Rulebound Rebellion: An Ethnography of American Hardcore Music

The Penn Anthropology Department defines “ethnography” 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.”

This academic pproach seemed to me to be the ideal one to document my observations about 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 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. 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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