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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Poststructuralist Agency in the Southern California Punk Scene


Punk is often thought of as a culture of resistance—resistance to conventional music, to conservative politics, to standards of appearance, to parental authority. Few portrayals do much to clarify what specifically qualifies as punk and what does not, but rather favor a general, though impassioned, description of punk as quintessentially resistant. This is appealing largely due to conflicts within the punk community about how to define its borders. Angela McRobbie, in Postmodernism and Popular Culture writes that this struggle is central to many youth subcultures, that “perhaps the emphasis on authenticity is a precondition for acquiring subjectivity and identity in adolescence, one of the attractions of subcultures being precisely that it offers strong subjectivity through the collective meanings that emerge from the distinctive combination of signs, symbols, objects, styles, and other ‘signifying texts.” As punks grow past adolescence, they often lean toward more inclusive definitions. Although the struggle for authenticity within the punk scene can manifest in emotional and physical violence, I argue the attempts to push back these borders can be equally oppressive. I highlight the ways that, in the midst of this violence, women and people of color in the punk scene are exercising agency, through combining various discourses in self-determined representations.

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