This week in a local Massachusetts newspaper a columnist made a list of demands to the influx of hipsters into his neighborhood. In the article the author attempts to reconcile with how his city is gentrifying and seems to be making something of a plea to the newcomers’ humanity. The article sparked my interest and had me asking, what is a hipster?
The author himself admits that the term hipster is a generalization. To clarify his definition he writes, “If you would like a more precise definition, then I am addressing you if you identify with rebellious subculture(s), but you enjoy privileges associated with the dominant class; if your rebellion is more about recondite consumption choices than humane institutional changes.”
The author goes on to convey the aspects of community that he finds important, like participation in local clubs and politics, and asks that these newcomers join in. The author seems to define hipsters as a cultural subculture and an economic class with distinct consumption choices.
A remarkable aspect about the article is that it received 57 comments/feedback from readers, which is an impressive number for this paper. The responses range from annoyed at the “pompous” tone of the article to praise for saying what is on the mind of the neighbors to confusion about who hipsters really are. There are also a number of responses that bypass the issue of who is changing the city, to the ideology that change and development are the reality of life.
When analyzing any cultural group I think it’s important to have a foundation. For me Weber is a solid foundation. He was adamant that people are not abstract chess pieces but rather real beings with real actions that create change. However Weber also noted that it was the triad of economics, politics, and culture that tie people together and create order amongst them (Collins and Makowsky).
So how does this help to understand what a hipster is?
Weber helps us to understand hipsters because while the instinct is to see cultural differences, the economic and political context of a hipster is extremely important. As the comments section illustrates, people are not convinced or comfortable with a simple definition of hipster. This is because hipsters are a recognition that something larger is happening – change is happening; neighborhoods and cities are looking different and are being inhabited by different people. The need to understand what is happening seems to drive much of the hipster debate. The logic seems to be – if we can figure out who is changing the neighborhood then we can stop them or make pleas to their humanity to join our way of doing things.
While Weber agrees that it is real people in real places making the world move – they do not make change in a vacuum. People make change in and with the help of social institutions: economic, political, and cultural. So what is a hipster? Seems to me a hipster is the newest cultural spotlight that takes our attention away from the politics and economics of change and instead turns debates into a witch-hunt – looking for who is to blame.