Perceiving and Enacting Subcultural Selves and Identities
J. Patrick Williams, PhD
Division of Sociology, School of Social Sciences
Nanyang Technological University
Submitted as a keynote address:
Youth Subcultures, Worldviews and Lifestyles Conference
Center for Cultural Studies, Faculty of Humanities
Vytautas Magnus University
As human beings, we do not apprehend reality in a universal or generic way, but rather in myriad ways as members of social groups that are embedded in shared webs of signification or culture. Through culture we develop and act upon implicit sets of assumptions about reality. One assumption people in contemporary, late-modern societies carry around is that some things are real or authentic and other things are not. Subcultures—especially those threatened by assimilation—hinge upon “regimes of authenticity,” political projects that inscribe characteristics, value structures, and aesthetics, which collectively render subcultures as real and unique and thereby anchor them against contemporary mass trends. Further, it is not only subcultures themselves (as reified meaning structures) that are made simultaneously authentic and sacred, but also the selves and identities of those who subscribe to them.
In this talk, I (re)focus analytic attention from the politics of authenticity toward the mundane, everyday processes of culture and cognition through which authenticity is constructed, attributed, and performed. After setting up authenticity as a key concern in contemporary social life and showing the extent to which scholars already understand how important authenticity is to a variety of subcultural phenomena, I take a meta-analytic perspective, looking at a number of studies to highlight some of authenticity’s formal and analytic aspects.