Jason Torkelson: Dissertation Abstract

"Life After Subculture"

Youth culture and youth-oriented subcultures have captured the attention of social scientists and the popular media alike for some time. Yet, even as many among punk's 1970's pioneers and the counterculturalists of the 1960's have long left defining elements of style and politics behind in pursuit of more conventional lifestyles, we still only know little about how individuals' adult lives might nonetheless be informed by involvements such as these. My dissertation draws upon 45 face-to-face in-depth interviews with individuals formerly committed to straightedge—a clean-living youth scene that has been associated with punk and hardcore music since the early 1980's. Using these accounts, I plan to move toward a more systematic portrait of the changing sensibilities and residual possibilities that characterize what is often youth subculture's inevitable "other side", both in terms of straightedge and other similar distinctions respondents find significant in their life histories. My work is situated within the sociology of identity and the life course. Using these literatures, I develop the larger implications of "ex" identity, the standpoint of retrospect, shifts in larger dispositional orientations toward elective identification over time, and what it means to come of age in a milieu where more identity options are now on offer than ever before. I find that interviewees describe straightedge—as well as other affiliations—as informing their current lives in often surprising and extensive ways despite professing categorical disassociation, particularly in terms of their self-concept, politics, personal philosophies, and trajectory into subjective adulthood. More broadly, findings indicate that retrospective interpretive inquiry can shed unique light upon former identities—both as a facet of subjective life history and with regard to what larger identification nodes can potentially mean.

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