A Socioesthetics of Punk: Theorizing Personal Narrative, History, and Place

Bishop, Michael Bryan, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Kisliuk, Michelle, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Maus, Fred, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Will, Richard, Department of Music, University of Virginia

A Socioesthetics of Punk: Theorizing Personal Narrative, History, and Place By Michael Bryan Bishop This dissertation is an autobiographical performance ethnography. The project critically enacts and embodies the process of remembering and shaping a music-based identity, employing techniques of performative writing that evoke the memory and experience of punk rock music and culture during the 1980s and 90s from the regional and historical perspective of the small, industrial town of Hopewell, Virginia and its larger neighbor, the city of Richmond. The work offers an autoethnographic account of my experiences playing punk music, from the process of initially learning to play the bass guitar and forming a band, to becoming a member of the shock rock band GWAR and the punk inspired rock band Kepone. Throughout, I employ Michelle Kisliuk's methods of "socioesthetic autobiography," a practice of writing that aims to identify and explore formative life experiences that shape the ethnographer's aesthetic values and sense of self. Kisliuk holds that such values and experiences inform the writer's perception and representation of an ethnographic subject, and exploring them promotes positioned reflexivity and contextualized knowledge (Kisliuk 2002:110; 1998:12). Her method of ethnography calls for researchers to account for physical space, place, time, conversation and the embodied, sensorial experience of the field. The writing itself becomes an aesthetic act, a performance evoking the experience of the ethnographic moment. iv These techniques inform a personal narrative of finding, being, and playing punk that is bound up with family history, religion, the physical body, and an emergent sense of self, shaped by and experienced in the particular regional context of Central Virginia from the 1980s through 2011. Included is an account of performing with the band GWAR over a seven year span from 1987 to 1994, detailing the group's artistic and musical practices, and multi-sensory modes of performance. This analysis leads to an account of rehearsing with the band for a reunion show in 2010 that draws out the tensions of coming back to the music as a middle aged adult, and considers the shifts brought on by social media that have reconstituted the punk scene of Richmond, Virginia from the 1980s and 90s.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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