Heavy metal rituals and the civilising process

Gary Sinclair, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Conference Paper


This research posits that heavy metal music is part of what Elias 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 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 emotion and the experience of mimetic excitement. Following an empirical qualitative study which incorporated semi-structured depth interviews and participant observation it was found that heavy metal fans in Ireland use heavy metal music in a similar fashion. Initial data suggests that the heavy metal fans are drawn to the excitement of the music because of their anger towards the repetitiveness and routinisation of popular music and their own everyday lives and social relationships. The music provides a cathartic release for the fans. The live event is a unique structure where fighting and violence can occur in what is seen as a ‘controlled de-controlling of emotions’. This is subject to external controls such as the pace of the music, security, and internal controls with the unwritten code of behaviour facilitating the survival of the mosh pit. It is argued that the distinctive configuration of the heavy metal ritual does not represent an example of a de-civilising process but is indicative of a more complex progression which Wouters refers to as ‘informalisation’. This research is unique in that no previous study has examined the consumption of heavy metal music from a figurational perspective and it opens up a new framework for examining music subcultures.