Hipsters and Heterotopes: (Mis) recognizing the liminal other in the post subcultural city

Carlton Brick, Kelly Davidson

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In recent years the ‘Hipster’ has emerged as a particularly urbane manifestation of urban popular cultural style and apparent sensibility, bound up with various practices of ‘cool’ hunting and the ironic consumption of cultural knowledge and trends (Greif, 2010; Eply, 2007). While much of the recent academic focus on hipsters has concerned itself with individual motivations and consumption practices as an expression of cultural capital, other commentators have examined the idea of the hipster in relation to the restructuring of urban space and practices of cultural colonization and gentrification (Smith, 1997; Gray, 2009; Seymor, 2009; Hae, 2011). Cowan (2006) goes as far as to argue that what he terms ‘hipster urbanism’ has become synonymous with the neo-liberal city.
Noting the centrality of these arguments, this paper suggests that the discourse of the urban hipster is in part symptomatic of a crisis in popular cultural (and sub-cultural) signification, and in part a reaction against an increasingly modular and ‘theme-o-matic’ reorganisation of urban cultural space (Hannigan, 1998); in both cases it appears to disrupt traditional’ hierarchical and territorial boundaries of differentiation and distinction.
In response to Hae’s (2011) observation that subcultural studies and the wider field of urban sociology have tended to negate or underestimate the close relationships between popular style-based (sub) cultures and post-industrial spatial restructuring, this paper seeks to provide a framework within which specific cultural styles might be understood as the expression of ephemeral subjectivities formed within increasingly liminal urban environments. Drawing upon the concept of heterotopia we suggest that theoretical approaches that simply seek to examine the hipster as product and process of neo-liberal urban policy fail to fully acknowledge the fluid, fragmented relationships between recognisable subcultural identities and contemporary urban spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2014
EventAssociation of Canadian Studies in Ireland (ACSI) 17th Biennial Conference - National University of Ireland, Galway, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 May 201411 Aug 2014


ConferenceAssociation of Canadian Studies in Ireland (ACSI) 17th Biennial Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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