Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Muggleton, D.

Sitting in bed after a wonderful weekend at 'Splendor in the Grass'. Karen O for PM...

I recently spent a (happy) week in Sydney, taking adavntage of the State and Mitchell libraries. It was a wonderful change of scene. And I got to to gulp down a few Max Brennar hot chocolates!

Lately, I've become a little obsessed with the whole concept of 'subculture', so at Baden's encouragement, I've been doing a bit of exploration about the way the term is defined in broader academic literature.

My problem with the use of 'subculture', is that I've seen it as a way to put down cultures that aren't conservative or constructive in any traditional way (I know, I know... define traditional). By denoting something as sub, I felt that it was a way of dimishing the meaning of the culture and the identity in a broader social context. How are 'subcultures' secondary to another culture, and which culture are we talking about? A national identity? If it's a national identity, then I can cope. In this context every culture becomes a subculture and thus it's less problematic and exclusionary. But I also think this is a perfunctory way of defining what consititutes a major personal identity and my issue with the word continues...

As I trawled through the (slightly useless) State Library catalogue, I came across a book called Inside Subcultures: The Postmodern Meaning of Style by David Muggleton (2000). This book has been wonderful for me and I'm excited to hunt it down again and go through it a bit more thoroughly.

Muggleton's study into subcultural identites is inspired by his frustration with a particular scholarly representation of his own historical experience with representations of punk. His work emphasises that subcultures cannot be examined as a whole. All cultures (sub or otherwise) are composed of individuals who each have their own specific motivations and identites within the group, and who each contribute to the development, support, continuation and change of that culture. Individuals embody their culture and these identies can be conflicting - between the need to belong, and the need to assert their own individuality. He proposes that the kind of ethnographic research being undertaken has been inadequate to recongnise and explore these individual identities and what this implies for subcultural identities more broadly.

I found this book and its propositions interesting as Muggleton attempts to escape the shackles of generalisation and to find a more inclusive way of discussing subcultural membership and meaning. Surfing is one of those 'subcultures' that is broad and non-specific in its membership, so hopefully Muggleton's work will be able to help me clear up some of these issues.

Now where are those notes...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Language Barriers

Saturday night in; a bath, paint my toes and read a little. Quite nice really...

I have been battling with this whole thing a bit lately. I've been finding it hard to read and to think and to proceed in any kind of meaningful way with this thesis. But I may have finally figured out why. And it's a little pathetic.

I am living and studying between two worlds, and it's not something I had considered before. I hadn't realised what a barrier my university connections would prove in trying to talk to friends and family about this surfing culture thesis. I don't force discussions of this project on anyone (I understand that my interests aren't everyone else's), but on the occasions I've tried to speak about it with friends, who I believed would be able to give me some kind of feedback or opinion, I've drawn a blank. The general responses have been "that's great, but it's over my head" or "it's beyond me" or even nothing but a blank look. It's disheartening because I've been assuming that I must be doing something wrong, or that I'm not communicating very well. It's all my fault!! One suggestion has been that I try and 'dumb it down' for discussion with friends, which I think is grossly underestimating the intelligence of the people I know and in some ways displays the lack of suport I'm talking about. I am good at simplifying concepts, and making my work accessible to non-academics has been an issue for me even during my undergrad work. I suppose that translating concepts and ideas between two worlds was not a task I envisaged for myself during this year.

But I don't think that is the only problem I'm facing. Perhaps the challenge of thinking about surfing in this way is a bit much for some; maybe they don't want to know about surfing in any context other than actually participating. Of course, that's fine and understandable and I am happy to leave those people alone to their worlds and not to disturb them any further, but I'm saddened by the realisation that the work I am doing is not valid in some eyes simply based on the format I choose to express it. I have friends who attempt to explore surfing - both in the physical and cultural contexts - via film and photography, and these forms of communication are readily accepted and admired, even if the artist's orginal point and aim is overlooked. There can be multiple and immediate interpretations of the aesthetics, the story, the locations, the motivations and the results. Nonetheless, the language of vision and art is percieved as a common one and therefore can be understood. Unfortunately, the format of cultural exploration I have chosen is not seen to be so readily accessible (or beautiful) and therefore is not be understood.

This is making me sad.

I began this project to show the unexpected benefits that I see arising from surfing culture and to show surfers the ways in which their culture positively impacts on not only their personal lives and their local community, but also the world in a broader sense. I wanted to show that the ideas, rules and norms surrounding surfing can help to break down national barriers by crossing cultural boundaries and creating starting points for inter-cultural connections. I wanted to show that surfing is more than a lifestyle, that it has substance, which is more significant than the stereotypes developed and perpetuated by the media (films, books, newspapers...) and more than the cliches built by surfing's old guard.

I suppose the solution is to not try and make it suit everyone. The solution is to write an Honours thesis and then, perhaps, to remould it for broader and more accessible publication in the future.