Re-Enchanting Modernity in the Imaginative Geek Counterculture: Musical Life and Performance in Neo-Pagan, Society for Creative Anacronysm, and Science Fiction Podcasting Communities

Cook, Julia Cary, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Kisliuk, Michelle, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Rubin, Joel, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Wiebe, Heather
Bodroghkozy, Aniko, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of musical life and performance in what I term the “imaginative geek counterculture,” a network of interconnected subcultures built around play and fantasy. I examine three of the most defining of these subcultures: Neo- Paganism, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and science fiction and fantasy fandom and production. Each of these subcultures might be viewed as part of an emerging geek culture, an identity built around gaming, computers, and science fiction fandom. At the same time, these subcultures are strongly connected to the American counterculture of the 1960s. This dissertation explores the intersection between geekdom and counterculture, drawing on interviews and participant-observation research conducted over several years and examining performance at a number of levels.

Throughout the dissertation, I highlight in particular four concepts. First is creativity: participants in each subculture engage in some way in a type of creative make- believe. This emphasis on the creative (rather than productive) mind is very deliberate, an alternative to the focus on results that is so prominent in mainstream culture. The second is technology: members of the imaginative geek counterculture reclaim technology for themselves. A key part of this is the DIY (do-it-yourself) aesthetic, which originated in the punk scene of the 1970s and has continued to grow in popularity with the rise of the Internet. Third is community: although my dissertation is about a large-scale counterculture, the individual chapters are about local communities. This concept is very important for participants and I examine in my chapters the efforts that participants make to sustain and grow these local communities. And finally, wonder: the imaginative geek counterculture instills in its participants a sense of wonder and passion. This manifests itself as a belief in gods and spirits, an awareness and respect for the changing of seasons, a curiosity about technology and craftsmanship, a love of learning and accumulating knowledge, and a passion for telling and listening to stories. Through emphasizing these four concepts, the imaginative geek counterculture re-infuses modernity with everything that participants perceive to be missing, borrowing it from imagined worlds of the past, present, and future.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
counterculture, geek, modernity, neo-pagan, creative anachronism, science fiction
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