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Simon During

Related: Cultural Studies - Australia


Simon During teaches English and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. His publications include Foucault and Literature (Routledge, 1992), Patrick White (1996), and many articles in literary and cultural studies.

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The function of subcultures

NO CULTURAL STUDIES BOOK has been more widely read than Dick Hebdige's 1979 Subculture: The Meaning of Style, from which this essay is taken. It brought a unique and supple blend of Althusser, Gramsci and semiotics (as propounded by Barthes and the "Prague School") to bear on the world of, or at any rate near to, the young British academics and students who first became immersed in cultural studies. That was the world of "subcultures" more visible in Britain than anywhere else: teds, skinheads, punks, Bowie-ites, hippies, dreads . . .

For Hebdige two Gramscian terms are especially useful in analyzing subcultures: conjuncture and specificity. Subcultures form in communal and symbolic engagements with the larger system of late industrial culture; they're organized around, but not wholly determined by, age and class, and are expressed in the creation of styles. These styles are produced within specific historical and cultural "conjunctures;" they are not to be read as simply resisting hegemony or as magical resolutions to social tensions - as earlier theorists had supposed. Rather subcultures cobble together (or hybridize) styles out of the images and material culture available to them in the effort to construct identities which will confer on them "relative autonomy" within a social order fractured by class, generational differences, work etc.

In his later work, Hebdige (1988) was to rework his method, admitting that he had underestimated the power of commercial culture to appropriate, and indeed, to produce, counter-hegemonic styles. Punk, in particular, was a unique mixture of an avant-garde cultural strategy, marketing savvy and working-class transgression produced in the face of a section of British youth's restricted access to consumer markets. The line between subculture as resistance and commercial (441) culture as both provider of pleasures and an instrument of hegemony is in fact very hard to draw -especially when youth markets are in question.

--http://web.syr.edu/~tjconnel/145/Hebdige-Subculture.html [Oct 2005]


  1. Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic - Simon During [Amazon US]
    Staged magic, with no claim to true divine power, has a wide-ranging influence on modern culture, claims During (Foucault and Literature), professor of English and cultural studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. "From the moment that they were widely tolerated and commercialized," he writes, "magic shows have helped provide the terms and content of modern culture's understanding and judgment of itself." To back up this sweeping assertion, During begins with a terse account of how magic from ancient times to modern was "transformed into jokes, or more precisely, amusements... old marvels or wonders normally survive as such only with a tinge of irony." During describes a substantial number of performers who worked "at the intersection of entertainment, science, and magic." Rather less convincingly, a chapter on "Magic and Literature" juxtaposes writers like Edgar Allan Poe and the French eccentric Raymond Roussel, but not in a way that suggests a real continuity between them. During's interest in magic, the book's subject, is more metaphorical than that of the literal practitioners of magic described herein, like the Frenchman Robert-Houdin. Well-researched, and clearly written in academic prose, this study nevertheless comes to grief by the sheer range of material it attempts to digest. 12 halftones. (Apr.)Forecast: Despite the popular subject, the method and manner here make a crossover highly unlikely, but with so little work in the gray area between performance and literature of magic, the mere attempt at synthesis, along with the intriguing bibliographical references, should generate some attention on campus. Even readers in academia may find this study overreaching and inconclusive, however. --From Publishers Weekly

  2. The Cultural Studies Reader - Simon During [Amazon US]
    The first edition of The Cultural Studies Reader established itself as the leader in the field, providing the ideal introduction to this exciting and influential discipline. This expanded second edition offers a wider selection of essays covering every major cultural studies method and theory, and takes account of recent changes in the field. There are added articles on new areas such as technology and science, globalization, postcolonialism and cultural policy, making The Cultural Studies Reader essential reading for anyone wanting to know how cultural studies developed, where it is now, and its future directions.

    Contributors: Ackbar Abbas, Theodor Adorno, Arjun Appadurai, Roland Barthes, Tony Bennett, Lauren Berlant, Homi K. Bhabha, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Rey Chow, James Clifford, Michel de Certeau, Teresa de Lauretis, Richard Dyer, David Forgacs, Michel Foucault, Nancy Fraser, Nicholas Garnham, Stuart Hall, Donna Haraway, Dick Hebdige, bell hooks, Max Horkheimer, Eric Lott, Jean Francois Lyotard, Angela McRobbie, Meaghan Morris, Hamid Naficy, Janice Radway, Andrew Ross, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Edward Soja, Gayatri Spivak, Peter Stallybrass, Carolyn Steedman, Will Straw, Michael Warner, Cornel West, Allon White, Raymond Williams.

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