Rulebound Rebellion: An Ethnography of American Hardcore Music

In the Fall of 2009, I took a class at Rockefeller College on Ethnography, which the Penn Anthropology Department defines as: “(1) the fundamental research method of cultural anthropology, and (2) the written text produced to report ethnographic research results.” Penn’s site further notes that: “Ethnography as method seeks to answer central anthropological questions concerning the ways of life of living human beings. Ethnographic questions generally concern the link between culture and behavior and/or how cultural processes develop over time. The data base for ethnographies is usually extensive description of the details of social life or cultural phenomena in a small number of cases. In order to answer their research questions and gather research material, ethnographers (sometimes called fieldworkers) often live among the people they are studying, or at least spend a considerable amount of time with them. While there, ethnographers engage in “participant observation”, which means that they participate as much as possible in local daily life (everything from important ceremonies and rituals to ordinary things like meal preparation and consumption) while also carefully observing everything they can about it.”

The end product of this class, which was one of the three best courses I’ve ever taken in graduate school, was to produce an ethnographic report of some culture, after completing extensive field research within it. I chose to study American Hardcore Music, around which I’ve spent far more time than I should probably admit since its earliest, formative days in Washington, DC, nearly three decades ago. I conducted some new interviews, went to a bunch of shows, dug up years worth of old reviews, interviews and notes, and parsed it all using the ethnographer’s tools to find the common threads between and meanings of the rituals that hardcore culture embraces. I’m pleased that I ended up with a very different understanding of the culture than I had assumed would be the case when I started the analysis. I think that other than my Masters Paper this is probably the best academic product I’ve produced in my on-again, off-again post-graduate career. The names of the interviewees cited in the paper have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike. So without further ado, I present . . .



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