Lifestyle Projects as Alternatives to Social Aging

By: Leah Bush  

Subcultural participation has generally been studied as a space created by and for youth, despite some subcultures retaining members into older age. Literature on subcultures has primarily been performed by sociologists concerned with the functions of youth subcultures in relation to stylistic and social deviance. But how do “old” punks and “aging” Goths maintain their subcultural identities as they move throughout the lifespan? What spaces might they transform through their presence? This paper explores alternatives to Pierre Bourdieu’s “social aging” through a long term ethnographic study of the punk and goth subcultures in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Bourdieu defines “social aging” as a slow renunciation of self-worth which leads older workers to make do with what they have in life even if it means deceiving themselves. Yet must aging always come at a societal cost? I introduce the term “gothic temporalities” to explore how older members of the Goth subculture combat ageism by creating alternative individualized lifestyle projects based around subcultural tastes and values. Rather than “making do” with what life hands them, these Goths celebrate their present and welcome their future, transforming nightclubs into communal spaces for aging outside of mainstream culture. The purpose of this project is to push back against the societal and economic stigma of aging by understanding how identity is expressed across the life course. Ultimately, this study emphasizes the power of human agency by encouraging us to remain true to ourselves throughout the lifespan.

Lifespan, Subculture, Lifestyle, Cultural Perspectives
Social and Cultural Perspectives on Aging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Leah Bush

Doctoral Candidate, Department of American Studies, University of Maryland

Leah is a doctoral student in the American Studies program at the University of Maryland and a practicing qualitative researcher. Her dissertation research centers around an interdisciplinary examination of relationships between popular music, identity formation, queer theorizing, and age within style based subcultures. She is the recipient of the 2018-2019 Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award from the University of Maryland Graduate School for her work on the mixed-methods Food Access and Student Well-Being Study. Leah also holds and M.A. in American Studies with a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies and Material Culture, where she undertook a practicum at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She also holds a B.A. in Sociology from Eastern University. In her spare time, she is a DJ and staff writer for WMUC-FM College Park and a musician in the Baltimore area.