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Rethinking subcultural capital


Sune Qvotrup Jensen Young 2006 14: 257 DOI: 10.1177/1103308806065820 The online version of this article can be found at: http://you.sagepub.com/content/14/3/257

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ARTICLE

Young
Nordic Journal of Youth Research

Copyright 2006 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks CA and New Delhi) www.sagepublications.com Vol 14(3): 257276 10.1177/1103308806065820

Rethinking subcultural capital


SUNE QVOTRUP JENSEN University of Aalborg, Denmark

Abstract The aim of this article is to contribute to the rethinking of the notion of subcultural capital as coined by Sarah Thornton. Drawing on Bourdieu, I argue that Thorntons original work on the notion is awed by a reluctance to devote analytical attention to the social position and other socio-structural variables of the participants in the subculture. With my eldwork among underprivileged young men of non-Danish ethnic origin as the point of departure, I reason that a sociological grasp on hierarchical differentiation and intersections between different socio-structural variables is necessary to explain and understand subcultures and subcultural capital adequately. The relation between the subculture and its surroundings is best understood by focusing on what is appreciated within the subculture (i.e. subculture capital) and at the same time analytically situating the subculture in terms of class, gender, ethnicity and race. Keywords class, cultural capital, ethnicity, gender, masculinity, subculture

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INTRODUCTION
I am on my way into the discotheque. The door sticks, but I push it hard and then Im in. Inside all the guys are sitting and standing along the walls and on the leather couch. Changiz stands in the middle of the oor looking like he has frozen halfway through a movement. I immediately get the idea that they are probably break-dancing. Are you breaking?, I ask. Changiz nods but at the same time he looks a bit uneasy about the situation. Go on, continue, Rasam says from the leather couch and continues: he is okay that dude. Flattered about being accepted among the young people I expectantly move over to the wall. My expectation, however, quickly turns into confusion: what I am about to see has very little to do with break dance. Changiz and Erkan are standing in front of each other. After a signal agreed on beforehand a quite rough and intense wrestling match begins. Nobody is hit, kicked or head-butted. But judging from the facial expression of the two wrestlers there is both power and pain involved in the way in which the two bodies are spinning around on the oor. Holds are tightly locked for many seconds, and then the person held down manages to wrench himself free and there is ghting to get on top. In the next moment the entangled bodies tumble into the combined bar disc and dj deck, hitting the iron bars mounted at the base. In this way they swirl around and ght in such a way that I, for a moment, wonder whether its for fun or a serious ght. The audience cheers and shows their appreciation when one of the wrestlers makes an especially swift or powerful detail, by throwing their hands in the air hip-hop manner. You are out of your minds, I mumble, but I am fascinated at the same time. . . . The whole ght probably lasts a couple of minutes. Then Birgitte [youth club employee] interrupts it by entering the room. It takes her just so long to open the door that the two wrestlers have time to get up from the oor and stand at some distance in front of each other. What are you doing?, she asks. For a short moment there is total silence. I repay the trust of the guys by saying nothing and looking the other way. Are you dancing break dance?, she asks. Changiz mumbles something, barely audible. Yes. Were breaking, says Rasam. Is it you who is dancing break dance, Changiz?, Birgitte asks. Changiz nods. Can I see?, she continues. Changiz almost ignores her question, and then replies with a low mumble, which Birgittes interprets as a refusal. Come on. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, she says with an indulgent smile on her lips and then leaves the room. ... I follow a few of the guys outside. Erkan sits down and lights up a cigarette. You are okay Erkan!, Changiz says in an appreciative way. Erkan smiles. I just hang out. Field notes 23 September 2001

The episode cited above comes from notes I took when conducting eldwork in two youth clubs in a socially and economically underprivileged residential area on the periphery of a Danish provincial town. I was present in the youth clubs to collect ethnographic data on the culture developed by underprivileged young men of nonDanish ethnic origin who lived in this neighbourhood. The boys wrestling are 15 and 16 years old and the audience, between 13 and 17. The episode can be interpreted in a number of ways, and on the most common sense level we might simply conclude that there is nothing unusual about adolescent boys ghting for fun. However, even the most mundane and common practices of everyday life might, when scrutinized from a sociological point of view, tell us something about how people handle, and react to, their general conditions of life. Therefore, this episode might also have a deeper sociological meaning. I would argue that the scene depicted is illustrative of some of the focal concerns of a distinct youth culture created by socially and economically deprived young men

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of non-Danish ethnic background living in underprivileged residential areas. What is displayed is a distinct masculine bodily practice leading to one of the boys being recognized as okay. Objectifying my empirical data, I nd it meaningful to comprehend this youth culture as a subculture and, hence, to conceptualize such criteria of appreciation and recognition present within this distinct youth culture as subcultural capital (Thornton, 1995). The aim of this article is to contribute to a rethinking of the notion of subcultural capital, which was originally developed by Sarah Thornton in her work on British club cultures. My rethinking is informed by the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. I criticize Thorntons work and confront the concept through my own eldwork in order to demonstrate that there is explanatory potential to be gained by integrating the notion into a sociology emphasizing hierarchical forms of differentiation and intersections between different socio-structural variables. In the rst section I introduce and discuss the sociology of Bourdieu and the concept of cultural capital. Then I address the concept of subculture and discuss some of the critiques of this concept. In the following section I move on to presenting and criticizing Thorntons version of the concept of subcultural capital. Some logical problems related to the relation between eld and capital are addressed, and then how subcultural capital is produced and converted is discussed. I return to the distinct subculture created by socially and economically underprivileged young men of non-Danish ethnic background, and then conclude more generally in the nal part.

BOURDIEUS SOCIOLOGY, HIERARCHICAL DIFFERENTIATION AND THE CONCEPT OF CULTURAL CAPITAL


As mentioned above, one of the aims of this article is to argue in favour of integrating the notion of subcultural capital into a sociology that emphasizes hierarchical forms of differentiation. The sociology of Bourdieu is a logical choice since hierarchical differentiation is central to Bourdieus work and since the notion of subcultural capital, as coined by Thornton, is explicitly inspired by him. From my point of view, one central and dening characteristic of Bourdieus sociology is that it does not comprehend the social world as relativist (Bourdieu, 2000). Bourdieu is, however, not a realist; rather, he is saying that constructing the object of analysis is always part of a scientic process and in extension, he contends that it is necessary to construct sociological objects in a theoretical manner that operates with strong structural concepts. Otherwise it becomes impossible to scrutinize power and dominance (an objective central to Bourdieus intellectual programme) and empirical patterns are left unexplained. Accepting this implies that the vertical (hierarchical) differentiation of the social world is important for sociological analysis. Therefore, analysing contemporary society on the basis of postmodern assumptions about growing fragmentation, pluralization and individualization of lifeforms, lifestyles, subcultures and individual biographies is inadequate (Mortensen, 2004). The concept of cultural capital plays a central role in Bourdieus analysis of hierarchical differentiation. It can be read as an attempt at conceptualizing assets valued by the legitimate culture of a given society. In Distinction (1979) Bourdieu demonstrates how taste and style preferences related to cultural capital differ depending on

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social positions or classes in society, and how taste and style preferences have the real concrete consequence of installing and reproducing social hierarchies on the basis of differences in social agents ability to master the codes of the legitimate culture. Cultural capital can be embodied as part of the habitus, so that the social agent will have a bodily and pre-reexive sense of what is appropriate and valued conduct in a given context (Bourdieu, 1986). The criteria of what counts as cultural capital are relatively robust and cannot be suspended by agents choosing not to accept them. They are always a product of earlier historical struggles, but their assertiveness rests on a social consensus, which works only on the basis of a collective amnesia of the prior historical struggles; an amnesia enacted by powerful groups holding the privilege of the power to classify, categorize and ascribe value. In other words, there are commonly shared norms and criteria for evaluating, regardless of whether a given characteristic of an agent is attractive and desirable. Under these circumstances the cultural capital may be converted into symbolic capital that is, recognition, status, renown or prestige (Callewaert, 2003). Having accepted this we should note that Bourdieu has been criticized for underestimating the possibility for subgroups in society to display (relative) autonomy (see, for instance, Hall, 1992; Jrvinen, 1999; Prieur, 1998; Rasmussen, 1998: Stormhj, 2002). The criticism seems, at least partly, justied, but this does not necessarily preclude the critique being dealt with within a Bourdieu-inspired sociology, which emphasizes hierarchical forms of differentiation. The notion of subcultural capital could help us to solve this problem through potentially grasping the relative autonomy of subcultures without defocusing social structure.

THE VEXED NOTION OF SUBCULTURE: BACK TO THE BIRMINGHAM THEORY?


The notion of subcultural capital can be comprehended as an attempt to integrate elements from the Birmingham School/Cultural Studies tradition with elements of Bourdieus sociology. Rethinking the notion, therefore, presupposes a closer look at the concept of subculture as well as some contemporary critiques of it. The rst generation of subcultural theory was linked to early American criminology and urban sociology. A major milestone in this work was A.K. Cohens Delinquent Boys (1955). Cohen analyses delinquent subcultures as solutions to status problems related to class. The next generation of subcultural theorists was Marxist and established by the Birmingham School (here referred to as the CCCS), in such volumes as Resistance through Rituals (Hall and Jefferson, 1975) and Learning to Labour (Willis, 1978).1 The CCCS theorists continued to understand subcultures as attempts at symbolic solutions specic to young people of working-class origin. They emphasized that the working class has its own culture to which working-class subcultures are related so that [w]orking-class subcultures are a response to a problematic which youth shares with other members of the parent class culture (Hall and Jefferson, 1975: 48). Their Marxist standpoint implied a focus on more concrete and material problems, than the somewhat vague and uffy status problem central to A.K. Cohen. Subcultures were perceived as a collective response to the material and situated experience of their class (Hall and Jefferson, 1975: 47).
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In the CCCS framework subcultures are interpreted as specic ways of answering, working through or resolving generational problems, which can be traced back to the young peoples position in class hierarchy. In my reading, this type of reaction is, however, basically creative, meaning that is necessitated but underdetermined by class position. That a subculture is a creative means for working through the material and concrete conditions of life shared by the participants of the subculture is a pivotal methodological and theoretical assumption of the CCSS. But how and in what ways young people actually react to their conditions of life is an open and empirical question a point that is supported by the large variety of very different subcultural answers or solutions among English working-class youth analysed by the CCCS. The theoretical framework of the CCCS has been criticized by a number of authors. A critique already present within the CCCS was that the theories were heavily male biased (McRobbie and Garber, 1975). The CCCS scholars have also been criticized for not adequately theorizing race and ethnicity (Gilroy, 1993). In a Nordic context, Gestur Gudmundsson (1992) has criticized the CCCS for carrying on too many of the implicit assumptions of early subcultural theory concerned with integrating deviant youth into bourgeois society. He also contended that their conception of social structure was too rigid and simple and that the concept of imagined solutions was too reductionist to grasp the real creative potential of working class youth subjects. Therefore, the CCCS failed to acknowledge the dynamics of youth cultural creativity. Erling Bjurstrm (1997) criticized the CCCS scholars for having a static and social semiotic approach resulting in the subcultures being read off as already-written-texts, and for privileging homologies in favour of heterologies. He also thought the framework did not pay proper attention to the lived life and the process of stylization. Importantly he furthermore criticized the CCCS scholars for not acknowledging how working-class resistance might be woven into complex chains of resistance and dominance, which can be grasped only by a much more sensitive analysis in terms of class, gender, ethnicity and race (Bjurstrm, 1997). Some authors have noted that the CCCS seems to overstate the explanatory value of the working-class background (Cohen, 1987), thereby inclining towards class determinism (Muggleton, 2000; Muggleton and Weinzierl, 2003). Other critiques point out that the CCCS tended to see subcultures as clearly demarcated cultural monoliths and did not take seriously the subjective meanings of the subcultural participants (Muggleton, 2000; Muggleton and Weinzierl, 2003; see also Bennett and Kahn-Harris, 2004). The critique, which I have only outlined briey and roughly, has, to some extent, led to a retreat from the notion of subculture. Muggleton and Weinzierl argue that the concept of subculture as put forward by the CCCS theorists seems inadequate to capture the experience of fragmentation, ux and uidity that is central to contemporary youth culture (2003: 3). It is further argued that participation in subcultures is now a matter of choice (Muggleton, 2000). Some of this critique seems justied, insofar as the CCCS subscribed to a primitive and too one-dimensional Marxist view of social differentiation and social structure, although I think that the accusations of class determinism are somehow exaggerated. The feminist and antiracist critique points to the importance of social differentiations related to gender, ethnicity and race. Class might have been generally overemphasized in the CCCS framework at the expense of gender, ethnicity and race. I

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furthermore believe that there is some truth to the common sociological assumption that the importance of class position has shifted, if not lessened. At the very least we can say that, although it might be wise to keep in focus objective socioeconomic inequality, there are probably some changes in the (inter)subjective meaning of class. One central difference, when comparing to the 1960s or 1970s British society analysed by the CCCS, is a seeming decline in traditional working-class culture characterized by a strong collectivist ethos of working-class pride. Having said that I believe the concept of class could certainly inform subcultural analysis also in cases where subcultures empirically can be found to cross class boundaries. It is possible that what is from the outside perceived to be the same subculture might have very different meanings and functions for young people from different social backgrounds within that subculture and as a consequence they might not value the various forms of subcultural capital the same. For instance, it is quite possible that black working-class boys do and live hip-hop in a way somewhat different from that of white middle-class boys, and that these two groups, therefore, value different aspects of the same subculture. In other words, it might be the case that class, in complex intersection with other relevant socio-structural factors, plays a differentiating role inside subcultures.2 I think the critique of the emphasis on class of the CCCS has been important and necessary, but I am concerned with the consequences the latest critique (Muggleton, Muggleton and Weinzierl, Bennett and Kahn-Harris, among others) might have for the study of contemporary youth and subculture if driven to its limits. My concern is this: What questions are not being asked if we adopt a post-Birmingham theory of youth and subculture emphasizing choice and axiomatically assuming that social background has lost explanatory value in contemporary late-modern or post-modern society? My point is that it is not a step forward if the concept of subculture is either thrown out with the bath water or detached from a structural analysis of the social world. The justied critique, namely that the CCCS theorists overemphasized class, should not lead us to underemphasize class or social position. Instead, we should reconstruct class as a relevant socio-structural factor together with other variables such as gender, ethnicity and race and scrutinize how these factors intersect or inter-connect in complex ways and how this is related to subcultures and subcultural capital (Carrington and Wilson, 2004). The point is that young people who take part in a subculture are situated not only in it but also in a wider social world. Hence grasping the relation between subcultural position and overall social position is necessary for an adequate analysis of subcultures. Returning to one of the aims of this article, to integrate the notion of subcultural capital into a sociology emphasizing hierarchical forms of differentiation, it could be said that, understood within such a sociological tradition, the term subculture implies that society is organized hierarchically, and that subcultures are subordinate and in many instances also oppressed or dominated (Bay and Drotner, 1986; Bjurstrm, 1997). I therefore argue from a denition, which understands subcultures both as distinctively culturally different in terms of style, norms, values and so on, and at the same time and equally important as collectivities of people who are in one sense or another underprivileged or even oppressed. Following Gudmundsson I would maintain that although subcultures are a reaction to peoples conditions of life, they cannot be reduced to a predictable automatism, because they are also creative answers (1992). Subculture is about genuine creativity in distinct cultural

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collectivities, but it is also simultaneously about symbolic working through difcult conditions of life. Subcultural theory is basically about how people in underprivileged social positions create culture when attempting to resolve, handle, work through or answer shared problems. Such a two dimensional denition grasps autonomy and dominance, culture and structure, that is, it points to the conditions under which autonomy is exercised. The notion of subcultural capital might help us grasp this interplay between structure and culture by relating the types of subcultural capital found in various subcultures to intersections between the social position, gender, ethnicity and race of the participants in the subculture.

CONSECRATING THE FANTASY OF CLASSLESSNESS A CRITIQUE OF SUBCULTURAL CAPITAL IN THORNTONS VERSION


Sarah Thornton (1995) originally developed the notion of subcultural capital. Her research focused on a subculture that has emerged in Britain in relation to large dance parties (raves) and related musical styles, techno and house, including various subgenres. Thornton terms this subculture club culture. She was interested in shedding light on the cultural mechanisms of constructing meaning, which allow the participants in the subculture to see themselves as underground and hip, and in investigating the hierarchy within the subculture. To comprehend these matters Thornton draws explicitly, if somewhat eclectically, on Bourdieus work in Distinction (1995 [1979]). According to Thornton, the participants of the subculture distinguish themselves from other young people by holding subcultural capital. Subcultural capital comprises artefacts and knowledge which, within a specic subculture, are recognized as tasteful, hip and sophisticated. It works in much the same distinctive way as cultural capital, allowing the holder to see him or herself as distinguished, and to be seen to be so by relevant subcultural others. The process includes constructing the symbolic binary underground versus mainstream. This means that in the differentiating process the participants of the subculture construct an imagined other namely a mainstream against whom they can distinguish themselves. Thornton points out that, although grasping this process is important, the construction of a mainstream is a wholly arbitrary one, and, therefore, youth or subculture researchers should not adopt the distinction between underground and mainstream as the CCCS and their followers often did. Her writing furthermore revolves around how the participants in the club culture come to see themselves as authentic (as opposed to the false/phony or mainstream) and how they try to avoid selling out. Thorntons writing illuminates how an exclusive and distinguished youth culture constantly attempts to avoid the ever-present threat of popularization. Following Thornton, I use the term subcultural capital in this text to refer to characteristics, styles, knowledge and forms practice that are rewarded with recognition, admiration, status or prestige within a subculture. Informed by the concept of subcultural capital, Thornton has generated important insights, yet there is something somewhat troubling about her work. Given that her primary source of inspiration is Bourdieu, it seems somewhat illogical that her analysis does not say more about the relation between the subcultural hierarchies and the social hierarchies of society in general (Carrington and Wilson, 2004). Thornton

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does not focus on the possible relation between how agents are positioned in social space and their ability to exercise classicatory power in the subculture. She could, therefore, be criticized for defocusing on aspects of the social world central in the work of Bourdieu: relations between social positions, dominance, hierarchical differentiation and the unequal distribution of the power to categorize and classify. In other words, given that Thorntons point of departure is Bourdieu, it could be argued that in the process of analysis she actually abandons Bourdieu. However there are implications within Thorntons work, to which she could have given further analytical attention. One is that raves had distinct demographics chiey white, working class, heterosexual and dominated by lads (1995: 25); black men are often excluded. Another is that when speaking of mainstream, the clubbers use as a metaphor the Sharons and Tracys with their handbags (Thornton, 1995: 98105). This could, as Thornton states, be read as a metaphor for respectable working-class women, and the handbag could symbolize the the social and nancial shackles of the housewife (1995: 101). The distinction of the subculture is, according to Thornton, based on ridiculing working-class women. In other words, some attention is paid to gender distinction whereas class, in my view, is treated in a less adequate way: we are told that within the club culture a fantasy of classlessness (Thornton, 1995) persists and that it is considered an insult if questions about work are asked in club conversations. This implies that within the self-understanding of club culture participants, class is perceived as irrelevant and/or that the young people are keen to avoid being classed. Thornton in a way seems to actually accept this premise of classlessness since she sees the youth as a period of leisure, where most young people are exempt from adult commitments to the accumulation of economic capital (1995: 103). We are told that class does not correlate in any one-to-one way with levels of youthful subcultural capital (p. 12), and that [s]ubcultural capital is the linchpin of an alternative hierarchy in which the axes of age, gender, sexuality and race are all employed in order to keep the determinations of class, income and occupation at bay (p. 105). There is something peculiar about these statements. Thornton seems keen to deconstruct one subcultural ideology, the authentic versus mainstream distinction, but in doing so she tends to accept another subcultural ideology: the denial of class within subcultures. Her work devotes analytical attention primarily to intrasubcultural hierarchy and does not consider from which positions in the social space the participants of the subculture are recruited, and what this means to the relation between subculture and mainstream (to their power to categorize others as mainstream), and to the intrasubcultural hierarchy (to participants denition of what should and should not be accepted as legitimate subcultural capital). At the same time, however, Thornton notes that [s]ubcultural capital would seem to be a currency which correlates with and legitimizes unequal statuses (1995: 104, see also p. 166). Now, if this is the case we might ask if class, gender, ethnicity and race do not intersect in complex inter-connected ways that make it somewhat meaningless to focus on gender instead of class? Are Sharon and Tracy not both working class and women? Is gender not always lived in a classed way (and vice versa)? Sociologists working in the Bourdieu tradition emphasize that such intersections are important, implying that neither class nor gender can be left out of the picture (Prieur, 1998; Skeggs, 1997). Using the importance of intersections of gender and class (together with race and

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ethnicity) as an analytical starting point Thornton might potentially have generated important insights about the relationship between overall social differentiation and intrasubcultural differentiation and hierarchy. This potential is, however, never fully realized because Thornton accepts the fantasy of classlessness and, therefore, does not include a serious empirical investigation of class in her research. Hence, an important element of the complex intersection of class, gender, ethnicity and race is left out of the picture. This critique of Thornton has relevance beyond her work, because the notion of subcultural capital has had quite an impact as a common tool for contemporary research on youth and subculture. I believe this impact has been justied. It is important to have a notion of subcultural capital because it directs our attention towards criteria of recognition in subcultures. Such criteria are central to subcultural analysis simply because recognition is central to social life (discussed below). The critique, however, implies that the notion of subcultural capital should be rethought in a way that enables us to grasp the relation between subcultural recognition and central socio-structural differences and forms of power. As far as Thorntons work can be thought of as a critique of the CCCS framework, my remarks may be thought of as a critique of the critique of the CCCS. My point is that subcultures must be understood and explained by an approach that emphasizes power and social hierarchy, namely interpreted in light of the social position of the participants, as well as their gender, ethnicity, race and so on. If the concept of subcultural capital is to be developed further we must, therefore, focus on grasping the relation between subcultures and the socio-structural position of their participants, which means understanding the relation between positions outside and inside subculture. Grasping this relationship does not necessarily imply thinking in terms of homology, mono-causality or determinism, but, at the very least we could say that it is certainly not a coincidence that subcultural participants do what they do given their life conditions. There seems to be a relationship that could be comprehended by drawing on what Bourdieu has written about sociological understanding. According to Bourdieu (1999), to understand a social agent and his praxis in a sociologically adequate way, we must at the same time localize or situate his perspective in the space of points of view. This ultimately implies understanding his acts and words as necessary; that is, although not wholly determined, it is obvious, logical and in some sense, practically rational that the agent does what he does given his social conditions (Bourdieu, 1999; Callewaert, 1998). To understand fully we must also explain; we might even posit that understanding and explaining are one (Bourdieu, 1999: 613). Consequently, the ethnographic data become sociologically meaningful only when they are objectied, utilizing an analytical (re)construction of the social conditions which make a subculture possible and in a certain underdetermined and practical way, necessary. If we combine Bourdieus writings about understanding and the critique I have levelled at Thornton, it can be argued that the specic characteristics, artefacts and areas of knowledge that the participants in a subculture consider subcultural capital, should be analysed by relating the subcultural capital to the social position, gender, ethnicity and race of the participants. I suggest that, by looking very closely at what is appreciated within a subculture and at the same time situating these ndings in terms of socio-structural differences, it is possible to analyse intersections between different socio-structural variables or forms of power within subcultures and, thereby,

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develop a more adequate analysis of subcultures and relative autonomy. In my view, the notion of subcultural capital can become a better tool for understanding youth subcultures given these modications.

SUBCULTURAL CAPITAL, FIELDS AND GROUPS


Utilizing the notion of subcultural capital we obtain the ability analytically to reconstruct the criteria of recognition or appreciation present within a given subculture. However it should be emphasized that within Bourdieus sociology the existence of a capital implies the existence of a relatively autonomous eld within which that specic capital can be valid. At the same time the eld is stretched out and structured by the relations between social positions constituted by different volumes and compositions of capital (Bourdieu, 1997; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992). Logically then, pointing to a capital within a subculture implies that the subculture could meaningfully be conceived as a eld (see also Bjurstrm, 1997; Bolin, 1999). Bourdieu proposes three criteria for determining when it is appropriate to speak of a eld:3 1 It must be possible to point out differentiated agents positioned in relatively stable relations (of power) with each other. 2 The eld must have a certain amount of autonomy. 3 It must be possible to demonstrate the existence of or maybe more precisely demonstrate the effect of the existence of a form of capital which is specic to the eld. It is, however, doubtful whether subcultures can be thought of meaningfully as relatively stable hierarchical social formations. It might be possible to speak of subcultural hierarchies, but these are probably not relatively stable. It is not in itself a problem that positions are successively occupied by different actual agents as long as the positions stand in a relatively stable relation to each other; but even with this reservation I still nd it questionable whether subcultures can be theorized as elds. This objection is crucial if we accept the importance of Bourdieus basic premise that eld and capital reciprocally imply each other. Nevertheless, I would argue that the notion of eld should not be assigned any status other than that of an analytical tool. We could, therefore, handle this problem by simply arguing that subcultures may be thought of as semi- or quasields, tentative elds, elds in the making, embryonic elds (Bjurstrm, 1997; Bolin, 1999, 1998) or semiautonome elds (Bjurstrm, 1997). These subcultural elds may in some cases consist of people who never actually meet (internet communities etc.), which does not exclude the possibility of the subcultural eld inuencing their praxis. However, in most cases subcultures will play a big role in everyday interaction, because they often consist of networks of groups of friends and acquaintances actually interacting in everyday life. I contend that these groups play a signicant role for the dynamics of subcultural capital. It is often within such subcultural groups that the value of subcultural capital is tested out. It is in the eyes of ones friends and acquaintances, who also happen to be hip hoppers, for instance, that prestige is awarded to the DJ who just obtained a rare old school hip hop vinyl LP. This means that one cannot decide individually that this or that asset or trait should be considered subcultural capital: there must be

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others who agree, otherwise these elements have no value and are not capital. This agreement, however, is always the result of earlier struggles about what is and is not good taste (Is Fat Joe a good rapper? Is legal grafti worth the effort? Is gangster rap real hip hop? Is it okay to buy reprints of rare funk LPs?). These struggles might take place within groups as well as between groups in different positions within the same subculture. Consequently what is considered good taste, and therefore subcultural capital, within one group could be valued somewhat differently in others, even though these other groups can meaningfully be thought of as belonging to the same subculture. When thinking about groups we should note that, according to Bourdieu, agents who are close to each other in the social space have a greater chance of entering into viable relations with each other than do agents who are far apart in social space (Bourdieu, 1994; Jrvinen, 2000). There are two reasons for this. First, agents close to each other in social space will have relatively homogeneous forms of habitus. They are likely to experience sympathy for each other because they are likely to share taste, life style and overall worldview. Second, agents from the same area of the social space are more likely to meet, because they often live in the same neighbourhoods (Bourdieu, 1985, 1996). This raises the empirical questions of whether subcultures attract people differently according to socio-structural differences and whether people often group themselves within subcultures along socio-structural lines.

PRODUCING AND CONVERTING SUBCULTURAL CAPITAL


The question of how subcultural capital is produced and converted is central to a meaningful discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the concept as an analytical tool. I would argue that subcultural capital is produced by the abovementioned struggles between groups or individuals within a subculture over what should or should not be considered good taste, namely attractive or desirable, within that subculture. These struggles might contemporarily result in a consensus that this or that asset or trait is desirable a consensus that could be overthrown later. Movements and trends in other elds as well as other subcultures affect this process. Subcultural participants often draw on elements from other subcultures and/or from popular culture and for a time these elements are ascribed subcultural value. The production of subcultural capital often takes the form of a kind of stylization bricolage, in which adopting and adapting elements from various other cultural spheres is central (Bjurstrm, 1997; Hebdige, 1979). In other words, subcultural capital is produced in a creative interplay with the rest of the world. This creativity, however, does not take place in a space free of power and dominance; rather it is a struggle between differentiated agents. I would argue that the symbolic power to categorize something as subcultural capital is unequally distributed within subcultures, and that this power is dependent on the amount of subcultural capital an agent already holds, namely his status or prestige within the subculture. Interplay with the surroundings has other aspects. The reaction of surrounding agencies, especially the media and social control agencies, in some cases interacts directly with subcultural mechanisms, which produces subcultural capital by assigning status to specic traits, characteristics or artefacts. The grafti subculture can provide an illustration of such mechanisms. This subculture has traditionally

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revolved around competing artists spraying grafti pieces on surfaces they were not always allowed to paint by the owner. Painting trains was always central. Cecilie Higaard (2002) argues that the criminalization of legal walls and heavy guarding of train yards has affected grafti subculture in such a way that illegal painting, preferably done on trains, is now the most attractive form of subcultural capital, often objectied in the form of pictures published in various underground magazines. The reaction from the surrounding world has in this example inuenced tensions, conicts and struggles already present within the grafti subculture and helped produce and shape criteria for what triggers prestige, status or recognition in the grafti subculture. The question of conversion is central to the concept of capital in Bourdieus work. In his theoretical world, capital is only capital to the extent that it can be converted into other types of capital that is, in so far as it can be conceived as a resource that can be utilized in different struggles or strategies. Strictly speaking capital is, therefore, only capital if and when it is convertible to other forms of capital, including the meta-form, symbolic capital. It should, therefore, be specied that subcultural capital denotes social recognition and status within the subcultural eld and may not necessarily be of much symbolic trade value in the outside world. Bourdieu (2000) gives an example of this when he points out that although highly inventive and colourful, the language common among Harlem adolescents is of little or no use on the educational market or in a recruitment interview. In this example converting what could be termed a linguistic subcultural capital is a difcult task. There are, however, examples of subcultural participants being able to convert their subcultural capital into conventional careers and jobs, even in cases where more pessimistic observers might have deemed such a conversion highly unlikely. Rap artists have often been recruited from strongly underprivileged subcultural milieus (such as Harlem). As far as rap can be a source of economic income and recognition in the wider society, this can be regarded as converting creative subcultural capital into jobs or careers. Participants in the club culture have been able to get jobs as artists, remixers or producers in the music business, as sales clerks in shops related to subcultural milieus and so on (McRobbie, 1993). Similarly Higaard (2002) describes how grafti artist have been able to convert their subcultural capital (a talent for designing letters, using perspective etc.) into nding jobs in advertising and graphics. Although the question of converting subcultural capital is ultimately an empirical one, it is possible to outline a few hypothetical arguments about the circumstances facilitating such conversion. First, I would argue that such conversions are often related to struggles, changes and displacements in other elds, opening spaces that can be occupied by people who, through their participation in subcultures, have acquired subcultural capital, which can somehow be functional or relevant in these other elds. An illustration of this is the present Danish trend of employing exdelinquents in social work with troubled and marginalized young people similar to those I was investigating. It is assumed that these ex-delinquents have, through their life trajectories in underprivileged and marginal subcultures, acquired characteristics that enable them to work with the next generation in a desirable way. This can be conceptualized as an example of turning an embodied subcultural capital generated under strongly underprivileged circumstances into a career asset. It can be argued that this conversion is related to displacements maybe even a crisis in the eld of social work. Traditional social work methods have apparently proved inadequate

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or even counterproductive in solving what is perceived as new and hitherto unapprehended social problems and this crisis within the eld of social work has opened a space for ex-delinquents to convert their capital and enter the eld. Ex-hackers now working as security consultants in the IT sector might be a parallel example. Second, the possibility of conversion is often related to the volume and composition of other types of capital, and, insofar as we are talking about young people, the volume and composition of the capital of the parents household. For instance, it might be advantageous to have a father who moves in business circles and knows people, namely possesses a lot of economic and social capital, if one has plans of capitalizing on ones street credibility by opening a record or clothes shop. Having pointed to the importance of the external factors and social position, I would also argue that the question of conversion of subcultural capital is an empirical one, which raises questions for further research. On the one hand, the most astonishing and surprising transitions do occur and, therefore, excessive pessimism might be misplaced here. On the other hand, following Bourdieu, it seems mandatory to warn against projecting relativism onto the social world, for if we do, we lose our grasp of the unequal distribution of power to ascribe value.

BACK TO THE FIELD: EXPRESSIVE MASCULINIT Y AS SUBCULTURAL CAPITAL


Having discussed the concept of subcultural capital in relation to both the sociology of Bourdieu and the theoretical tradition of the notion of subculture, it is now time to return to the empirical starting point of our discussion and show how rethinking the idea of subcultural capital can help us answer the question: what is going on when these young men are wrestling? What is going on in groups of young men of non-Danish ethnic origin who are present and highly visible in most larger cities, particularly in the socially and economically underprivileged urban peripheries? How are we to construct this phenomenon as a subject for sociological inquiry in a way which breaks with preconceived common sense truths and at the same time carries on a dialogue with the eld? We might begin by pinning down the doxic discourse about the phenomenon. In popular discourse it is assumed that these groups centre around criminal activities, and that what is perceived as their misconduct or delinquency is simply causally related to their ethnic cultural background (Prieur, 1999), which is even being racialized in the current public debate about the supposed pathologies of middle east or Muslim culture. Breaking with this doxic understanding of the phenomenon, we may utilize the notion of subcultural capital and scrutinize how the distinct forms of subcultural capital we can reconstruct analytically when doing eldwork in these groups is related to intersections of class, gender, ethnicity and race. One way of grasping this relationship is to point out that these socio-structural variables impact on these young mens lives in the shape of what could best be described as social misrecognition. Consequently, we can conceptualize these young men as strongly underprivileged holders of subcultural capital, and construct the object as basically a shared problem of lack of recognition related to at least four factors. First, these young men are subject to territorial stigma, being situated in neighbourhoods that are labelled through media discourse (Mrck, 1999; Sernhede, 2001a; Vestel, 1999, 2004).

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Second, they are stigmatized because of their ethnicity and race. Third, they come from socially and economically underprivileged households whose positions in social space are characterized by low volumes of cultural and economic capital. Fourth, they are subject to negative gendered expectations related to assumptions about pathological middle eastern or Muslim masculinity. In other words, being male is no advantage if one is at the same time young and Muslim or black (Alexander, 2000). These factors intersect in what I would call brutal misrecognition, an overall stigmatization or an almost total lack of social recognition from the surrounding society. In other words, these young men start off lacking capital with any value on the market for symbolic goods. This lack is related to the way class, gender, ethnicity and race intersect to shape and inform their social situation. Constructing the object in this way makes it possible to understand and explain analytically reconstruct the subculture as a creative struggle for recognition. Recognition is, according to Bourdieu, our very reason for living, and in a situation devoid of recognition we are denied access to humanity (Bourdieu, 2000).4 We might understand this subculture as a struggle to avoid such a situation, namely a struggle for dignity, a battle fought for the right to be somebody in the social world. It is on these premises the young men form and reproduce a subculture revolving around alternative criteria for recognition, which can be conceptualized as subcultural capital. In this light it becomes possible to reconstruct different forms of subcultural capital in this specic subculture. On the basis of my eldwork, I nd it meaningful to see these groups as revolving primarily around an alternative system of appreciation or recognition, a distinct form of subcultural capital, which I would term expressive masculinity (Jensen, 2002). The notion of expressive masculinity carries several meanings, including that of masculinity being powerful/strong, being related to black expressive culture (see below), and able to be interpreted as a way to express oneself a comment or statement about the general conditions of life of these young men (see also Vestel, 2004). This form of masculine subcultural capital is produced in interplay with surroundings perceived as hostile. It can be described as a bricolage, integrating elements from: 1) the parent culture, 2) icons of masculinity related to social position, and 3) icons of masculinity adopted from subgenres of rap and hip hop. It is quite possible that these young men adopt notions of honour and masculinity from the ethnic culture of their parents. If they do so, however, they rework, adapt, transform and rearrange these notions so that they become meaningful in the current situation of the young men and are made to t into a genuinely new subculture. In this process honour seems to be transformed into respect and thereby to converge with elements of black urban culture as portrayed in the mass media. Additionally, the forms of masculinity that are historically related to the conditions of life of male manual workers play a role. It would obviously be wrong to claim that all working-class men are in some sense macho. The point is that on a subjective level these young men seem to identify with the icon of the working-class male breadwinner at the same time as their concrete circumstances of life support and promote this identication. Furthermore, icons of masculinity adopted from specic mass-mediated variants of hip-hop culture are an important part of the bricolage. Artists from the so-called westcoast and gangster rap genres seem particularly popular. These genres can be interpreted as giving symbolic form to a type of resistance to, or social critique of, the

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circumstances of life in the underprivileged black urban ghetto, at the same time as they often celebrate a very stereotypical form of hypermasculinity. Obviously all black men, or even all underprivileged black men in urban USA, are not hypermasculine. Rather this form of masculinity can be thought of as an icon communicated by the mass media exposure of popular hip hop and rap. This icon serves as a reference point in the life of these young men at the same time as their identication is supported and promoted by the actual circumstances of their lives (see also Sernhede 1999, 2001a, 2001b, 2002; Vestel, 2004). (It is important to clarify that these young men are not hip hoppers per se; rather elements adopted from hip hop are an important source of inspiration in their genuinely new subculture.) Expressive masculinity should be thought of as a distinct subcultural style, which might not necessarily be paralleled by a corresponding hypermasculine praxis towards women. In other words, this subcultural style is not the nal or only truth about these young men and it should not be reied or essentialized as such (see also Vestel, 2001). Expressive masculinity is related to bodily capital (Wacquant, 1995). Bodily capital is in a sense very physical: it is related to the concrete physical appearance of the body in a concrete way. In this subculture, that the young men in appropriate situations display a specic, strength related and very concrete form of physical behaviour is crucial for social recognition and status. Bodily capital implies strength, guts and no fear of pain. It particularly implies having the bravery to stand up for ones friends in physical confrontation in situations where you are outnumbered. Drawing on Loc Wacquants work, Annick Prieur (1999) has carried out important analysis of this type of bodily capital. According to Prieur, this form of capital is related to the agents position in the social space, as bodily capital constitutes a distinct form of masculinity based on the possibilities and constraints given by the social position. Bodily capital is a source of dignity and recognition, for those who do not posses a large volume of economic or cultural capital (1999: 36).5 This bodily capital, I would argue, is basically related to masculinity. In his study of masculinity in contemporary Australia, Connell shows how men in different social positions articulate masculinity differently. He analyses the distinct forms of masculinity formed and reproduced by groups of young adult men situated in dominated and marginal social positions, marginalized masculinities (Connell 1995). Connell understands these forms of masculinity as a collective and social praxis, which articulates a collective working through of the conditions of life of these men. The marginalized young men adapt to their highly exposed social position on the labour market by forming collective and strong masculine identities. The marginal young men studied by Connell claim masculinity when they have very little else to offer in the social world. We can draw on both Prieurs and Connells work and point out that in the subculture I am addressing here, the underprivileged young men create, on the basis of their general conditions of life, a distinct form of strong, expressive masculinity, related to a specic form of strength-related bodily capital, which encompasses gender, class, ethnicity and race. Grasping the general conditions of life of these young men in terms of hierarchical differentiation and intersections of class, gender, ethnicity and race is certainly necessary for adequately analysing this subculture and a reconsidered version of the notion of subcultural capital facilitates such an analysis. My point is that, by simultaneously zooming in on the criteria for appreciation and recognition (subcultural capital) in the subculture and looking at the participants life conditions, we can generate important insights into how class, gender,

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ethnicity and race intersect in the lives of these young men. If their common problem is closely related to class, gender, ethnicity and race so is their way to handle it, illustrating that the social conditions of life imply not only limitations but also possibilities and room for creativity. We could think of this relation in terms of some degree of autonomy. I would argue that these young men use their room for creativity to emphasize and maybe even exaggerate the one feature they have which can be turned into an asset: their masculinity.6

CONCLUSION: SUBCULTURAL CAPITAL RETHOUGHT?


The aim of this article has been to rethink the notion of subcultural capital by integrating it into a sociology emphasizing hierarchical forms of differentiation and intersections between different socio-structural variables, with the subculture created by underprivileged young men of non-Danish ethnic origin as an empirical point of departure. In my interpretation, this empirical example illustrates that what we are witnessing among a proportion of underprivileged young men of non-Danish ethnic origin in Denmark right now could be understood meaningfully and explained through and analysis guided by the concept of subcultural capital, but only as far as this concept is rethought in a way that allows us to analyse it in relation to intersections between class, gender, ethnicity and race. I argue that these young mens lack of recognition is indeed to a very high degree related to their class, gender, ethnicity and race and that a distinct form of subcultural capital is an integral part of their solution to, or attempt at stylistically working through, this problem. In other words, subcultural capital is, at least in this case, gendered and gender specic, at the same time as it is classed and class specic, racialized and ethnicized. Both ethnicity and race are ltered through gender and class in complex ways. Consequently, we cannot grasp the deeper sociological meaning involved when these young men wrestle in the youth clubs using a post-subcultural theory that does not attempt to apprehend the relation between subcultural capital and overall hierarchical differentiation. The general lesson to be learned from this example is that, by integrating the notion of subcultural capital into an overall sociological framework inspired by Bourdieu a framework emphasizing hierarchical differentiation it becomes possible to construct these phenomena as objects for sociological analysis in a way that allows us to grasp the interplay between how various socio-structural variables inuence young peoples lives on the one hand, and how agency is carried out on the other. By at once zooming in on and contextualizing the subcultural capital we nd in various subcultures it becomes possible to apprehend relative autonomy. The concept of subcultural capital is important precisely because it allows us to focus on these subcultural criteria of recognition and hence to grasp the relation between the subculture and the social circumstances under which the subculture is produced and lived. To think of subcultures and subcultural capital in a way informed by Bourdieus sociology is, therefore, in a sense quite the opposite of thinking of subculture into a general framework, which assumes the breakdown of mass society or to think of subcultural participation as primarily a matter of choice. It does not rule out creativity, but rather understands creativity as socially situated. Obviously both hierarchical

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and horizontal (functional) differentiation are relevant when analysing subcultures because they are something in themselves but they are also and that has been underemphasized by contemporary researchers subordinate cultures. That their autonomy is only relative is part of what makes them subcultures and an adequate approach to subculture and subcultural capital should reect this.

Notes
1 Other important contributions, such as Hebdige (1979), are left out of this discussion to avoid complicating matters further. 2 Analysing my own youth experience it has occurred to me that, for instance, Danish hip hop was ethnically segregated for many years, with ethnic minority boys specializing in breakdance and boys with ethnic majority background (Danes) DJing, rapping and writing grafti. Having participated myself I remember that we, the Danish b-boys, had very little contact with the breakers. This segregation was highly related to class and geographical space because the breakers tended to come from less economically privileged households than the Danish b-boys, and to live in other and less attractive parts of the city. In the city where I lived we used to ridicule the non-Danish hip hoppers, calling them McDonalds crew (they used to hang out in front of the local McDonalds on the city square) and mocking their musical taste (they listened to 2pac). It should also be noted that no girl was ever allowed to enter high positions in this world. 3 I am thankful to Annick Prieur for helping me clarify these criteria. 4 As touched on at the beginning of the article, recognition is central to Bourdieu throughout his authorship as the concept of symbolic capital may be read as a non-existentialist attempt to grasp what others have termed recognition. In Bourdieu (2000) recognition is discussed explicitly. The notion is useful for grasping important aspects of how general structural conditions impact upon peoples everyday life. Important contributions to the complex debate about recognition are Fraser (1997) and Honneth (1995). 5 Vestel makes similar points about breakdance as a way of getting prestige for the boys from the slum (1999: 7; 2001: 221). 6 Studies have shown some level of resemblance to other subcultural solutions such as the ones developed by the Cholo, a marginalized Mexican-American subculture in the US (Vigil and Long, 1990) and among Puerto Ricans in New York (Bourgeois, 1995, 1996).

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SUNE QVOTRUP JENSEN is a PhD student at FREIA (Feminist Research Centre) at the University of Aalborg. He studies forms of masculinity among marginalized young immigrant men in Denmark. He has previously published De Vilde Unge i Aalborg st (The Wild Young People in Aalborg East) (Aalborg Universitetsforlag 2002), in which he focuses on subcultural forms and masculinity among young men in an underprivileged neighbourhood. The work leading to this article was carried out partly during the project Vilde unge (Wild Youth), sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Social Affairs, and partly when working on his PhD. Address: Center for Knsforskning (FREIA), Aalborg Universitet, Institut for Historie, Internationale Studier og Samfundsforhold (IHIS), Fibigerstrde 2, lokale 42, 9220 Aalborg st, Denmark. [email: qvotrup@ihis.aau.dk]

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