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March 21, 2011


Dick Pountain

Will - a useful addition to your reading list for hipsters who want to get serious might be Daniel Bell's "The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism", from which I quote this rather lengthy excerpt:

"the expansion of higher education and
the extension of a permissive social atmosphere has widened the scope of discretionary social behaviour.’ On this basis, youngsters of relatively modest background break free from the restrictions of class and begin to think that for them too, life might be a terrain of unlimited possibilities and participation...As the traditional class structure dissolves, more and more individuals want to be identified, not by their occupational base (in the Marxist sense), but by their cultural tastes and lifestyles."

Bell's paper was ruthlessly dissected in a powerful 2005 NLR article by Kees van der Pijl called "A Lockean Europe?" where he comments:

"The solution that emerges from Bell’s analysis is to restore micro-economic rationality in each individual’s life-cycle, eliminating the social dimension of Keynesian demand management, social service provision and redistribution. The removal of ‘free riders’ would leave only those who can afford to pay for the privilege to experiment and toy with radical change; others would be held back by the limits of their
spending power. Roughly: do you want to demonstrate under a red banner whilst studying at university?—well, make sure you take out a very large student loan."

The market really is self-healing where it matters the most - in starving out its opponents.


You're a bit more optimistic about the political descendents of Tony Wilson than I am. I was at lunch with one of them the other day, who kept quoting the great man to the effect that, 'people get the cities they deserve.' It took another lunch guest - from Sao Paulo - to point out that, er..everyone in a city doesn't really have the same sort of power and er..living without necessities isn't just a form of self-realisation.



Will Davies

Dick - thanks. It occurred to me that Bourdieu's Distinction is the other obvious text for this topic.

Kate - yes, fair enough. I don't really imagine these people read my blog anyway. But I'm generally minded to spot forms of critique where they happen to exist, and then think about how they can be nurtured, developed and so on. It may be that they can't, but in which case we're doomed.

Hipster - nice to hear from you. Now pull yourself together.


You really nailed it, man! I can only the depth of your hipster knowledge beyond what you absorb from the NYT Brooklyn-bashing weekly.

A good rule of thumb when criticizing large groups of people that don't count you as a member: if you can apply your criticism to one person you know well, and it's valid - you're doing great. If you can't, let's just say that you aren't.

But, I'll heed your advice! Going to a top school and applying my much-maligned 'creative skills' to a well-paying job that helps the world is clearly not what I'm doing. Or... it is, but, I'll stop being "ridicolous," improve my spelling (or, wait, is it yours?) and get off your lawn.


What I find most interesting in these critiques of the youth, how they're going awry or wasting their potential, is the absence of criticism of the writer's generation or the one before it. Considering how magnificently fucked the last three generations have made the world, that ironic self-awareness is the overarching theme of youth culture is to be thanked.

Will Davies

Tom and Seth - I'm not sure what I've written is all that damning actually. Sincerely, I think there is a desire for an alternative economic system that is expressed in (what can be broadly referred to as) hipster culture. It is more than about clothes. The problem is, it's also a little buried in concerns about haircuts. That is all. I'm not quite sure how my generation fits in yet. I'm 34, so my lot haven't quite had their moment to fuck things up (yet).


God this is pathetic.


I like how your making huge asumptions about these hipster people's upbringing, their attitude etc etc. I mean, i wouldn't like to meet you. You sound like a really unpleasant person and also a militant twat. What do you want? Do you want the 1950's back or something? Besides i bet your one of them anyway.

Will Davies

This is the first time one of my blog posts has ever been met with such vitriol. I seem to be particularly guilty of 'making assumptions' about people. This isn't much of a defence, but I'm afraid that's basically what I do: I come up with theories about society, post them here, and when nobody responds, then assume that they're probably wrong. At least some of my assumptions on this occasion must be correct, or it wouldn't have stirred you all up like this.

What is so awful about making certain assumptions about people, when they are quite evidently in the business of projecting various statements? Surely cultural artefacts demand to be judged! If a Victorian dandy walked down the street in bright pink trousers, and nobody noticed, that would be a failure. The worst thing that one could do to any cultural or subcultural movement would be to ignore it all together. The alternative is to criticise it (which is the opposite of dismissing it).

Also, there's scarcely any reference to class in this blog post (other than my own) that I can see. But that seems to be some sort of sore point nevertheless.


The symbiotic affinities between Thatcherism and punk, neoliberalism and DIY cultural dandyism are clear and deserve more exploration. Not knowing any hipsters, I hesitate to theorise, but I think it likely that many of the counter-cultural children of the Long 1980s (1980- now and counting) are by and large just that - would-be 'subversive' in a purely cultural sense. The revolution starts and ends with dressing up and partying, and must be that way, since the post-80s economic system is taken to be so hegemonic as to be part of the natural order. If the economy is unchallengeable, politics is pointless. We need some credible hipster economics and , as Kate says, a sense of where power really can be challenged and redistributed.


Mate, just live your own life instead of smugly picking apart other peoples.

Will Davies

Again, I'm kind of baffled by the idea that comment, critique or judgement on other people's (public, cultural) lifestyles is intrinsically off-limits. If I was commenting on their private lives, their physical or mental health, their families or their bodies, then I could understand it. But offering an analysis of a fairly ostentatious, highly visible, aethetically thought-through, and politically consequential (insofar as it affects previous residents of the neighbourhoods it colonises) movement seems entirely justified. In fact, I'm surprised it's not thoroughly welcomed by the people I'm seeking to describe.


Hey will, does this resonate?

"Intellectualization is a defense mechanism where reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress, by 'using excessive and abstract ideation to avoid difficult feelings'. It involves removing one's self, emotionally, from a stressful event. Intellectualization may accompany, but 'differs from rationalization, which is justification of irrational behavior through cliches, stories, and pat explanation'."


Will Davies

So now I'm guilty of a) commenting on how other people live and b) being an intellectual...

This is worse than I suspected.


I'd like to add George Simmel and Veblen to the hipsternomics reading list. Also, I think that a) comment and b) structured thought are both OK.


Hilarious! TL;DR was such an obvious and brilliant response from Hipster. LOL. 1978 above also has a point, but you have an OK defence for this and also some kind of territorial issue - feeling "swamped"? ;-) i guess there are downsides to your parents' house rocketing in price.

I really enjoyed it, FWIW, but then I have read probably all of your previous posts which, as you say, have not elicited such a response.

The words that stood out for me as traces of an inherited old way of thinking were myspace, socialism and battle lines ;-) They sound like flares and moustaches (so arguably hipsterish). Also: who does "we" refer to in the penultimate para? Local residents? Intellectuals?

Anyway, hipster's ain't so bad, and are no better or worse than _insert prejudices here_ -- peace!

Thanks for sharing - good piece :)


I'm not sure a call-to-action to be more serious and read Zizek or Marx is going to inspire anyone to fight for better economic liberalism. Can't it be a *bit* more fun (but not flippant or silly, no not at all)? Please...? ;)

Will Davies

To be quite honest, James, one of the disappointing things about the ire that this post has attracted in the comments (not yours) is that this whole 'letter' is pretty tongue-in-cheek in the first place. I mean - of course people aren't going to read this, and suddenly have a moment of enlightenment. And of course I don't have any entitlement to tell people how to live. This is me poking fun at something in a slightly deadpan way.

But yes, I agree. Zizek and Marx aren't likely to sweep the studios and cafes of Hackney any time soon.

Dick Pountain

I'm not that surprised at all the vitriol Will - Dave Robins and I got the same when we published Cool Rules. When you analyse this subject people feel you're stepping on their identities. (I imagine a fish who criticises water would get a similar response).


Bourdieu said that if you make explicit the implicit, uncomfortable, but still recognisable realities of a social situation, the people involved will likely hate and dismiss you for it. Its a bit of an elitist, circular argument (I must be right if they say I'm wrong), but maybe there's something in this that explains the vitriol.
I thought this was actually a rather thoughtful and respectful piece - the crux being that while hipsters hold, represent and enact values, they lack any conscious political will to institutionalise these values. In short, hipsters are too fun, cool, and ironic to threaten anyone or anything.


It was laugh-out-loud funny BTW, I didn't mean to infer it wasn't.
"But yes, I agree. Zizek and Marx aren't likely to sweep the studios and cafes of Hackney any time soon." You know one of the ironic things I find is how academic discourse (certainly in the social sciences) and policy discourse is itself very faddish. The uncritical take-up of Zizek is a case in point. I've not met many people who could espouse his name and one or two aphorisms as the 'key thinker' or offering a solution to (x or y). It's idea fashion. For every barbour jacket in ad-land in hoxton, there's a disingenuous peddler of ideas in other institutions of power.

Will Davies

On this issue of 'what is the optimal level of seriousness', I might also throw in this review I did of the Olin Wright book I mention in the above post. In that, I more or less inverted the criticisms I make of hipsters, and suggested that Olin Wright's very exciting vision is somewhat hampered by being so bloody serious.

It seems to me that there is an optimal level of seriousness, between analytical Marxism and hipster irony, in which institutional innovations occur because they are new, exciting and politically transformative. Socialism can be deadly when it offers no jolity or excitement with the new. To paraphrase Immanuel Kant, 'fashion without politics is empty, but politics without fashion is blind'*. Or something.

*I realise this is ridiculous


...there is an optimal level of seriousness, between analytical Marxism and hipster irony..

Forget Hackney. You should come to Brixton more often Will.



I see that a reading list in hipsterology and hipsternomics is building up.

Here's another for the list: George Walden, 'Who's a Dandy?'


Telling people what to do and how to change is ignorant of their history, plight, and goals. This entire thing is nearsighted to the point of running into walls of irrelevancy. Your language is just as pretentious as you see hipsters if not more with it's copious ridiculousness.

You can whine about any group of people or you can stop seeing what makes you different and start seeing what makes you the same. I hope you take this not as an attack but as an illumination of possible growth.

Will Davies



Why do you assume that everyone you describe comes from money, does some job that you think is worthless and is automatically an arsehole. You sir are a an assumptive tosser.

The hipster is no different from the the ted, the beatnik, the rocker, the mod, the hippy, the punk, the new romantic, the raver etc. The spent money getting the look, they went to right clubs/gigs, they lived in certain areas (i.e Hippies of Haight Ashbury San Francisco) and did certain jobs. Why don't you write a historical article about how awful hippies were aswell.

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