Whitby – One Month On

WHITBY by night3

First and foremost : A huge thank you to all the wonderful people I met, interviewed, chatted with, photographed and spent time with in Whitby, London, Manchester, Vancouver and all the other stops along the way.   It was brilliant to meet so many folks who were willing to share their stories and be part of this project – thank you for donating your time to my research.

I owe particular thanks to the people I spoke with in Whitby at both the Bram Stoker International Film Festival and the Whitby Goth Weekend.  Thank you for giving up valuable festival time to talk with me about your experiences in the Goth Subculture.

I truly appreciate the efforts you made to fit this project into your schedule. Your honesty, good humour, acceptance, generosity and integrity is a rare and wonderful thing and your contributions are greatly valued.

Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2015

From a research perspective, the weeks in Whitby are critical to the data-gathering phase of my study and time spent there has generated material which I will draw on throughout my project including lots of fantastic conversations and visuals.

From a personal perspective, the trip was hugely inspiring and has renewed my commitment to pursue this research and to write about the Goth subculture.

At a time when so much energy seems to be devoted to writing about societal division it is of some comfort to be reflecting on experiences of belonging.


 

Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2015

 Where to from here?

For the immediate future, I am working through the data I amassed overseas and writing up my notes.

Then, it is time for the Australian contingent!

I will be scheduling interviews in Australia over the next few months, and will reopen the Australian survey to correspond with these interviews.

 

Once again, thank you to everyone who has contributed to and supported this research.

Cheers,

Emma

          Whitby Goth Weekend 2015 (October)

 

 

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Finding the right words

Finding the right words

A central pillar of commencing my research has been the identification of the term ‘Goth’ as being a culturally acceptable moniker for the broader phenomenon of the Gothic subculture and its various subsets. As discussed by Sweet[1], there is an apparent shortage of empirical and interview data from which to analyse and extend discourse on the Goth subculture and its participants; this research project seeks to contribute to rectifying this deficit. Survey reply volumes received to date well exceed my initial estimates for responses; consequently appropriate analysis of compiled data will take considerable time. In obtaining a high response rate I hope to best represent the subculture, statistically, and provide an extensive account of and insights into the personal, social and stylistic motivations of the scene.

Prior to writing the surveys for this study, I invested much time and consideration into finding the right words to describe the subculture and its participants. Among my initial methodologies was surveying myself and assessing my own attitudes and feelings towards the terminology used by, for, about and on the subculture before talking further about those terms with friends and acquaintances in the scene.

Chief among my decisions was a definitive “No Gothic” approach.

Selection of words used by survey respondents to describe & discuss Goth

Snapshot of words used by survey respondents to describe & discuss Goth

As described in the brief ‘notes on terminology’[2] provided at the start of my surveys, my own reading of the term Gothic is very much to do with identifiable periods of historical aesthetics, architecture and the Gothic revivalist tradition of the 19th century. All these feature heavily in the Goth subculture, and are indeed critical in defining its style, design and aesthetics.

However, for me, Goth is not Gothic. Goth exists in its own right as a personal style, an identity signifier, quite distinct from architecture or literary genres. Goth, in my view, has consummately established itself to such an extent that it can be viewed as its own phenomenon, its own thing beyond a subculture – a culture.

When writing my research questions, I was acutely aware that my positioning of Goth in all its forms as a discrete phenomenon may not be shared by all my fellow scene participants, and would most likely be challenged academically. In the interests of stimulating debate and furthering discussions on the notion of Goth as a culture which extends its importance throughout life, I felt this distinction was, and is, warranted.

As the first point of enquiry, my surveys ask respondents to chose a Goth aesthetic with which they most identify, respondents are further asked to describe the subculture and provide terms they most associate with the subculture[3]. Since commencing analysis of the initial response data, patterns are emerging which reveal the complexity of terminology used within the culture, and reflect the ongoing struggle of participants to self-identify using consistent catch-all terms or even a common set of terms.

Respondents exhibit a genuine desire to contribute to the discussion and understanding of the culture and its motivations, providing detailed personal accounts of their involvement in the culture and applying intellectual rigour to their answers to ensure their notions of subcultural identity are unambiguous. Rather than engaging in a collective “quasi-nostalgia for an imagined past”[4] participants appear to fully engage with efforts to authentically portray the culture and consistently express a desire to provide credible representations of the stylistic choices made when adopting such a recognisable subcultural identity. That the subculture can withstand such critique from within, illustrates the level of maturity reached by the culture and the conviction of some participants in its constancy beyond a youthful experiment.

Goth aesthetics (or Goth identity types)

Goth aesthetics (or Goth identity types)

The data to date demonstrates participants’ capacity to cogently self-analyse their relationships with Goth, as well as articulating a genuine desire to provide a measured and truthful description of stylistic and social convictions of the culture. In considering early data snapshots it is apparent the notion of conscious, individualised and considered self-identification is fundamental to participants. When provided with a list of seventeen recognised Goth aesthetics (or identity types) a significant proportion of respondents chose option 18 (‘other’ response category) and provided their own authentic interpretation of Goth.

A demonstration of the significance respondents place on terminology can further be seen in the vocabulary used by participants to describe their image, subcultural style and identity (as per the illustration above).  Preliminary analysis of free-text responses has demonstrated respondents have a thorough understanding of the social and cultural implications of their active association with an ‘outsider’ culture.

Additionally, several respondents have made direct email contact to elaborate further on their answers and provide clarification on terminology in relation to social interactions and beliefs in order to ensure suitable labels are applied to Goth identity in public discourse.

Goth subculture, like any other social group, relies on its own unconscious/unspoken rules and conventions, social etiquettes and visual signifiers to communicate belonging.  The broad spectrum of striking apparel evident in the now decades old scene, promotes stylistic flexibility within the culture, and allows participants to experiment with different images without abandoning fundamental Goth sensibilities.

The “sense of theatre… created and enhanced by the diversity of costumes and looks”[5] that the subculture now fosters, enables participants to embody varied incarnations of their Goth persona and express individualised interpretations of Goth style without losing that necessary sense of belonging to the culture. That Goth culture sustains such a diverse range of distinct ‘types’ of Goths is testament to the scene’s ability to adapt, embrace and indulge different passions and preoccupations – however we label them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Sweet, Derek R. More Than Goth: The Rhetorical Reclamation of the Subcultural Self Popular Communication, 2005, Vol.3(4), p.239-264 pp243

[2] See: isgothjustaphase.com – surveys

[3] For example: International Survey Question 5 “Choosing from the list below – with which of the Goth aesthetics do you most identify (choose most appropriate or provide your own answer)”

[4] Cherry, B. and Mellins, M. (2012), ‘Negotiating the Punk in Steampunk: Subculture, Fashion & Performative Identity’, Punk & Post-Punk 1: 1, pp. 5–25, doi: 10.1386/punk.1.1.5_1

[5] Christina Goulding & Michael Saren (2009) Performing identity: an analysis of gender expressions at the Whitby goth festival, Consumption Markets & Culture, 12:1, 27-46, DOI: 10.1080/10253860802560813