Russia’s Skinheads: exploring and rethinking subcultural lives
Russia’s Skinheads: exploring and rethinking subcultural lives provides a through examination of the phenomenon of skinheads, explaining its nature and its significance, and assessing how far Russian skinhead subculture is at the “lumpen” end of the extreme nationalist ideological spectrum. There are large numbers of skinheads in Russia, responsible for a significant number of xenophobic attacks, including 97 deaths in 2008 alone, making this book relevant to Russian specialists as well as to sociologists of youth subculture. It provides a practical example of how to investigate youth subculture in depth over an extended period – in this case through empirical research following a specific group over six years – and goes on to argue that Russian skinhead subculture is not a direct import from the West, and that youth cultural practices should not be reduced to expressions of consumer choice. It presents an understanding of the Russian skinheads as a product of individuals` whole, and evolving, lives, and thereby compels sociologists to rethink how they conceive the nature of subcultures.
The diverse and contested nature of the contemporary skinhead scene makes it impossible to identify a single common body regime, or set of gender norms, characteristic of the skinhead (sub)culture. This chapter explores one example of how these fraternal bonds and spaces are constituted. It pays particular attention to practices of the body (individual and collective) within the group and how these practices were enacted to confirm its skinhead identity while shaping a particular regime of closeness and intimacy. It considers, firstly, the group as a particular form of fraternity based on homosocial bonds of friendship, closeness and (dis)trust. Secondly, the aesthetics and the ethics of intimacy within the group are discussed. In particular practices of displaying the – naked and bare – body of the skinhead are considered as well as tests of, and conflicts over, the meaning of the intimacies that these practices forge. Finally, the chapter explores these practices in the context of the wider and competing masculinities through which they are enacted.
The ethnographic tradition in which this research was conducted requires the nurturing of close and trusting relations between researchers and respondents. Building and maintaining this level of closeness, it transpired, also demanded significant emotional labour from all those involved since it meant overcoming the mistrust and inequality that haunt the research process. We addressed this by modelling our relations with respondents on the everyday practices of the group itself. We also tried to move beyond a purely formal commitment to ‘equality’ in our relations by recognising the equal right of the respondents to question and ‘research’ us. Adopting such an approach, however, had an unanticipated consequence; our interlocutors persistently expected ‘something extra’ from us and, through tests and provocations but also demonstrations of affection, turned the research process on its head, making themselves the agents and us the dependents in the research relationship