Subcultures between History and Mythmaking: Researching the Cultural Memory of Youth Subcultures, 1955 – present
Organization: Leiden University
1. History, Mythmaking and the Cultural Memory of Youth Subcultures
During the twentieth century, various political, musical and other youth subcultures have emerged worldwide and evolved into globally marketed mainstream phenomena. Subsequently, research on subcultural movements has flourished. However, as spectacular as subcultural histories often are, myth and reality tend to become inextricably linked in retrospectives, both in popular media such as newspapers, photobooks, memoires, as well as in academic research. Even more so, researchers have often contributed to the mythical histories of subcultures, rather than critically engaging with them.
Our project aims not so much to critique these myths and narratives, but to reconstruct the process of ‘mythmaking’ as a means to critically engage with the Cultural Memory of youth subcultures. Through critical engagement with (history) writing on subcultures by contemporaries, veterans, popular media and researchers our project aims to uncover (i) what the basic elements of various subcultural histories and myths are; (ii) how these histories develop and possibly become canonized; and finally (iii) who and what is included and excluded in these stories.
Subcultures promote different worldviews and lifestyles, and as a result include and exclude different actors and issues. As gender, class and race relations are shaped in specific ways, we ask if and under what circumstances subcultures are able to reflect upon these processes. Furthermore, by engaging critically with history writing on subcultures, this project asks if there are common features in the writing on subcultural histories and myths.
History writing on various Western youth subcultures, from beatniks, punk to rave, celebrate stories of marginalized youths who lived in abject poverty, indulged in parties, substance (ab)use and sexual transgression, resulting in a libertarian spirit leading to – ultimately – innovative artistic expression. This raises the question to what extent this process is applicable to the origins and narratives of youth subcultures in general.
This Call for Papers invites researchers of various subcultural theories as well as youth subcultures to explore mythmaking and history writing within their topics and ask which elements become canonized, which are ‘forgotten’ and how these developments can be explained. We are interested in conceptual papers as well as empirical case studies. By considering the abovementioned issues and questions in relation to mythmaking, we wish to provide new insights on how to research the history and Cultural Memory of subcultures.
2. Aims and Approach
Subcultures offer exciting and inspiring narratives of transgression, experimentation and self-realization. Nostalgia and fascination with a spectacular past easily leads to mythmaking in primary sources like interviews, fanzines and memoires. At the same time, popular media have always had a keen eye for spectacular stories of transgressive groups or scenes. If academics use these sources uncritically, they can reify such stereotypes and myths. By inquiring how stories are canonized, and what is subsequently emphasized, included and left out in these stories, we aim to develop new ways of analyzing how subcultures evolve.
This project explicitly takes cue from recent developments in the field of Memory Studies. Regarding the various schools in subculture studies – including but not limited to the scenes theory, the countercultural approaches, the neo-tribes theory and the post-subcultural approach – we adopt a pluralist framework. The aim of this project is to develop new methodological, conceptual and empirical ways of analysis in order to move beyond mythmaking in subcultural research.
The goal of the project is to create an edited volume in which stereotypical stories and critical histories of subcultures are counter posed, as a way to critically engage both with the histories and surrounding myths of subcultural movements. We invite researchers to propose conceptual papers and/or empirical case studies on political, musical and other youth subcultures from all over the world between the 1950s and the present.
3. Structure of the papers
We believe that these papers should have a relatively similar structure to allow for systematic comparisons. We have therefore laid down some basic ideas.
One or more of the following suggestions should be included in the contributions. We are above all interested in papers that:
- Reflect on how to research the (relationship between) history writing and mythmaking of subcultures, both conceptually and empirically.
- Look at one or more youth subcultures like beats, punks, preppies and neo-Marxist students or non-western ones like sukebans (Japan), stilyagi (Soviet Union) and sapeurs (Congo).
- Look at the most important stories, events, stereotypes or ‘myths’ within subcultural histories.
- Examine which actors are influential in shaping the images that become linked to said subculture(s).
- Pay attention to the ways in which structural issues like gender, class, age and race relations are shaped and reflected upon and how this results in inclusion or exclusion in the history writing of subcultures.
- Reflect on which societal events are explicitly embraced, contested or ignored within subcultural mythmaking.
- Reflect on what it means to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of subcultural mythmaking on the basis of authenticity.
4. Practical issues: submitting papers and time schedule
We invite researchers of various levels (researchers, PhD candidates, and MA or RMA students) to contribute to the project. Both the proposal and the paper should be written in English. If you are interested in joining, we ask you to send a brief paper proposal (around 750 words; 1.5 page) before April 31, 2017. A reply will be send before May 30, 2017. If your proposal is accepted, we will ask you to submit a first draft of your paper (7.500 words) before September 31, 2017. After this, there will be a final editing round in January 2018. The edited volume will be published in the second half of 2018.
April 30, 2017: Proposal
May 31, 2017: Response from the editorial committee
September 30, 2017: Submitting the first version of your paper
October 31, 2017: Feedback first version
January 15, 2018: Deadline final version of your paper
Fall 2018: Publication of the volume
5. Practical issues II: editorial committee and publisher
The editorial committee of the edited volume consists of three members: dr. Bart van der Steen, Leonor Faber-Jonker and Thierry P.F. Verburgh. Dr. Bart van der Steen works as a historian at Leiden University (Netherlands) and focuses on the history of labour and social movements from the late nineteenth century to the present. Leonor Faber-Jonker published extensively on the history of Dutch punk and graduated with latin honors on African history. Thierry P.F. Verburgh studied history at Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam and graduated with latin honors on punk and local inter-subcultural identity formation in West Berlin, 1976-1981.
We are currently in contact with a couple of esteemed academic publishers.