Sarah Thornton’s (1995) Club Cultures (1) is an ethnographic study of dance clubs and rave culture in the early to mid 1990s.
She found that club cultures were a youth culture, being mainly made of up 15-24 year olds and made the following observations.
- Clubbers came together at specific dance events, but didn’t have much in common or hang out outside of these events (my interpretation: they can thus be classified as a neo-tribe).
- Club cultures are not oppositional to a mainstream culture
- Class was not important in shaping club cultures.
Thornton’s work seems to criticise the view of Centre of for Contemporary Cultural Studies.
Her theoretical starting point was Bourdieu, from whom she developed the concept of subcultural capital.
The most important aspect of club culture is the way it is used by young people to differentiate themselves from each other, and they do this through subcultural capital.
Subcultural capital refers to the appropriate, fashionable tastes and styles and local knowledges specific subcultures
Fashionable haircuts, well assembled record collections, being ‘in the know’, using current slang and dancing the latest dance styles like a natural are all examples of ‘subcultural capital’.
The main purpose of subcultural capital is to provide status to the clubber. Demonstration of good taste, or ‘hipness’ provides clubbers with social approval and recognition.
Subcultural capital can be used to gain economic capital. For example, D.J.s can make a living out of performing the correct sets.
Clubbers have to keep up with the latest trends to maintain their subcultural capital: they need to know which clubs are in fashion and go to them to keep up appearance and avoid being too associated with mainstream popular music.
Tastes within subcultures change over time, and members needed to keep up. For example, by the end of 1989 the media had made Acid House too popular, and acid house fans came to be seen as sheep, mindlessly following media trends as dismissed as ‘mindless ravers’ or ‘acid teds’ and were looked down upon.
Class, age, gender and clubbing
Clubbers were predominately young, mainly 15-24, and this was the major broad identifier of clubbers.
Thornton saw club culture as part of youth-transition where people could have freedom to experiment and grow up away from their parents.
There was no clear link between class and clubbers, and club culture was more of a rebellious way of escaping the class conferred onto the individual by their parents.
Gender was an important social division. Although more girls went clubbing than boys, the masculine was afforded more status in club culture than the feminine, and clubbers tended to look down on working-class girls especially, who they saw as the most likely to like mainstream music and fashion.
Thus dance cultures looked down on working class girls especially, thus dance culture didn’t challenge ruling class structures.
Thornton provides a useful criticism of the CCCS, as her work suggests that dance cultures had little to do with resisting mainstream culture.
She identified that dance culture was linked to youth transitions to adulthood.
She found that dance cultures varied and changed rapidly and that clubbers tended to change with them, suggesting dance culture was more of a postmodern neo-tribe rather than a modern subculture.
One criticism of Thornton is that she didn’t draw out links between the rise of dance cultures and wider social changes such as the shift to postmodernity.
This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module, usually taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
(1) Thornton (1995) Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital
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