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Profane Culture

Profane Culture

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Profane Culture
    Book Description:

    A classic of British cultural studies,Profane Culturetakes the reader into the worlds of two important 1960s youth cultures-the motor-bike boys and the hippies. The motor-bike boys were working-class motorcyclists who listened to the early rock 'n' roll of the late 1950s. In contrast, the hippies were middle-class drug users with long hair and a love of progressive music. Both groups were involved in an unequal but heroic fight to produce meaning and their own cultural forms in the face of a larger society dominated by the capitalist media and commercialism. They were pioneers of cultural experimentation, the self-construction of identity, and the curating of the self, which, in different ways, have become so widespread today.

    InProfane Culture, Paul Willis develops an important and still very contemporary theory and methodology for understanding the constructions of lived and popular culture. His new preface discusses the ties between the cultural moment explored in the book and today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6514-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XXVIII)
    (pp. 1-12)

    The sheer surprise of a living culture is a slap to reverie. Real, bustling, startling cultures move. They exist. They are something in the world. They suddenly leave behind—empty, exposed, ugly—ideasof poverty, deprivation, existence and culture. Real events can save us much philosophy.

    This book presents two important cultures generated during the 1960s and still widely influential today—the motor-bike boys, sometimes known as rockers, and the hippies, sometimes known as heads or freaks. The form of the book is of two ethnographic accounts of the inner meanings, style and movement of these cultures, but the essential...


      (pp. 15-68)

      I made contact with a motor-bike club in a large English city in 1969, and continued field work and interviews there over a period of nine months. The club is now closed and the members disbanded. During the period of ‘the research’ the club was very successful, and always full, and had an official membership in the hundreds. The boys were in the typical style of the motor-bike boy, or ‘rocker’, or ‘greaser’.¹ Studded leather jackets and greasy denim jeans were the norm. Large motor-cycle boots or large marching boots were worn on the feet. Hair was normally long and...

      (pp. 69-81)

      The motor-bike both reflected and generated many of the central meanings of the bike culture. It must be understood as one of the main elements of its stylistic make-up.

      In a general and unspecific way, it was clear that the motor-bike was one of the main interests of the motor-bike boys. Most of their activities were based on this interest. A large part of conversation was devoted to the motor-cycle: discussing new models or comparing performance or describing in detail how repair jobs were done.

      The club itself acted as an important clearing-house for spares and accessories, sometimes stolen, sometimes...

      (pp. 82-104)

      Pop music was a manifest and ever-present part of the environment of the motor-bike boys: it pervaded their whole culture. In simple quantitative terms, there was a massive interaction with pop music. It is clear, however, that the significance of this relationship went very much further than an arbitrary or random juxtaposition.

      The motor-bike boys had very specific tastes that were not part of the current pop music scene, and were not catered for in the on-going mass-media sources. They liked the music of the early rock ’n’ roll period between 1955 and 1960. By current standards in the commercial...


      (pp. 107-176)

      I made contact with ‘the hippy scene’ of a large industrial city in November 1969. ‘Head’ is a more recent title for the ‘hippy’, more exactly representing the later drug experiences of the culture, and derived from the more specific ‘acid head’. I will use both terms in my account even though ‘head’ is really more appropriate to what I shall be describing. ‘Hippy’ is maintained basically because it is the term by which this cultural phenomenon is still generally known.

      My initial visits comprised of hanging around a public house called the Anchor, which was the main focus of...

      (pp. 177-200)

      Drugs were used massively by the hippies. A survey by the local vicar showed that drug use was very common and another survey by a Church of England worker,Spiritual Undercurrents on the Drug Scene, unquestioningly took the hippies I have been describing as archetypal examples of drug-users. The drug squad said that the hippy culture formed the main infrastructure of contact, supply and consumption of drugs in the city. All the people with whom I taped discussion sessions were known in person to the drug squad.

      Drug use was one of the central topics of conversation on the scene....

      (pp. 201-222)

      In sheer quantitative terms, there was a massive interaction between a certain kind of pop music and the hippy culture. It is hard to conceive of the hippy without linking him to a certain kind of ‘progressive’ pop music. It is a relationship which could be arbitrary or random as duly recorded, in their customary manner, by the city drug squad. It is interesting that Benny (a good friend of Les and Stuart) reportedly penetrates this surface response and urges a fuller awareness of a complex cultural relationship.

      The hippy’s relation to his music was not arbitrary. It was not...

    (pp. 223-238)

    At its best ethnography does something which theory and commentary cannot: it presents human experience without minimizing it, and without making it a passive reflex of social structure and social conditions. It reproduces the profane creativity of living cultures. It breaks the spell of theoretical symmetry: drily proposed contradictions and problems become uncertainty, activity, effort, failure and success. Ethnography shows subjectivity as an active moment in its own form of production—not as a whispered bourgeois apology for a belief in individual sensibility.

    This book has aimed to bring out the material of two cultures and to show how oppressed...

    (pp. 239-246)

    At various stages and after numerous drafts, I tried to contact members of the bike and hippy cultures I had known and taped conversations with during my field work. I have still not been able to get in touch with any of the bikeboys, to show them this book, but I have, however, been in contact with some of the hippies several times. One of them agreed to formulate some responses to the book:

    What you have just read are the deletions from the list. They are the terminations, names and cyphers that have been erased from the list. The...

    (pp. 247-266)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 267-272)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 273-276)