The punk and post-punk worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool and Sheffield, 1975–80

This book argues that punk and post-punk, whatever their respective internal stylistic heterogeneity, enjoyed 'sociological reality' in Samuel Gilmore's and Howard Becker's sense. It elaborates the concept of 'music worlds', contrasting it with alternatives from the sociological literature. In particular it contrasts it with the concepts 'subculture', 'scene' and 'field'. The book then outlines a number of concepts which allow us to explore the localised process in which punk took shape in a sociologically rigorous manner. In particular it discusses the concepts of 'critical mass' and 'social networks'. The book also applies these concepts to the London punk world of 1976. It considers how talk about punk migrated from face-to-face networks to mass media networks and the effects of that shift. Continuing the discussion of punk's diffusion and growth, the book considers how punk worlds took shape in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. In addition, however, the book offers a more technical analysis of the network structures of the post-punk worlds of the three cities. Furthermore, extending this analysis, and combining qualitative and quantitative forms of analysis, the book considers how activities in different local post-punk worlds were themselves linked in a network, constituting a national post-punk world.

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The social life of music

This book argues that music is an integral part of society – one amongst various interwoven forms of social interaction which comprise our social world; and shows that it has multiple valences which embed it within that wider world. Musical interactions are often also economic interactions, for example, and sometimes political interactions. They can be forms of identity work and contribute to the reproduction or bridging of social divisions. These valances allow music both to shape and be shaped by the wider network of relations and interactions making up our societies, in their local, national and global manifestations. The book tracks and explores these valances, combining a critical consideration of the existing literature with the development of an original, ‘relational’ approach to music sociology. The book extends the project begun in Crossley’s earlier work on punk and post-punk ‘music worlds’, revisiting this concept and the network ideas underlying it whilst both broadening the focus through a consideration of wider musical forms and by putting flesh on the bones of the network idea by considering the many types of interaction and relationships involved in music and the meanings which music has for its participants. Patterns of connection between music’s participants are important, whether they be performers, audience members or one of the various ‘support personnel’ who mediate between performers and audiences. However, so are the different uses to which participants put their participation and the meanings they co-create. These too must be foci for a relational music sociology.

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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book is about punk and post-punk as social worlds or 'music worlds'. The transformation of punk into various forms of post-punk in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield between 1977 and 1980 focuses primarily upon the structure and dynamics of emergent music worlds. The book discusses the concepts of 'critical mass' and 'social networks'. It charts and explains the evolution of London's proto-punk network between January 1975 and December 1976, before punk 'went national'. The book reviews the most often cited explanations of punk in both the sociological and the wider literature, identifying strengths, flaws and gaps in these explanations. It considers how talk about punk migrated from face-to-face networks to mass media networks.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion
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This chapter elaborates upon the notion of music worlds through a discussion of the work of Howard Becker and other relevant writers. It addresses how these worlds come about and how, in particular, punk and post-punk came about. Both 'subculture' and 'world' were formulated in the work of the Chicago School sociologists. In British sociology, the concept of subculture acquired a more specific meaning, following its appropriation in the work of Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies (CCCS). Subcultures, as the CCCS define them, are networks of working-class youths characterised by: the music they listen to; styles of dress, argot and ritual; distinctive activities; territories which they claim as their own. The CCCS's chief concern is working-class youths' resistance to domination. Music is important to this when and to the extent that subcultures identify with specific musical genres.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion
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A review of existing accounts

This chapter reviews a number of theories of punk's emergence. Punk was a response to alienation and domination on behalf of working-class youths, bolstered by indignation at the co-optation of previous youth rebellion. The idea that punk was a response to the alienation of working-class youth is associated with the Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies (CCCS). Punk was also a response to frustration at the state of popular music in the UK in the mid 1970s. Punk was inspired by a number of earlier attempts to recapture the vibrancy and excitement of pop's history. Punk was the product of Malcolm McLaren's entrepreneurial machinations and/or the charisma of John Lydon. The chapter considers factor which has figured strongly in post-strain sociological theories of collective action: opportunity. Punk was a response to new opportunities for innovation within the music industry.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion
Critical mass, collective effervescence, social networks and social space

This chapter outlines a theory of micro-mobilisation, which explains the emergence of punk in London between late 1975 and the end of 1976. It argues that music worlds emerge as an effect of collective effervescence within a networked critical mass of actors who are defined by shared interests of some sort. The chapter also outlines a theory of the emergence of music worlds. Music worlds are a form of collective action and they arise through a process of mobilisation and collective effervescence. This is only possible, however, where a critical mass of interested individuals are connected to one another in a social network, or at least where sufficient interest among appropriately resourced individuals within a network can be mustered. The chapter considers the role of homophily and 'social space' in the process of world formation.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion

This chapter demonstrates how the theory of micro-mobilisation applies to and explains the emergence of punk in London during 1976. The theory of micro-mobilisation begins with the claim that the collective action generative of a music world requires a critical mass of suitably motivated and resourced potential participants. The chapter offers a preliminary analysis of the social network which underpinned the London punk world. It argues that punk took shape in London appears to have had their own critical mass of proto-punks, because the critical mass of proto-punks in the capital formed a network. A network is a crucial prerequisite of any form of collective action. Manchester had a critical mass of proto-punks in the mid 1970s, which assembled to generate a punk world within months of first making contact with the London punks.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion

This chapter tracks the evolution of London's punk world and the network which underpinned it. It investigates the formation of ties between pioneer punks, the emergence of punk's stylistic conventions and the broader relational dynamics and division of labour between protagonists. Network graphs and measures are referred to, but only in so far as they inform discursive attempt to fit the process of punk's emergence together. The chapter suggests that the Sex Pistols' gigs played a big part in the growth of London's punk network. It explains the basic mechanisms of network formation. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's shop served as a magnet, drawing likeminded individuals into a common space, servicing their (fashion) needs and facilitating the formation of a network which, in turn, cultivated the collective effervescence that gave birth to punk.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion
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Broadcast networks, media and moral panics

For the first half of 1976, the UK's punk world was a network of interactivity involving no more than 100 people and a handful of focal places in central London. This chapter considers how London's punk world began to spread out, generating a national punk world. Media networks broadcast information regarding punk to individuals living both within and beyond London stimulates many to become involved and spark a process which led to the emergence of local punk worlds in cities across the UK. The chapter also considers the 'moral panic' which brought punk into the mainstream cultural arena, massively increasing rates of adoption and adherence among the youth population. Television, radio and other organs of the mass media are key elements in the broadcast networks responsible for diffusing culture during the punk era.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion
A tale of three cities

This chapter discusses the transition from punk to post-punk as it played out in three of the major geographical centres of post-punk innovation: Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. It focuses on four common academic themes: focal places, local culture, taste makers and the primacy of the network, support personnel, and cooperation, conflict and elites. The post-punk pioneers of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield tended to know others in their city, because their love of alternative music drew them to the same places. The relations were sustained, in some part, because they returned repeatedly to those same places. The chapter concludes by drawing out some of the qualitative similarities which have emerged in the networks of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. Competition and the dominance of certain factions were important elements in each of these networks.

in Networks of sound, style and subversion