Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Sociology, Performing arts studies, Musicology

Publication Details

Thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Technological University Dublin, 2013.


Despite the longevity, cultural relevance and global popularity of heavy metal, it has been noticeably absent from both the Birmingham School‟s subcultural studies, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) and in consumer community contexts informed by post-subcultural perspectives (e.g., neo-tribes). This study examines the Irish heavy metal scene. The literature review considers the problematic aspects of applying both frameworks (subcultural and post-subcultural) to heavy metal and other similar contexts. I argue that Norbert Elias‟s figurational sociology (relatively underutilised in previous consumer research), can be used to bypass the agency–structure dualism that impedes both approaches. It is also advanced that such a perspective can become incorporated into the wider consumer culture theory (CCT) framework. Data was collected through a combination of interviews, participant observation of live events, and observation of Irish fan forums. The positioning of the researcher as an „outsiderparticipant‟ represents a departure from previous „metal‟ studies and increasingly common „insider‟ accounts of youth cultures. Additionally, the adoption of the Eliasian position concerning the balance between involvement and detachment addresses some of the challenges that come with researching (sub)cultures that are as controversial and divisive (in an aesthetical sense) as heavy metal. The seemingly chaotic and „uncivilised‟ associations with heavy metal subculture represent an interesting context in which to explore Eliasian concepts concerning civilising processes and the increasing social constraint towards selfrestraint or self-steering. I draw from empirical data collected in the field and previous figurational histories concerning Irish civilising processes (Dolan, 2005), sportisation (Elias and Dunning, 2008a) and technisation trends (Elias, 2008a). In doing so, I explain how heavy metal is a figuration based on control. The different fan spaces are co-constructed through a combination of subcultural and marketplace controls. Such spaces are used to facilitate a sense of comradeship and generate cathartic experiences, as the fans engage in a „controlled de-controlling‟ of emotions (Elias, 2008b). The significance of the heavy metal experience is dependent on the visibility and quality of marketplace influence and the successful enforcement of the subcultural fan code. The dynamics of the complex figuration of heavy metal, the unique modes of behaviour, and the communication and interpretation of different symbols within the scene are analysed with regard to how status and subcultural capital is displayed. Fundamentally, I argue that the ability of the fans to adapt their behaviour to the fluid heavy metal scene and its evolving subcultural code is dependent on their ability to selfsteer. The analysis contemplates the breakdown of the subcultural code, the lack of restraint demonstrated in the online spaces, and the retreat of what have become unacceptable modes of behaviour to „behind the scenes‟ and the virtual social scene.