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Chastising and romanticising heavy metal subculture: Challenging the dichotomy with figurational sociology – Gary Sinclair (2011)


Author: Gary Sinclair
Organisation/Affiliation: Dublin Institute of Technology
Date: 2011

This research posits that heavy metal music is part of what Elias (2009) refers to as a ‘civilising process’. He argues that as society becomes increasingly integrated we are faced with an increasing web of interdependencies and relationships where a growing intricacy is needed in order to manage ones emotions. Elias and Dunning (2008a) argue that a result of increasing restraints and the routinisation of social relationships sport and leisure has attained a greater importance in society allowing for the generation and release of mimetic emotion.

Through participant observation and semi-structured interviews of heavy metal fans in Dublin, Ireland it was found that ceremonial rituals such as ‘moshing’ are able to occur as a consequence of the unwritten fan code of behaviour and the influence of external controls which contribute to the construction of a unique environment which allows fans to experience a ‘controlled de-controlling’ of emotions. Heavy metal culture, rather than representing a potential caveat to Elias’s civilising process is in actual fact an example of the process of informalisation and reflective of society’s increasing need for excitement which has yet to be really examined in the context of music subcultures.

It is argued here that the figurational sociology framework represents an alternative approach to studying music subcultures due to its emphasis on historical configurations, developments in the individual psyche, and the importance it attaches to the role of the relatively detached researcher. The role of the researcher in particular is outlined in this paper in the context of studies which have considered both the dangers of heavy metal and the romantic ideologies of the subculture.

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