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  • 00:12

    Hello.I'm Bruce Friesen.I'm Associate Professor of Sociologyat the University of Tampa.I'm going to be talking in this casestudy about the heavy metal subculture and a studythat I conducted in the mid 1980s.At that period of time, there wasa lot of controversy in the public media about heavy metal

  • 00:34

    music and its effects on young people.In fact, The Economist at one pointdescribed heavy metal as "a raw, loud, and violent typeof music" and intimated that listening to the musicmight actually cause people to engagein acts of violence or delinquencythat they wouldn't otherwise.

  • 00:54

    This controversy attracted me to the topic,and I began a research project in which I developeda very general and broad research question-- whatabout heavy metal and deviance?Not making the assumption that there necessarilywas a connection, I wanted to explore those two themes.

  • 01:23

    The method I adopted for studying the heavy metalsubculture is something called participant observation.And it's an inductive method where researcherswill enter a field with as open a mind as possible,and simply begin to observe over a period of time.

  • 01:45

    Participant observation in a scene or a subculturecan take weeks, sometimes months of repeated study.All told, I put in about a year's worthof observations, two or three times a week,in the heavy metal subculture.Part of doing participant observation

  • 02:05

    is not just observing, because we understand as researchersthat if you really want to get a taste of what's going onin the culture, you shouldn't just be an observer, but alsoparticipate to some extent, yet at the same time maintaininga certain amount of academic aloofness or objectivity

  • 02:26

    so that you can analyze what you're seeingand what you're experiencing.I played as a drummer for a few months in a pop metal bandas part of this experience to actually find outwhat it's like to produce part of the music,to become familiar with its aesthetics.There's many challenges in doing participant observation.

  • 02:49

    Probably one of the most important,initially, is gaining access.There are some parts of subcultures,particularly if they're deviant or criminal subcultures,where not just anyone can walk in and beginto make observations.One of the nice things that happened to me earlyon in the study was I befriended a hardcore

  • 03:11

    in the scene who became what we call a sponsor-- someone whowould invite me to certain events thatwere exclusive and private and allowme access to people, to the scene, and to the music.I couldn't have made the observations I didwithout the use of my sponsor.Another important part of participant observation

  • 03:33

    is defining who your population is.Who is the part of the group that I want to study,and how do I distinguish them from people outsideof that group?I eventually came upon two criteria.One, the people I observed had to choose heavy metal musicas their favorite kind of music to listen to,

  • 03:54

    and secondly, they had to identify themselves alongwith the subculture.At that time, it was called being a head banger.So those two criteria constitutedwho my population was.Now, notekeeping is incredibly important in participantobservation, because the notes that you make become your data

  • 04:14

    set that you're going to look over through the weeksand look for patterns.You need to make notes as quickly as you can,either while you're in the scene making observationsor immediately after you remove yourself.There were many nights when, at 2:00 or 3:00in the morning after a heavy metal barclosed that I had been visiting, where

  • 04:36

    I'd sit in the car in cold weather and typeout all of my field notes on a relatively large laptopcomputer.But that is important to record as quickly as you canso that you don't forget things.Maintaining a role is also important in the subculture.

  • 04:57

    You need to think about how you are presenting yourselfin the subculture and be authentic and notstray from that role.I never concealed that I was doing researchon heavy metal music, but neither did I hide itif somebody were to ask.And I was actually quite pleased--that's how I befriended the sponsor-- was when I told them

  • 05:19

    I was doing research on heavy metal,they were actually really proud that somebodywould take seriously what they were doing in their leisureand pastime, so I gained access.Sometimes a role can get you into trouble as well.I remember being in a bar one night whenmy brother-in-law, a uniformed police officer,

  • 05:40

    came in with his partner to case the joint.And if I had revealed-- if I had spoken to my brother-in-law,people would have readily recognized meand assumed that I was a narcotics officer undercover.So I spent the next 30 to 40 minutes ducking under tables,in the restroom, everything I could

  • 06:01

    to avoid making eye contact with my brother-in-law.It gets you into certain kinds of unique situationswhile you're doing the research.The findings that I had after a year's worth of participantobservation was that despite the incredibly deviant aura

  • 06:24

    of the subculture and its music, mostof the activities that people took part in the subcultureweren't all that unusual from any other musical subculture.People consumed music.They listened to it.They made music.Music brought them together.Leisure-based subcultures always have a component

  • 06:45

    of people who will consume illicit drugs,and the heavy metal subculture was no different.There was a proportion of people who did the same there.But in looking at other research on subcultures,it doesn't look like the proportion of peoplewere much larger or smaller than other similar musical

  • 07:06

    subcultures.While I was there, I began observingthat gender roles were actually quitesimilar to mainstream society.The symbols that people used to express their masculinityor femininity tended to change.For example, I remember a dog collara young man was wearing with eight-inch spikes

  • 07:28

    sticking out of it.But the values that were being expressed behind these displayswere actually quite traditional in nature.Men within the subculture wanted to be seen as independent,so growing long hair was seen as an example of that-- virile,robust, and strong.

  • 07:53

    Women, on the other hand, were seento be more passive, in supportive roles.Their presence in the subculture was always questioned,because clearly, only men could be there authenticallyto be attracted to the music, so womenmust be there to see if they can get with members of the band.

  • 08:13

    That subordinate status is not unlike what many women stillstruggle with in mainstream society.So having to put that together, Iasked myself why there might be this split between a verydeviant public image and yet fairly traditional activitiesand roles within the subculture.

  • 08:34

    And the way I put it together was to use theoriesfrom the functions of deviance.In other words, young people-- relativelypowerless in society-- acquire a deviant imagethat makes some people afraid of them,so they accrue a certain amount of powerthrough their stigma, a deviant aura.

  • 08:56

    And in return, society gets a very clear, identifiable groupthat they can mark as outsiders.And as a result, they increase their senseof social solidarity and even moral superiority,which ends up uniting society even more cogently in terms

  • 09:17

    of their own values.In conclusion, I've talked a little bitabout what's involved in doing inductive researchthrough participant observation, especiallythrough the heavy metal subculture.I shared some of the conclusions that Ifound, some of the findings of traditional gender roles,

  • 09:40

    traditional activities in a leisure-based subculture.And finally, I tied that togetherby showing how, in some ways, there is a reciprocal-- albeitexploitative-- relationship between societyand a deviant subculture, such as heavy metal, where societygets a group to stigmatize, but they, too,

  • 10:02

    will gain something in the way of a negative stigmaand the fear that's engendered.If you'd like to learn more, I encourageyou to look up the article that I publishedon that research, "Powerless in Adolescence: Exploiting HeavyMetal Listeners" in Clint Sanders' Pop Culture,Mass Media, and Social Deviance.

  • 10:23

    Here are some reflective questions for you to consider.How sound do you think participant observationis as a method?Would you use participant observationif you were doing this study, or would youchoose an alternative method?Do the findings, as I have described them to you,make sense to you?

  • 10:44

    Does the explanation that I providedfit with your knowledge about the heavy metal subculture,or would you come at it a different way?

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications, Ltd.

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Case Study

Methods: Participant observation, Fieldwork

Keywords: drug use; gender roles; heavy metal (music); leisure; leisure activities; music; musicians; notetaking; power (sociology); Stigmatization; Subcultures; youth ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professor Bruce K. Friesen discusses participant observation research. He uses his own research project on 1980s heavy metal subculture as a demonstration.

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Researching the Heavy Metal Subculture Through Participant Observation

Professor Bruce K. Friesen discusses participant observation research. He uses his own research project on 1980s heavy metal subculture as a demonstration.

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