Proposed Study into Harassment of Goths

Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of Department, Sociology

Dr Paul Hodkinson – University of Surrey

A theme that has run consistently throughout The Blogging Goth’s work is referring to academic articles and research into the Goth subculture. Now, Dr Paul Hodkinson, author of a book and several articles on Goth, is developing a new research study into the victimisation of people in distinct subcultures with colleague Jon Garland – an expert on the study of hate crime.

I think our definition is open to some extent but what we’re primarily interested in are situations in which individuals are subjected to verbal or physical abuse in public as a result of their appearance or other indicators of subcultural affiliation.”

The established sociologist, who also has connections to the Goth scene himself, added, “We are starting our research with a relatively small-scale but detailed examination of  Goths, partly as a result of indications from previous studies, media and campaign groups – as well as from our own knowledge and experience – that members of this group are relatively likely to be targeted in one way or another. We hope, though, to expand the research to include other groups at a later point.”

I asked him what had prompted the decision to conduct research into the ‘bullying’ of Goths. This research, I think, is a genuine attempt to try to explore the phenomenon in an open-ended way and with an open mind. It is, as you say, not something that has been the subject of much systematic research before and this is, in some ways, surprising, given the amount of research that quite rightly has been carried out on other forms of targeted victimisation.”

Perhaps this is reflective of the pervasive attitude that Goth is still a ‘phase’ that parents expect children to grow out of? The work that you, and Dr Catherine Spooner, and Dr Dunja Brill have done – not to mention Mick Mercer’s continued writing and the sheer prevalence of older fans at gigs and festivals – points to a persistent youth subculture that is actually populated by older adherents.

GOTH: Identity, Style and Subculture – 2002

“Certainly the increasing prevalence of older participants serves to illustrate the extent of many people’s commitment to the group and to raise questions about the ‘just a youth phase’ idea. At the same time it’s important to remember that some people’s involvement is indeed short-lived and that this does not mean Goth was unimportant to them at the time

“In relation to the bigger question, I emphatically support the continuing research emphasis on targeted victimisation of ethnic and sexual minorities amongst others – it is vital work, not least because of the connection to deeply ingrained social inequalities and longstanding discrimination. Yet it remains the case that targeted victimisation directed at subcultural participants has been neglected, not least by the range of subcultural studies that exist, including to some extent my own.” 

I enquired about how he and Mr Garland will be conducting the research. “We hope to do recorded interviews with a range of people who have some connection with the Goth scene – face to face where possible – in order to explore their experiences, knowledge and perspectives on the subject. So I guess we’re asking for an hour of their time and permission to record and use as part of our findings the things they say to us.” He was keen to stress that for accurate research they wanted to interview people along the entire range of experience, “[and] that includes people who have not experienced a great deal of harassment as well as those who have.”

Dr Hodkinson was clear that he and his colleagues had no prior conclusions they were looking to prove or deny. “We obviously have some hunches and possible ideas from our previous knowledge but our minds are open – this is more exploratory research than hypothesis testing.” Regarding that previous knowledge, I asked if he and Mr Garland would be contributing anything personally to the research.

“One seeks to judge things from as balanced a perspective as possible, but having said that it would of course be impossible for me to totally switch off my own subjective experiences [and] perspectives whilst exploring such questions with interviewees or in trying to making sense of what they say.

“So the answer to your question is yes I do have experiences that I could think of that might be relevant but our aim is to focus on the experiences of those we speak to, as well as putting these into the context of broader literature of course.”Amongst the various groups the researchers have had contact with about the research is the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, a well-established group promoting tolerance of subcultural differences, and referenced frequently by ourselves.
Sylvia Lancaster, whose daughter was killed in an attack motivated by her appearance, responded to our enquiry saying “The Foundation supports any research that provides further information about the Gothic subculture. Any assistance in helping people understand the extent of the victimisation of people who choose to express themselves “differently” is welcome. We hope people will share their experiences with Paul and Jon as they have with us so they can produce an accurate report on this serious issue.”

Following on from our last blog entry about the poor reporting of the Newton tragedy in America, I am in full support of academically-sound, probing research into this vital area of sociology and practical experience.

It is one thing to become inured to the abuse, verbal and physical, from complete strangers. It is another thing entirely to alter the way you live your life, to accommodate the narrow-minded, illegal attitudes and responses of the ignorant. I expect Dr Hodkinson and Mr Garland’s research to make both upsetting and crucial conclusions.

  • To contribute to the research, please contact Dr Hodkinson via e-mail:

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News, reviews and other articles written from the UK Goth subculture
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6 Responses to Proposed Study into Harassment of Goths

  1. Juliette says:

    This is from my 13 year old who has told me stories about kids (her friends and others) who are considered “Goth” or “Emo” at her school:

    “So from what I would say the majority of people my age (teenagers) think “emo” is, is a person who self harms and is depressed all the time and wears a lot of black. Now if I meet someone who is like that I think nothing of it and don’t judge them at all and think of them as normal humans on the other hand the majority of teenagers don’t think that way, they think of them as attention whores freaks, fags, or people who should just end there lives already. It truly is horrible and I hate that label and what it has turned into. And let me tell you being called an emo freak does hurt my friends and I would know from experience. So many people though are so ignorant….they never stop and think “hey will I be hurting someone by saying this?”. I hope things can change and people can start thinking differently. I know for sure when I have kids one day I am going to raise them to except all people unless given a reason not to and give everybody a chance before judging them and deciding weather you like them or not.”


  2. llhager says:

    Back in my school years, during the height of my experience of bullying, goth was a very misunderstood and very targeted victim of bullying (and if you come out of an underground club at 2 in the morning in full gear today, I’d say it very definitely is still a victim group, but drunk pseudo-adult jocks will never change).

    When I was in high school, we were directly in the post-Columbine wake and every kid who wore black was victimized. I was sporting a 90% average in all my classes but was cornered in the hall by my Assistant Principal on the first day of grade 11 (September 1999) because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t skipping class and hadn’t gotten into any trouble. I, with black hair, green lips, and 100% black wardrobe, was able to tell him that I was in the honour roll in every one of my classes and I was just waiting around for a friend to get out of band class before my spare ended, but he followed me in the hall for a year to make sure I wasn’t going to make trouble even after all my teachers assured him I was not just harmless but incredibly involved in the learning process.

    The AP’s bullying was nonexistent next to my peers. My social circle was fairly small and they were mostly just metalheads, so I was still singled out with verbal and physical harassment that the school’s administration did nothing to change. Many of my friends who wore more black than the rest of the metalheads were driven out of school when they tried to complain about the treatment they faced at the hands fellow classmates. The only thing that kept me in was my silence and GPA.

    One of the “geeks” I associated with killed himself after the post-Columbine spike in bullying. He enjoyed black clothes and late ’90s radio-alternative and would play Magic in the halls during his spares. A shooting list went around the school, with our peers theorizing who was most likely to snap and take everyone else out. Rob, the eventual suicide, made number one on the list. I made number three and hadn’t even realized before then that anyone outside of my circle knew my name.

    Damaging comments like what came in the wake of the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook are just going to bring this all back again. I urge everyone to read Columbine by Dave Cullen to see how out of context we can take a tragedy. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not goths, and yet they were reported as such and an entire generation of alternative youth were victimized, many to the point of self-harm and suicide, because of reporters who didn’t bother fact-checking. It’s easier to sensationalize than to care about the harm you may be doing.


  3. Rachel Louise Jones says:

    I suppose I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve never had that much trouble from other people. Or rather, being goth caused more of a stir amongst outsiders and the public when I was younger (I started being goth at 14, and I’m still going strong now at 23). At around 14-17 I’d get people staring and hurling little snippets of verbal abuse, but I was lucky to never be the victim of any physical abuse. But from the age of around 18 onwards, people just didn’t seem to care anymore. I don’t know if it was an increased awareness thing, or if they just got so used to seeing me around town. If I do get any reactions, it’s normally during the warmer months when I make more of an effort with clothes and make-up, and the weather’s nice enough to show off my image more. During these winter months I never bother with make-up and I cover myself up in a black but non-gothic coat that is much warmer than my gothic trenchcoat, so I tend to go completely unnoticed and sort of blend into the background around this time of year.

    I will admit, I’ve always had the confidence to sort of fight back with a sarcastic (or what I like to think of as witty) remark, but this is probably because the abuse I’ve received has been so minimal and mild. I suppose if I’d experienced a torrent of abuse I’d be much more traumatised and too frightened to rock the boat further. It does seem strange, however, because the area I live in is known for being rather rough, underprivileged, and perhaps not too safe at night. So I suppose these kinds of things have no definitive “black and white” areas (pardon the pun). It will be interesting to see what results come from such research.


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