass. the concept of scene has become very widely used in popular music studies as a result of these two crucial contributions. Such scenes remain a necessary condition for the production of exciting rock ‘n’ roll music capable of moving past the mere expression of locally significant cultural values and generic development */that is. but they do so in widely disparate ways. had become static. and which Straw associates specifically with the rock genre.28 D. transgressed or transformed ‘dominant’ cultural forms (Hebdige [1979] is the classic study). but to point out their pronounced discrepancies. p. by contrast. it was initially developed in the film studies journal Screen ) and which saw (sub)cultural processes as valuable where they interrogated. These features are clear from the passage where Shank most fully discusses the notion of scene. so to speak. Hesmondhalgh Shank owes a great deal to a type of cultural studies briefly prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. such as Detroit techno. Straw (1991. far more semiotic information is produced than can be rationally parsed. My point here is not to adjudicate between these two approaches to the concept of scene. which developed out of Screen theory (i. Shank is working within a framework that draws a contrast between these transformative practices and the dominant or mainstream culture. 122) Shank’s approach is in marked contrast to Straw’s in a number of ways. Both Shank and Straw borrow this vernacular musical and cultural term and put it to stimulating use. p. This resulted in an interest in a cosmopolitan transcending of place that allowed electronic dance music to bring together the dispossessed and the marginalised across many places. The most interesting and vital musicians of Austin are produced as such within and by that intensity of fan commitment and cultural production known as a scene. not only in how they read the politics of local music-making. and in many cases the term has been presented as a superior alternative to ‘subculture’ (for example. A scene itself can be defined as an overproductive signifying community: that is. But its use has been very ambiguous. Shank. (Shank 1994. He sees the Austin rock ‘n’ roll community as a refuge for the alienated and the dispossessed. The problem is that. and so on. Straw seems to be advocating scene as a word that questions the notion of local community that Shank celebrates. as noted earlier. according to Straw. Harris 2001). and potential cultural transformation. More fundamentally still. Such transgression and transformation were linked to libidinal excess. Whereas Straw shows a Bourdieu-an concern with processes of legitimation and the competition for cultural prestige. and looks upon musical practices from a distance. and oriented mainly towards the white male musical connoisseur. is a rock advocate. or perhaps more / / .e. 381) argues that the constantly evolving nature of electronic dance music (at the time he was writing) ensured the ‘simultaneous existence of large numbers of local or regional styles’. beyond stylistic permutation */toward an interrogation of dominant structures of identification. Rock.

which in my view has much greater theoretical potential. And the pairing with class is revealing here. There is a danger. other writers are using the term to denote a cultural space that transcends locality. texts. 248) Here again. But this can actually be a disadvantage. but sometimes the term scene is used to make studies of particular locales sound more theoretically innovative than they really are. This is indeed attractive. which allows a holistic approach to musical practices. as I shall explain later. the term seems to be used to invoke a notion of the musical (and music-associated) practices occurring within a particular geographical space. p. This is true even of . So is this a fruitful ambiguity. Harris also points to the fact that scene is a vernacular term. This ambiguity is present in Straw’s original article. requiring of those who use it no more than that they observe a hazy coherence between sets of practices or affinities. we see confirmation that scene is being presented as a replacement for the term subculture. if such uses create further confusion around an already overly polysemic word. Even if boundaries are invisible or hazy. The first is ‘the term’s efficiency as a default label for cultural unities whose precise boundaries are invisible and elastic’ (ibid . but the same holism is possible via other. My concern is that this might be evasive. apparent at popular music conferences over recent years. The most important example of this approach is Keith Harris’s lucid and compelling study of the global extreme metal music scene. but Straw is able to bring to his analysis a highly nuanced sense of the politics of cosmopolitanism. less confusing terms. Straw proceeds to defend the term by observing that the concept persists within cultural analysis for a number of reasons. ‘is a term which designates both the effervescence of our favourite bar and the sum total of all global phenomena surrounding a subgenre of Heavy Metal music?’ (Straw 2001. such as genre. In many cases.).Journal of Youth Studies 29 accurately. 248). p. including the analysis of production and consumption in relation to each other. Perhaps a perceived elasticity is a result of the very imprecision of the concept itself? The second defence of the term scene that Straw offers is that it is: usefully flexible and anti-essentializing. or simply a confusion produced out of the over-use of a fashionable term? Will Straw has recently returned to the notion of scene. that other researchers might use the term merely to denote the musical practices in any genre within a particular town or city. used by musical participants. institutions and social phenomena’ (Harris 2000. Meanwhile. (Straw 2001. For studies of ‘scenes’ seem to have been mainly confined to the bohemian metropolis. For Harris. he asks. and has responded to some criticisms. processes of distinction and definition need to be captured in analysis. the major advantage of the term over alternatives such as subculture and tribe as ways of conceiving of musical collectivities is its inclusivity. seeing extreme metal as ‘the locus for a huge range of practices. downright confusing. For those who study popular music. Such local musical practices are no doubt worth studying. ‘scene’ has the capacity to disengage phenomena from the more fixed and theoretically troubled unities of class or sub-culture (even when it holds out the promise of their eventual rearticulation). ‘How useful’. 17). however. p.

responding to the point made by Bennett and others that the concept of subculture overstates the degree to which young people remain fixed in particular groups. who display all these features to a high degree. Music is just one of a large number of cultural practices that bind together goths. a recognition of the inner circles and weighty histories which give each seemingly fluid surface a secret order’ (Straw 2001. it is not clear that Hodkinson’s book has a great deal to contribute to the sociology of popular music [4]. Straw observes that ‘‘‘scene’’ seems able to evoke both the cozy intimacy of community and the fluid cosmopolitanism of urban life. Back to Subcultures? The two fashionable concepts. it adds a sense of dynamism. Goth: Identity. commitment. who is rarely clear about the social class of his interviewees (see also. Paul Hodkinson. he argues. substance’ (Hodkinson 2002. special goth events / . pp. are both plagued by difficulties. But how does the term achieve this metaphorical work? Of course. Finally. Hodkinson’s book is very useful in provoking such questions. posited as replacements for the notion of youth subcultures. and in clarifying the notion of stability through the study of one notable remaining spectacular youth style.30 D. The rearticulation of scenes to social class seems to be deferred endlessly. However. including consistent distinctiveness of a group over time. in the wake of criticisms of subcultural theory. to the latter. To the former. 248). p. distinctiveness. Style and Subculture . 28 Á 33). autonomy from wider social and economic relations. Subculture. and there are only scattered references to goth music. p. Hesmondhalgh Shank. and assertions of the decline of youth subcultures. How typical are these substantive groupings? To what extent have we seen a shift in their numbers and typicality? Are they now mainly nostalgic and highly self-conscious recreations of a lost era of collectivity? How should we conceive of the more fluid groupings who do not fall into the now more narrowly defined category of subculture? These are all important questions for the study of youth culture. The term has been used for too long in too many different and imprecise ways for those involved in popular music studies to be sure that it can register the ambivalences that Straw hopes it will. argues that we need to ‘differentiate those groupings which are predominantly ephemeral from those which entail far greater levels of commitment. continuity. Hodkinson lays greater (and useful) stress on friendships. is still a relevant term for certain groups. or. to put it in general terms. And Hodkinson proceeds to offer criteria for understanding such ‘substance’. tribes and scenes. Stahl 2001). A number of questions arise. and a sense of like-mindedness with others of the same group (Hodkinson 2002. or Habermas’s public sphere) but in my view scene has gone beyond the point where such metaphorical associations can aid in the analysis of the spatial dimensions of popular music. for example. analytical concepts work via metaphor and association (think of Bourdieu’s field. 24). such as the goths he studies. So should we return to youth subcultures? In his recent book.

and he discusses ‘its specific ability to hold and retain particular social meanings’ (Willis 1978. 103 Á 107). The term has been heavily criticised. 63). What musical elements and processes constituted that darkness. to construct their identities. By far the most developed account is that of Paul Willis in his analysis of bikers and their preferred music in Profane Culture (1978). though limited. Chambers 1976) did the subcultural theorists deal with popular music in any depth at all. 76). and it is worth returning to this account to examine its conception of the relationship between music and the social. The main way in which Willis does this is to emphasise that the relationship between bikers and their preferred music was much more than ‘an arbitrary or random juxtaposition’ (Willis 1978. as the musicologist Richard Middleton has shown. it was about youth collectivities that used music. and develop the security. other than their ‘darkness’ (Hodkinson 2002. Whereas Marxian sociology used the term to refer to relationships between art and society. 47). and how did they come to be understood in that way? How did musical darkness evoke emotions and identities in the private and collective lives of goths? For all its strengths. Willis uses the term differently. After all. It derives from the Greek for ‘same relation’. DIY media. There is no real sense of why the goths liked the particular types of music that they liked. pp. rock and roll. dialectic of experience’ based on a relationship between the music they liked and their own ‘exact and searching selection of music’. p. the bike boys’ musical preferences were based on their identification of ‘objective features’ of the music that ‘could parallel. on the other [5]. and certainly. Willis outlines a framework for analysis of the musical characteristics of the bikers’ preferred genre. clothing and the Internet. Willis’s account very much fits with the CCCS’s attempt to construct a theory of popular culture that would not pathologise that culture or its users. And perhaps we should not be too surprised about this. hold. Willis concludes by suggesting that the ‘dialectic of experience’ involved in the biker culture brought about ‘very clear basic homologies’ between the social group and its music. Hodkinson’s book is a reminder that subcultural analysis was in fact never able to offer much insight into music. on the one hand. Willis’s main analytical thrust is to emphasise the creativity and activity of the biker boys in forging connections between pop music and their own lives * and this sits uneasily with criticisms of subculturalism for its over-emphasis of structure. and cultural forms. Rather. Part of this was about their love of 78 RPM records (associated with tradition and authenticity) over 45 RPM ones (associated with modernity and soullessness). there are problems with the socio/ / . such as music. there was a ‘real. among other means. and downplaying of agency. The term homology is significant here. but it was adapted in the Marxist sociology of art (see Williams 1977. p. authenticity and masculinity of the bike culture’ (Willis 1978. For Willis. to refer to relationships between collectivities of people. But it was also about specifically musical features. the CCCS work on youth subcultures was never really about music. Only in very rare cases (for example. p. p. 62). and was developed in the natural sciences to denote a correspondence in origin and development.Journal of Youth Studies 31 (such as the annual Whitby Gothic Weekend).

It also. we need an eclectic array of theoretical tools to investigate the difficult questions towards which the terms subcultures. I am suggesting that it is a necessary. However. the connection between rock ‘n’ roll and the rockers is much looser than Willis seems to believe. the term genre has been taken up by a number of sociologists of popular music. especially in terms of the collective experience of music. or to analyse how genres inform the organisation of music companies / . rather than as taxonomic lists of texts. for example. 161) finds it hard to accept that harmony and melody are as unimportant as Willis suggests. And while Willis detects a resonance in the music with the biker boys’ aggression. p. genre is a much more satisfactory starting point for a theorisation of the relationship between particular social groups and musical styles than are subculture. But if the proponents of the various terms under discussion in this article fail to offer adequate theorisation of the relationship between musical practice and social process. The key contribution in this respect has been that of Steve Neale. some terms are more useful than others and need to be prioritised. As Middleton argues. Genre is a term that has been used extensively in media and cultural studies to understand the relationship between production and consumption * a necessary stage in the analysis of audiences for symbolic goods in any society. is the basic organizing structure of the music’ (1978. scenes and tribes direct our attention.32 D. scene or tribe [6]. Middleton (1990. In music studies. but by no means sufficient. expectations and conventions’ that link text. and many other groups were finding pleasure in this music. The music was more diverse than Willis implies. way in which to think about the relationships between music and the social. as we shall see. p. the quest for homology leads the sociomusical analysis astray. much of the music they listen to (Buddy Holly. p. industry and audience (Neale 1980. Willis’s musical analysis is largely based on the idea that in rock ‘n’ roll. ‘regular beat. to understand the importance of categories in making value judgements about music (Frith 1996). Hesmondhalgh musical analysis that Willis carries out in relation to the term. who broke through the formalism of many literary approaches to genre. 76). Middleton’s analysis suggests that subculture should not be revived as a key concept in the analysis of popular music (although it may have its uses in the sociology of youth) because it was never a concept of much use to socio-musical analysis anyway. what more promising avenues of investigation might there be? Understanding Musical Collectivities: Genre and Articulation One conclusion to be drawn from my discussion of ‘tribe’ and ‘scene’ as alternatives to subculture as key concepts in the sociological analysis of popular music is that the search for an overarching term is likely to be unsatisfactory. 19). to see genres as ‘systems of orientations. I am not offering genre as an alternative master-concept. Nevertheless. Instead. rather than harmony or music. has the potential to refer to specifically musical forms of affiliation. for example) is very hard to interpret as aggressive. In my view. For Middleton.

p. in his formulation. The most heavily critiqued aspect of subculturalism’s understanding of this relationship is the notion of homology. 113).’s introductory essay to Resistance Through Rituals / / . 110). p. the concept of genre is not sufficient in itself to understand the relationship between social experience of community and musical form or style. Toynbee points out that in popular music. and in particular that they are porous to outside influence. under certain conditions. Jason Toynbee (2000) has offered a particularly promising account of genre in this respect. But for Toynbee. all the more so with the advent of globalisation. Toynbee draws attention to the political importance of the relationship between music and the social.Journal of Youth Studies 33 and the perceptions of audiences (Negus 1999). unlike in other media. absolute and essential for all time’. p. 111. and one that challenges some of the tendencies in theoretical discussions of these relationships in the accounts I have already discussed. groups of texts and social formations. 112). Many analysts have pointed to changes in class structure and to the complexities of collective identification involved in modern societies. often effaced or submerged in recent work. However. Toynbee notes that such an ‘expressivist’ view of the relationship between musical texts and social formations has been heavily criticised. formation or experience has been ‘articulation’. One objection is that such expressivism reduces music ‘to an index of the social’ (Toynbee 2000. both in time and space. But most significant of all in the context of this article is the potential of the term to provide the basis for a theorised understanding of the relationships between music and the social. as long as we recall that communities and genres are complex. it remains the case that ‘class and ethnicity continue to generate communities’ (2000. The fullest theoretical treatment of the link between youth styles and social formation. Toynbee also deals. Toynbee asserts in response that ‘musical communities none the less continue to provide the basis for genre markets’ (2000. that modern media technology means that music is distributed far beyond its point of origin. John Clarke et al. As we saw earlier. p. the link between. emphasis added). determined. In particular. and that this effectively breaks the link between community and style. in the long run. a more important element in subculturalism’s efforts to theorise the relationship between symbolic practice and social process. or set of objections. to text Á social formation expressivism concerns the way that such communities have been assumed to be subordinate and resistant. this was an important component of Paul Willis’s attempt to understand the role of music in the biker subculture. defined succinctly by Stuart Hall (1996. 111). p. somewhat later in his discussion of genre. It is a linkage which is not necessary. p. has often been conceived in quasi-political terms as a form of representation: ‘Genre is seen to express the collective interest or point of view of a community’ (Toynbee 2000. with what is effectively a further criticism of text Á social formation expressivism. But in fact. Another objection. and he deals with some of the key objections. But Toynbee argues that ‘to talk about style as the expression of community does not necessarily lead to the abstraction of music’s social function’ (Toynbee 2000. 141) as ‘the form of the connection that can make a unity of two different elements.

by making it ‘just one kind of link between community and social practice’ (Toynbee 2000. through his uses of the concepts of genre. rather . articulation and homology. Bennett 1999. previous AfricanAmerican musics are adopted. The concept of articulation has been taken up very widely in cultural studies. are borrowed and parodied. quoted by Toynbee 2000. 1976) discusses the ‘double articulation’ of working-class youth cultures. white media. 114). Studying Popular Music . p. there are resonances in Toynbee’s approach with Hodkinson’s call to think through a range of different possibilities of youth affiliation. ‘dethrones’ homology. extended or resonated in musical genre. or genres can encompass huge areas of social and geographical space which can hardly be described as communities at all’ (Toynbee 2000. p. p. And of course rappers are drawing on symbolic and mediated representations of these experiences. sounds and themes’ (Rose 1994. Toynbee gives the example of rap. such as horror films. Meanwhile. p. and there is cross-fertilisation with other aspects of African-American culture. to the culture of their parents. In Tricia Rose’s words. In this respect. ‘Talk of subways.34 D. crews. that the question of the relationship between musical identity and social process is a deeply political one. static and crossed signals leap out of hip hop lyrics. economic stagnation. where Middleton uses the concept to discuss the complex. judged case by case. to the ‘dominant culture’ of a changing post-war British society. but elsewhere ‘the fit between community and style is less direct. Toynbee builds on this basis and. and posses. and others can borrow from and adopt the form. as we have seen. And in some cases. and that complexity in this relationship is not the same thing as absence of community. rather than making documentary. In the sociocultural analysis of music. mediated relationships between musical forms and practices. 612). Toynbee shows. p. urban noise. Toynbee offers a differentiated approach to musical collectivity. and social structure on the other (Middleton 1990. This goes beyond some important limitations in the work on tribes and scenes. 9). musical techniques are used to express a sense of community. echoing Middleton. in particular musical genres. The consumption of rap goes beyond this community. and he seems sceptical about making any link between ethnic groups and musical styles (see his discussion of bhangra. Such homologies are only one part of rap: images and devices from mainstream. the reality of the greater poverty and exposure to violence of the African-American population is embodied in a genre largely produced by AfricanAmericans. the two most influential uses of the term scene seem to have opposing views of the politics of community in contemporary popular music. first. on the one hand. 114). through his mobilisation of the concept of genre. and second. For Toynbee. Black music makers draw on communal experiences of urban life. Bennett’s account effectively denies the continued relevance of communities based around class. 114) alongside a number of other potential articulations. some sorts of community have a social constitution that is reflected. Just as significantly. alongside these other types of relationship. Nevertheless. but nearly always with reference to the homological relationship between music and social group that is central to its meaning. it has most notably been adopted in Richard Middleton’s important and influential book. Hesmondhalgh (Clarke et al.

Combined with the term genre. is primary in understanding music in relation to social process. this notion of multiple articulations * including ‘homologous’ ones * provides a much more promising theoretical basis for theorising empirical research than the recent alternatives. reflection and construction. were referring to the relationship between the distinctive cultural practices of young people. Clarke et al . the most lasting theoretical legacy of Birmingham subculturalism for cultural studies has been precisely a stress on complexity and multiple determination. and those of their parents. in my view. music has a formative role in the construction. negotiation and transformation of sociocultural identities’ (Born 2000. In some cases. who. 32). So the term articulation is a useful adjunct to genre. there are prior identities that come to be embodied dynamically in musical cultures. especially those related to class. One major limitation of the term is simply the variety of uses to which the metaphor has been put. rather than being stuck in an either/or choice between passivity and activity. Toynbee uses the term to refer to the relationship between groups of musical texts and social formations. It is not theoretically precise. and of the ‘dominant culture’. Sociocultural identities are not. and. too simplistically and deterministically. this is not to say that the concept of articulation is without its problems. / / . Middleton uses it to refer to the relationship between musical forms and social structure. as with genre. simply constructed in music. class or ethnicity. it provides the means to discuss musical collectivities in a way that. which she calls the process model. has contrasted the much-criticised homology model with a new model.Journal of Youth Studies 35 than assuming that one theoretical term can capture all empirical reality. However. Importantly. it carries connotations of the importance of agency and struggle. says Born. where ‘music ‘‘reflects’’ nothing. is still more promising than the theorisations of scenes and tribes discussed. rather. be it youth. such as music and clothing. The term is a general metaphor for complexity of determination. and social process. also using the metaphor of articulation. with its ability to connect up texts. p. p. But combined with the key concept of genre. What both Born and Toynbee offer are theorisations that allow us to consider a differentiated and gradated range of relationships between music and the social. There are echoes too in a piece by Georgina Born. I am not advocating it as an answer in itself to the formidably difficult question of how to understand the relationship between music and society. neither Born nor Toynbee depend upon an assumption that any particular social identity. Hall’s concern was with the relative autonomy of the cultural from the economic. While some Birmingham studies inevitably resort to simplification. 31). audiences and producers. Born claims that ‘there is a need to acknowledge that music can variably both construct new identities and reflect existing ones’ (2000. for it registers some of the ambivalence and complexity needed to understand the relationship between music and the social. which then also form the reproduction of those identities. Refusing both the homology and process models. This is worth reflecting upon in the light of criticisms that Birmingham subculturalism theorised the relationship between symbolic forms.

but it is clear that many of the key books in popular music studies devote considerable space to work on youth. it seems clear to me that many higher education modules on popular music do the same. Popular music studies was in its infancy at the time that the Birmingham CCCS work was being produced.36 D. what is the evidence for thinking that there is indeed such an assumption about the close relationship of the study of popular music and of the study of youth culture? There is no space here to undertake a systematic content analysis. popular music studies found relatively little of value in subcultural studies for furthering understanding of the social relations of popular music. The Lynds (Lynd and Lynd 1929) found that music and radio were the main interests of boys and girls in Middletown. The common factor uniting the three terms discussed and criticised. Book chapters or module blocks entitled ‘Popular Music and Thirtysomethings’ or ‘Popular Music and Older People’ or even ‘Popular Music and Children’ are much. The second reason for the connection between the study of youth and the study of popular music is more substantial. On the basis of conversations with colleagues over many years. in the light of problems with the three terms discussed. This close relationship between youth and music seems to have become more intense in the post-war period. even if they are critical of such work. and is based on a view that young people are particularly involved with popular music. such as James Coleman / / / / / . in the fields of musicology and ethnomusicology. Behind such practices. and in the title of the recent Northampton conference * subcultures. Yet students and researchers are asked to trawl back through the subculturalist work time and again in studies of popular music. largely because there was very little analysis of popular music culture around [7]. What accounts for this concern with youth and with subculture in the study of popular music? We can identify three factors. rather than negative. and it looked towards this work for inspiration. and the exchange of course outlines and reading lists. and sociology of culture (see Hesmondhalgh and Negus 2002). especially the subcultures literature. scenes and tribes * is that they are all involved in the study of youth and of popular music. media and cultural studies. In fact. Music has been an important feature of the lives of young people for many decades. is a nearly always unstated assumption that popular music is a phenomenon associated with ‘youth’. I want now to make some reflections on the relationship between these two fields. much less likely than ‘Popular Music and Youth Culture’ * but these topics are just as important. even though music studies have now generated a substantial research literature. Sociologists and social commentators. in my view. sense of that term) in that it relates to the particular histories of these areas of intellectual enquiry. First of all. The first is academic (in the neutral. Hesmondhalgh Popular Music Studies and Youth Studies: Time for an Amicable Separation? I began this article by suggesting that there is a widespread assumption that the study of popular music is intimately connected to the study of youth culture. as Middleton and other writers * such as Shepherd (1982) and Laing (1985) * made clear quite quickly.

and older listeners continue to treat young people as more knowledgeable about changing trajectories of hipness and fashionability. 181) and two of his four chapters on rock consumption were devoted to young people. maintain self-identity and question abuses of political and economic power are important. rock was ‘the music of youth’ (Frith 1981. writing on rock in the late 1970s. students to reflect on their own musical experience. Pop is still discursively centred around the young. as the popularity of The Sound of Music soundtrack in the 1960s remind us * see Harker 1992). Evidence suggests that music is very significant for some young people as a means of social distinction. youth continues to be at least one of the most likely sites where prevailing ideas about identity and status are questioned. in other words. according to the British Phonographic Industry Handbook of 1993. rather than encourage. it seems. The use by young people of music to express difference. from the transgressive to the banal. but mainstream young people are much more inclined to dip in and out of the popular music pool. without privileging the search for the rebellious. music may be very unevenly important in the lives of young people. suspended or reversed. p. and we cannot assume in advance that youth is clearly the most likely site for transgression. found that music and dancing were central to young people’s leisure activities. But this is an empirical issue. Maria Pini’s study of women clubbers * Pini 2001). not just for youth subcultures. 47 per cent of album buyers older than 16 were over 45 years old. Most university undergraduates taking popular music course units are aged between 18 and 25. teenagers were no longer the main buyers of music. But privileging youth experiences of popular music is likely to deter. A third factor in maintaining the youth/pop association is the context in which many higher education popular music studies modules are taught. Recent studies suggest that many of the people involved in cultural activities which seem to be engaged in by youth are actually in their 20s and 30s (see. This means considering a range of experiences. or indeed that transgression is the primary object of interest in a sociology of music or of youth. For Simon Frith. but we might have a richer understanding of the politics and aesthetics of music if we were to consider its emotional and social significance. under certain circumstances. In 1992. for example. The distinctive nature of youth experiences and genres of music * if indeed they are distinctive * would be much better understood if they were set alongside the study of musical experiences and genres that are not so much associated with young people. however. and many teachers want. 1993). The most visible representations of popular music involve young people. By the 1990s. but for everyone. to provide courses that will supposedly allow students to make sense of their ‘own’ experience of music. There is still some evidence for thinking that. as commentators did in the 1960s and 1970s (and even then.Journal of Youth Studies 37 (1961). this was probably misleading. This centrality does not mean. / / / / / . rather than to immerse themselves in it (NeumannBraun 2003). but we should no longer see the consumption of music as being primarily a youth phenomenon. or for young people as a whole. What is more. that music is unimportant in the lives of older people (see Crafts et al. only 16 per cent were aged 16 Á 24 years.

pp. by Ben Malbon (1999. the close relationship between the study of youth and that of popular music was the result of particular historical circumstances. The search for a new master-term to unite the fields of youth and popular music studies should be abandoned. With his ‘theoretical framework’ of neo-tribe. there will be times when the two will be reunited. however. echoing his article in a brief exposition. [2] . most notably articulation. They should be free to go their own ways in an amicable separation. Those sociologists of youth who wish to explore the role of music in young people’s lives will. such as the sociology of the family. 136 Á/ 137). provides new understandings of musical collectivities in relation to space and place. But the sociology of popular music can learn just as much from fields it has relatively neglected. pp. They will not be well served. the concept has also been taken up. scene and tribe. The two fields still have much to learn from each other. of education and of art. In fact. by the concepts of subculture. There is no possibility of a return to subculture in any adequate sociology of popular music. But the concept is imprecise and confused and in fact has little necessary relationship with youth (although this has not stopped it being a source of much debate at the meeting point of popular music and youth studies. 80 Á/81). continue to look to popular music studies for stimulation and clarification. One or two concepts will never be enough to analyse the social complexity of music. The concept of scene is richer. Bennett attempts to maintain the link between the sociology of popular music and the sociology of youth. and the privileging of youth in studies of music is an obstacle to a developed understanding of music and society. however. much more fleetingly. p.38 D. 57) in his study of clubbing. but his notion of tribe makes the connection between young people and particular musics so malleable and fluid that effectively the link could take any form whatsoever * and this is no adequate theorisation. Bennett comments on tribes elsewhere (2000. / Notes [1] In the context of music-related studies. The same can be said of Zygmunt Bauman’s brief comments on neo-tribes (1992. the study of youth and the study of popular music have in any case grown apart. I hope. then. even if as Hodkinson shows it may have some residual utility in the sociology of youth. Of course. genre and articulation are merely starting points. I have suggested that genre offers a better way forward for understanding the links between cultural practice and social process in popular music studies. Sociologists of popular music should continue to work in dialogue with the best youth research. in recent years. and offers insights into the formation of aesthetic communities in modern urban life. Hesmondhalgh In my view. when wedded to other theoretical concepts. especially when studying the music produced and consumed by young people. or so it would seem from the title of the recent British Sociological Association conference).

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