Is it me? For a moment: An inquiry into themes of identity in youth subcultures in post-war Britain

Plan Author

  • Sarah Scott, 2016

Fields of Concentration

  • History

Sample Courses

Project Description

Identity and alienation in The Who’s Quadrophenia and Arthur by the Kinks.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Adam Franklin-Lyons
  • Felicity Ratte
  • Matan Rubinstein

Outside Evaluator

  • Jennifer Hall-Witt, Smith College
  • Name 2


This Plan is an inquiry into themes of identity in the post-war period in Britain, as expressed through youth subcultures and their music. It includes a paper on the subculture known as the “Mods,” as reflected in The Who’s sixth album, Quadrophenia, and a paper comparing cultural and racial relations between the Northern Soul and Skinhead subcultures. It also includes an art installation titled “in media res” as well as a manual documenting material culture resulting from an internship with the Monadnock Center for History and Culture.


From the trauma of war, to the stress of austerity, and into the anxiety of the height of the cold war developed a number of different subcultures in Britain. Subculture developed as a method of expressing oneself in a society where one’s position was predetermined towards a cultural structure that did not fit one’s own. The experience of the war and the period of austerity that immediately followed it, compounded with Britain’s loss of empire, created a generational divide. Those coming of age in the early 1960s had no recollection of the acute traumas of life during wartime being too young to remember or born shortly after it, and were also amongst the first to not be required to join the army as National Service had ended in 1957. Conscription had been in place for both the First and Second World Wars, meaning that virtually all men alive at the time had some military experience, and everyone just a few years older had wartime experience that would have affected them deeply.

Where the Mods before them had sought to transcend their low class origins, the Skinheads were aggressively working class. Adopting almost a caricature of the worker image in their wide, straight-legged trousers folded up to reveal tall steel-toed boots, suspenders and polo shirts, the Skinhead aesthetic was at once thoroughly British yet entirely Jamaican. With the arrival of large numbers of Jamaican immigrants, they also found inspiration from the Rudeboy subculture that permeated the musical style’s Jamaican home. Their shaved haircuts were a proclamation of a working class utilitarianism, in direct opposition to the long haired (and middle class) hippies that were popular at the time. The Skinheads borrowed their clean-lined style and pork-pie hats from the Rudeboy culture, which, originating in the poorer section of Kingston in the early half of the ‘60s, was a gangster youth culture build around deviancy and violence, an element that would have appealed to the Skinheads, who built themselves around similar cultural practices.


The most interesting part for me was the process itself of writing an creating my Plan. I learned more about myself in such a concentrated amount of time than I think I ever have. The agony of the week before mailing and the ecstasy of finishing my Plan were both memorable.

Plan was the preliminary test for me to see whether I could complete such a big undertaking, to see whether I could make it through. Plan also helped me realize what to focus on for grad school and for the future.