Hipsters In Our Society Cultural Studies Essay

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Nowadays we often come across the terms hipster or hipsterism in different newspapers and magazines as well as watching TV programs. Some people in our society even cannot imagine the meaning of this word. However, the term hipster is a well-known term for any sociologist, especially if he or she is interested in different contemporary subcultures of our society. A great deal of articles concerning the hipsters' lifestyle and culture have already been written. Among them are the articles which were written by the specialists in the field of sociology. For example, Mark Grief's article The Hipster in the Mirror which was published in New York Times on December, 11 in 2010 touches upon some important issues concerning this interesting theme from the experienced sociologist's point of view.

My goal in this paper is not only to develop the theme of this contemporary subculture but also to make head or tale of how it is that the term hipster can simultaneously be so ambiguous and yet so meaningful to certain people in our society. I'll try to analyze Grief's discussion in his article The Hipsters in the Mirror, and I'll give my own thoughts regarding this theme.

To achieve this goal, I have organized my paper into three main sections, one of which has some sub-sections. In the first section, I'll give the main characteristics of hipsters. Moreover, I'll match each of three "hipster sub groups" which were identified by Mark Grief in his article. In the second section of my essay, I'll touch upon the Marxist idea concerning the culture as a form of power, and Durkheim's ideas concerning the reflection of our mental representations in particular social groups, and find out Bourdieu's conception on these issues. In the third section of my paper, I'll discuss Grief's argument that terms like hipster do not make very good sociological concepts and I'll give my own point of view concerning this issue. In conclusion, I'll summarize the main points of my essay and express my opinion. Now I am going to turn to the first section of my paper.


The term hipster is a slang term which stands for a young man or a girl who adhere to non-mainstream fashion and created their own culture. It is not difficult to recognize a hipster in the crowd of people because the representatives of this group are usually dressed according to their certain rules and aesthetic norms. Hipsters usually wear "skinny jeans and big eyeglasses". (Greif)

It is known that this term hipster appeared in 1940th and initially stood for a representative of a special subculture and the admires of jazz music. Nowadays this word has a little bit another meaning. It describes the young well-to-do people who usually live in big cities and who are interested in fashion, culture, modern music, indie rock, popular magazines such as Vice and Clash, arthouse films and modern literature and so on. (Haddow)

Mark Grief's Ideas Concerning Hipsters and the Role of Taste.

Mark Grief, a writer, professor at New School University in New York and editor/co-creator of literary magazine n+1, a person of wide interests, a Harvard graduate, who "got PhD from Yale, studied literature at Oxford" gives some interesting ideas about hipster. (Rawlings Sundin)

Mark Grief insists on the fact that nobody thinks of himself "as a hipster" in our society, nevertheless, most of the present day young people belong to this social group. Not only the clothes they wear give them out to be hipsters. Although this fact is also very important in this issue. Their way of life, their world concept, their special interests unite them together. In his article The Hipster in the Mirror, Mark Grief turns to the work of a famous French sociologist Pierre Bourdie Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste which is considered to be one of the most important sociological books of the 20th century. The author of this book makes investigations and gives the ideas how different social groups define aesthetic concepts such as "taste". (Bourdie) His investigation gives such results that the tastes which are considered to be "personal, unique, justified only by sensibility" depend on the social class including "your profession, your highest degree and your father's profession". (Grief) Moreover, he identifies three main groups - "hipster sub-groups" which have absolutely different tastes, interests and philosophy.

Mark Grief's Division of Hipsters into three Main Groups and Difference between them. In order to explain the above mentioned statement, I should use Mark Grief's words: "Taste is not stable and peaceful but a means of strategy and competition". What does it mean? It means that all the representatives of "hipterism" can be divided into several classes according to their financial standing. Those "superior in wealth" young people who are at the top of this diagram use taste to show that they are "superior in spirit". The other sub-group of hipsters includes the young people of upper-middle class "who move to cities after college" in order to find work "in the creative professions". (Grief) Of course, they are ignored by "the urban hierarchy" but have some skills to make "a superior body of cultural cool". The third sub-group of hipsters is represented by "couch-surfing, old-clothes-wearing" young people who belong to the lower-middle class fraction. Mark Grief calls them "the most authentic" and "the most socially precarious". However, they have no any financial support from their parents. They work as servitorial staff in bars, shops and so on. Their "cool" clothes can easily make them "superiors" among all the hipsters in spite of the fact that they practically have no extra money. The struggle among these three groups is based on superiority. To be the best, to know more about lifestyle and culture, to wear the most "cool" clothes are the main aspects of this struggle. The representatives of each group of hipsters consider themselves to be the best possessors of taste. The main purpose of representing "hipsterism" is to prove that the tastes of this or that social group depend on the economic, social and cultural aspects.


It is known that such researchers as Marx and Durkheim made a great contribution to the development of cultural sociology. According to Marx's ideas concerning culture, the most powerful members of our society are those who belong to the upper class. They set up culture of the society in their own way, according to their rules and concepts. Moreover, he states that the economic status plays an important role in the formation of values and ideologies of society. The other perspective on culture which was used by Bourdieu in his work relates to another famous sociologist Emile Durkheim who has his own opinion on culture. According to his opinion, culture has many relationships to society including logical, functional and historical ones. The first ones state that power depends on some cultural categories and beliefs, e.g. God. The second ones state that certain ceremonies and myths build social order. The historical relationships to society state that the origins of culture lie in society. Let's relate the ideas of Bourdieu described by Mark Grief in his article The Hipsters in the Mirror to these perspectives on culture.

Speaking about Bourdieu's ideas regarding the freedom of our mental representations, I'd say that he appropriates some claims of the famous French sociologist Emile Durkheim who is known also for the establishment of the academic discipline and social science. As a matter of fact, Emile Durkheim asserts that our mental representations are not freely and randomly chosen but really represent our membership in particular social group. It means that the representatives of this or that sub-group of hipsters cannot change themselves due to their mental representations. For example, Bourdieu and his researchers held an opinion poll of 1200 people among which were the representatives of all the social classes. The questions which were included into his public opinion poll touched upon the aspects of French domestic life. Among them was such a question: Which of the given subjects could be the most appropriate to make a good photo? There were three variants given by the researchers to choose: a beautiful sunset, a pretty girl with a cat and a terrible car crash. It is interesting to know that the representatives of such professions as college teachers and artists "began to look conditioned" to the variant of a car crash. Of course, much depends on the social status of a person.(Grief) If we are going to speak about the representatives of the upper class who are well-to-do people and who feel a great power over the other social groups, their culture will really represent a form of power. Everything they do will be considered the best, everything they say will be highly appreciated. They are those who always take center stage. Of course, as a result of it, they ignore other young people and even make fun of them.

Mark Grief touches upon the Bourdieu's discussions based on the Marxist idea that culture can operate as a form of power. He says that "the philistine wealthy", who have money but have no idea of what culture is, "convert real capital into "cultural capital". They create their own subculture "as if it were ready to wear". (Grief) At the same time Bourdieu's approach criticizes the Marxist perspective in a way and Mark Grief states this fact in his article. He says that "the habits of hatred and accusation" are rather typical for hipsters of all the sub-groups. The main reason of this fact is that they "feel the weakness of everyone's position - including their own". (Grief) They feel their own weakness. So, as a result of this emotional state, young people who not long ago had a great power over the other representatives of hipsters and considered themselves to be the best in lifestyle, culture and fashion, feel low and insignificant in the presents of the other hipsters. In this situation we cannot say that culture can operate as a form of power.


It is very important to notice the fact that Grief's argument that terms like hipster do not make very good sociological concepts cannot be used for describing the social world in scientific terms. If we try to analyze the meaning of this word having read a great deal of articles regarding the lifestyle, behavior, fashion and culture of hipsters, we'll be able to give a certain characteristics to the term hipster. May be, it will be something with negative meaning but, nevertheless, it will represent the main true features of this word. So, hipsters are young people, the representatives of a certain social group or class and subculture which do not aim for anything, which do not dream of anything, which do not exclaim against anything or rebel, which do not invent or change anything. The response to the term hipster is striking. People do not hate hipsters. It is an obvious exaggeration. Anyway, people refer to this phenomenon as if it is the main source of culture fall because hipsters can easily change one thing into another. I'd like to represent the results of a survey which will help us to see if this term can be used to describe the social world in scientific terms. People of different professions and social status took part in this survey on the question of hipsters. Among them were students, designers, journalists, workers, businessmen. Here are some examples of their answers.

Question: Does the word hipster have a positive or a negative meaning?

Student: Hipsters represent our modern youth and it's quite normal.

Journalist: If a hipster is a one person in the crowd, it's positive, but if there are hundreds of them gathered in one place, it irritates a lot.

Designer: I think if a person wants to distinguish himself from the crowd, it's a good idea! I cannot say anything negative about hipsters.

Worker: I don't know what are you talking about.

Businessman: It's not interesting for me.

Photographer: I am sure that hipsters make our life bright and merry. Their clothes… their glasses… everything is Okay.

These are only several answers. However, we can easily prove the fact that the public opinion concerning hipsters is positive in most answers.

So, I think that the term hipster can be used to describe the social group in scientific terms. Although there are many articles which prove the contrary. For example, Douglas Haddow's article Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization considers hipsters to be the representatives of narcissism and spiritual shallowness which may lead to the end of civilization. He says that we came to the point in our civilization "where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum". (Haddow) At the same time another article Are Hipsters Really the End of Western Civilization written by Joseph Mohan calls down this opinion. The author of this article is sure that "hipsters are simply kids in a phase they'll eventually grow out of it, just like the Gen-Hers, punks, hippies, beatniks, and flappers before them". (Mohan)


In conclusion, I should say that the issue discussed in my paper is a topical one. It is clear that different people have different opinions concerning hipsters in our society. The proverb says: "So many heads, so many opinions". That is true. Mark Grief used the work of Pierre Bourdieu to discuss this issue. Having analyzed some aspects in his article and some other articles which also touch upon the question of hipsters, I can agree that the term hipster can at the same time be so ambiguous and so meaningful to certain people of our society. Of course, this phenomenon is not dangerous for our civilization. Not all the people of our society can be hipsters. Nevertheless, we can easily use this term to denote a certain social group in our society. I think that it's a very interesting question for any sociologist to carry out researches and have public surveys, to learn new things and study social science. Such people as hipsters help us to explore our society and draw corresponding conclusions.