The following is the Afterword to Your Wisdom, Our Youth: Proceeds of the First Postgraduate Punk Scholars Symposium (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2017).
Academia As Subversion: The Birth of the Punk Scholars Network
Punk, as an area for academic exploration, continues to stand its ground. Although much has already been written on the subject since the 1970s, one need only to turn to recent publications like Kevin Dunn’s Global Punk: Resistance and Rebellion in Everyday Life (2016) and Pete Dale’s Anyone Can Do It: Empowerment, Tradition and the Punk Underground (2012) as evidence of the continual fascination with this subject. What may be seen as increasingly unique with punk, however, is its consistent crossover between the academic and popular; and, more importantly, the maturing relationship between punk and academic theories surrounding sociology, popular musicology, and cultural studies. In other words, as those early popular culture academics, such as those of the Birmingham School (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies), were writing from the 1960s onwards—including, of course, Dick Hebdige’s seminal text Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979)—the study of punk has grown up next to the diversifying and global impact of popular culture. Indeed, many academic writers were (and still are) self-professed punks, and this now-blurred relationship is evident with recent publications such as Zack Furness’ Punkademics (2012) and David Beer’s Punk Sociology (2012).
Yet, academic collections on punk still largely present work from experienced researchers. Just as Furness points out that, in relation to the academic/lay audience dichotomy, “academics should not be seen as the authoritative voices capable of explaining punk to the masses” (2012, 11), this could equally be applied to a hierarchy of credibility that exists within academia surrounding researchers and the stage of their research career (indeed, one can cite Hebdige as research that has clear value). The reference in the collection’s title to a song by Fig 4.0 (a sadly now-defunct punk band from Leeds) is used metaphorically with regards to this. Instead, this short work is one of the first punk-studies collections where all the chapters will have arisen from work completed, or in progress, as part of postgraduate study. It has brought together emerging scholars in the field, representing the eclectic academia in punk studies.
As noted in the introduction, this particular collection is sourced from the Punk Scholars Network: First Annual Postgraduate Symposium. The symposium was run in association with the University of Leicester and the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, London, and is of course affiliated to the Punk Scholars Network. Although new, the PSN already has an international reputation with members from as far as Russia, Asia, and Australia, and is involved in the study, research, and publication of the social, artistic, and philosophical impact of punk. From its rather humble beginnings, the Punk Scholars Network has transformed into an international forum of academic and scholarly debate, with the network involved in a number of events in the academic arena, including conferences, publications, talks, and exhibitions. Punk is a conflicting and diverse culture, and the PSN has aimed to mirror this multiplicity with an Oxford Brookes University-sponsored conference and exhibition dedicated to the anarcho-punk scene of the 1980s, the London College of Communications-led conference examining and raising questions of authenticity and punk, and the conversational at De Montfort University where Alastair Gordon and I chatted with Crass founder-member Penny Rimbaud at the university’s Cultural Exchanges Festival representing only a small part of its overall research and scholarly activities.
Although these events have widened the integrity and membership of the PSN, there has also been a longstanding commitment within the network towards the nurturing of research; not only in terms of post-doctoral output, but also with the pedagogical and academic support for research/postgraduate students and, in some cases, undergraduate research. Often, the importance of the postgraduate is overlooked within scholarly circles, with the kudos and “prestige” of post-doctoral research and output taking centre stage and thus overshadowing these up-and-coming individuals. For those of us in the Punk Scholars Network, therefore, we feel it important to address this imbalance: the students that we teach are, after all, the future of the network and are invaluable for the further exploration in the continuing study of an area as complex as punk. As such, the First Annual Postgraduate Symposium provided a forum where students had an informal and collective space to air their research; a space where ideas and experiences could be explored and pondered.
We are very lucky, therefore, to have such a breadth of subject matter and methodology in this volume, with chapters ranging from punk in Indonesia to the Straightedge scene in France; through to the Dutch post-punk Ultra Movement and Guy Mankowski’s excellent chapter on punk manifestos. We have a critique of “Whitestraightboy” hegemony, an interesting chapter on the links between punk and pedagogy (whoever has heard of such a thing!), and Rebecca Binns’ writing on Gee Vaucher’s anarcho-punk aesthetic. Punk in many of its various forms is here and, although we could spend an age discussing definitional ambiguities (what is punk?), it is clear that it has relocated/emerged in many guises and forms across the globe.
Laura Way’s introduction signposts the reader towards a more-detailed outline of the current work; here, I would like to take this opportunity to provide a quick overview of the formation and development of the Punk Scholars Network. It is important to note that although the idea of the network was formulated between a colleague and myself, it is only through the present volume and similar events discussed below that it has been allowed to flourish. In other words, it is through the participation and fervour of many that the PSN is growing and expanding.
“Since as long as I’ve been active in DIY punk the notion of networks has been central to its ethos,” notes Alastair ‘Gords’ Gordon in a personal communication to the author: “‘the do-it-yourself’ philosophy is pegged to the idea of communication with like-minded people across the world. In short, reaching out to people to trade and release records and tapes, write zines, book tours and trade stuff.” Formed in 2012, the PSN emerged from the back of a Call for Chapters for a co-edited book I was compiling at the time entitled The Aesthetic of our Anger: Anarcho-Punk, Politics, Music (2016). I had completed a PhD on anarcho-punk in 2005 and, after having a well-deserved break from academia, had followed the advice of the late Professor Sheila Whiteley (my PhD supervisor) in collating chapters on the UK scene of the 1980s.
I sent out a Call for Chapters and soon heard back from a number of academics. Matt Worley from Reading University was one of the first, and then came Russ Bestley, Ana Raposo, Matt Grimes, and Pete Dale: all punk scholars in their own right, working on wide-ranging debates and ideas around punk. Bestley and Raposa were looking at graphic design and the image of subversion that can be found on the records of Crass and their colleagues. Grimes was studying anarcho-punk and memory, whilst Pete Dale was working on his Anyone Can Do-It, a volume that uncovers the intricacies of the DIY scene. Indeed, it was Dale who contacted me and asked if I’d heard of Gords, an academic who had written extensively about punk. He included Gords’ email and recommended I write to him.
The first thing that I noticed about Gords was his passion and knowledge of punk. He was enthusiastic about the book, but within days had sent me an email about the bringing together of punk scholars across the globe, a kind of punk network where we could pool and swap ideas, a place where we could organise events, peer review our work and even, perhaps, publish our own work. In his own words, Gords had been “a punk scholar since 1993 when [he] began research on how the anarcho-punk scene of the early 1980s impacted [his] life through the output of life-changing records, gigs, protests and networks.” In 1996 he had self-published his undergraduate dissertation Throwing the Punk Rock Baby Out With the Dirty Bath Water: Crass and Punk Rock, An Appraisal (1996), a work which still remains relevant today and has since been reissued through Itchy Monkey Press.
Yet, after health problems arising from a car crash in 2004, Gords’ ability to publish was impaired. In addition, “I faced hostility from the local and UK punk scenes for gaining a PhD on the subject in 2005,” he notes, whilst also facing an “academic community [who] viewed my activities with suspicion.” It was during this time that he had a meeting with Professor Helen Wood, who was curious as to why he was not writing or publishing. It was here that:
she got to the nub of the issue. I felt the lack of camaraderie I’d previously experienced in the DiY punk scene was missing in the academia … her response was brilliant. She cited the CCCS and other past research networks providing support systems for new directions in cultural and media studies … I thought, why not start a network of my own? Reach out to others in the field and in true DiY spirit drag the thing into existence.
This was reinforced in a university Annual Development Review where Gords met with colleague and fellow subcultures scholar Professor Andrew Tolson who, once again, was enthusiastic about the project.
The first PSN Meeting was held on Saturday November 24, 2012 at De Montfort University in Leicester. Discussions arose around setting up a Facebook page or website, the importance of supporting each other in terms of peer-reviewed feedback, and organising the first “official” PSN event at the University of Reading. From here, and, “after five events in Reading, Oxford, London, De Montfort and Leicester University the network has swelled with a Facebook group membership of over 350 disparate scholars.” Indeed, to continue with Gords: “core members of the Punk Scholars Network have been responsible for significantly growing the discipline of punk studies over the last five years [with] numerous … edited readers, single authored books and journal articles.” Of course, the Postgraduate Symposium sits beneath this umbrella. Whilst the seeds of the network were sewn in Nottingham, the depth and breadth of research, discussion, and events mean that it has grown beyond its initial discussion. At the time of writing, there has been a successful second postgraduate symposium at Birmingham City University and there is already discussion over the next event in 2017.
“Studying is a difficult task,” notes Paulo Freire in The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation (1985). “[It] requires a systematic critical attitude and intellectual discipline attitude and intellectual discipline acquired only through practice” (1985, 2). Pulling upon ideas earlier espoused in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972), Freire notes that:
this critical attitude is precisely what “banking education” does not engender. Quite the contrary, its focus is fundamentally to kill our curiosity, our inquisitive spirit, and our creativity. A student’s discipline becomes a discipline for ingenuity in relation to the text, rather than an essential critique of it … what is required of readers, in essence, is not comprehension of content but memorization. Instead of understanding the text, the challenge becomes its memorization and if readers can do this, they will have responded to the challenge. (1985, 2)
Freire’s critique of studying—of the critical inquisitiveness and intellectual concerns necessary within such an activity—raises questions over the role of postgraduate study within such a contentious field as punk, subcultural studies, and popular music. Freire’s thoughts highlight not only the mythology of the PhD, which for many incorporates this activity of critical discipline, academic freedom, and rigorous intellectual debate, but also the complex relationship between subject and process; between intellectual freedom and the constraints of qualification. On one hand the thesis becomes a mythological “Other,” the thing that “non-PhDs” cannot comprehend, and on the other it becomes a process whereby the student continues to jump through the hoops of the “banking education” system.
I hope, therefore, that the current volume is a worthy addition to punk scholarship. Part of the remit of the Punk Scholars Network is to be critical yet reflective, not only through a robust and reflective study of methodology but also in terms of the processes and concerns of academia. Students and scholars alike must realise the passivity of the reader, the “domesticated” nature of a reader who merely memorises and reaffirms the ideas of the writer, and where the reader becomes what Freire calls “a ‘vessel’ filled by extracts from an internalized text.” Instead, “this critical attitude in studying is the same as that required in dealing with the world … an attitude of inward questioning through which increasingly one begins to see the reasons behind the facts” (Freire 1985, 2).
Beer, David. 2012. Punk Sociology. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dale, Pete. 2012. Anyone Can Do It: Empowerment, Tradition and the Punk Underground. Farnham: Ashgate.
Dines, Mike, and Matthew Worley (eds.). 2016. The Aesthetic of our Anger: Anarcho-Punk, Politics, Music. Colchester: Minor Compositions
Dunn, Kevin. 2016. Global Punk: Resistance and Rebellion in Everyday Life. London: Bloomsbury.
Freire, Paulo. 1985. The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation. Westport: Bergin & Garvey.
———. 1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.
Furness, Furness (ed.). 2012. Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower. London: Minor Compositions.
Gordon, Alastair. 1996. Throwing the Punk Rock Baby Out With the Dirty Bath Water: Crass and Punk Rock, An Appraisal. Nottingham: Do One Press.
Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.