Questions of Method, pt. 1

04Apr07

It’s easy enough to announce that I’m embarking on an “investigation”, if you will, of internet party photography. “Well, what kind of internet party photography do you mean?” is usually the first question people ask me. “Like, pictures of parties on Facebook?” I clarify: hipster internet party photography, specifically. Evoking the “hipster” adjective usually garners reactions along the lines of chuckles and eye-rolling. Usually, it’s not a sufficient enough explanation for what I’m doing, let alone how I’m studying it. I’d like to begin some attempt at my explanation by breaking down the terminology of “hipster internet party photography” into several parts, focusing first on attempting to coherently define the vague and elusive word “hipster”.

“Hipster” is more often than not used as a derogatory term referencing a primarily youth-oriented sub-culture that has entered prevalence in the newmillenium . It entered English etymology in part because of Jack Kerouac’s writings of (coincidentally, or maybe not-so-coincidentally, a stereotypical hipster literary favorite) and usage of the word and made a re-emergence in the new millennium to reference “
One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool”, as parody book The Hipster Handbook suggests.

To address the usage of the term “hipster” as a word and reference to an emergent subculture, I decided to embark on a semi-casual investigation of the origins and usage of the word. Upon my initial etymological research
, I’ve turned to a publication that, while not in the vein of the scholarly and peer-reviewed, is still a steady bulwark of the West and the English Language, The New York Times. The New York Times’ former resident etymologist William Safire has been using the term ‘hipster’ since 1982, but this has generally referred to a hipster in aKerouackian/Beatnik/Jazz-loving sense. It seems that New York Times writers, specifically for Arts and Entertainment-related articles, began referring to the emergent hipster-figure in its present day form in 1993, principally in discussing music. During this point in the early 90’s, the emergence of indie rock as a genre, exemplified by a few noteworthy indie bands such as Pavement and Stereolab. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus , legendary in the indie rock world, also came to exemplify a certain aesthetic that has, more or less, stuck consistently with the paradigmatic vision of a hipster male (shaggy hair, skinny frame, tight jeans,et. al.).

As I write, I find that it becomes more and more evident that “explanation”, for lack of a better word, of a sub-culture becomes extremely contentious and difficult, especially given the new status that hipster-dom holds in the world of youth sub-cultures. Since this particular sub-culture is current and it seems that studies of liminal sub-cultures are still relatively new to the field of anthropology, there are no scholarly resources to be found that address this blooming trend. It seems particularly appropriate then, given the background and inspiration for this blogging project as a whole, that I, rather than get crippled by a lack of prior literature on the subject (“falling the abyss of research,” my mom calls it), scalp the internet for new and, in my opinion, valid ethnographic sources. There’s not really any scholarly research done on “hipsters” at the moment, but rest assured that the simple act of Googling “hipsters” brings you an infinite amount of blogs discussing their views and definitions of the hipster subject.

More on “hipsters” and, more importantly, internet party photography next post…

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One Response to “Questions of Method, pt. 1”

  1. 1 neuroism

    How does one qualify their hipster status? By how long and choppy their hair is, how unique and unwashed thier dress is, how wildly wealthy/unwealthy they really are? MAYBE. The hipster, the modern day, wireless hippy. again, MAYBE– and not as cliche- but as you write as part of a subculture… oh, there we go…by jeeves, it’s a something something alright….

    And P.S Why not be scholarly on something that isn’t yet? Who needs “sources” when you’ve got the internet…wink wink.


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