Skinheads - A subculture then and today

Pre-University Paper, 2007

17 Pages, Grade: 1-



1. Introduction

2. The story of skinheads
2.1 Mod origin
2.2 Spirit of '69

3. Violence as a central aspect of the skinhead culture

4. Skinheads were down the tubes

5. The second generation of skins: Oi!

6. The development of the skinhead culture – Part I

7. If the kids are divided then they'll never be united
7. 1 Southall and it is extensive effects
7.2 Politicization and disruption of a once agreed cult
7.2.1 Pride without prejudice
7.2.2 Redskins
7.2.3 Anti-political skinheads

8. The development of the skinhead culture – Part II

9. Conclusion


Erklärung über die selbstständige Anfertigung

1. Introduction

Today the word skinhead is used as a synonym for neo-Nazi. If the media report about them, skins are mostly named in conjunction with violence, hate and fascism. They are beer-drinking and unemployed rowdies, who burn down hostels for asylum seekers, bash immigrants and idolise Adolf Hitler – this is the common stereotype people have. Thus I want to show another side of skinheads by telling their story and follow the question of how the subculture has developed. I will deal with the origins of the scene, with their music, their style and their political categories: Skinheads – A subculture then and today.

2. The story of skinheads

2.1 Mod origin

To reconstruct the whole history of skinheads you have to go back to Britain in the late 1950s. In this time the mod – short hand for modernism – subculture, which later influenced the skinheads applicable, originated in London. The early mods were generally teenage boys of the middle class, who defined themselves by their fable for expensive clothes (custom-made suits and designer fashion) and the music, they were listening to – for the most part modern jazz and American rhythm and blues. For transportation and especially to get to different discos and clubs mods often used a Lambretta or Vespa. These scooters were status symbols, too, and were modified in every imaginable way. Furthermore these two-wheeled vehicles were cheaper than cars and simply necessary, because at this time the public transit stopped quite early. To protect their expensive clothes while driving scooter mods normally wore parkas. Afterwards the parka became a distinguishing characteristic to the mod culture. Another characteristic of this culture was the excessive drug usage. Next to alcohol especially amphetamines and hashish were consumed by many mods.

By and by, the subculture was adopted by English teenagers of all classes, also by the members of the working class, who tried to hide their family background with the lifestyle of a mod, precisely because the working class did not have a good reputation in this time compared to the upper and middle class. Along with the spread of the subculture the mods expanded their musical repertoire and were now also listening to American soul, Jamaican ska and British beat music, represented by bands such as The Who, Small Faces and The Kinks.

The triumphal procession of the subculture stagnated in 1964, as the media described the conflicts between mods and their rivals – the rockers – being like a civil war. Finally the violence escalated and dominated the weekends in a life of a mod and rocker. In addition the media coverage “led to a moral panic about modern youth in Britain.”[1] Tensions between mods and rockers have already existed before 1964 – the differences between the two conflicting subcultures were oversized. Appearance, location, work and music had nothing in common and often led to conflicts between both groups.

Nevertheless, in 1964 the violence reached its peak, when thousands of mods had a large number of “battles” against a similar number of rockers. The fights lasted two days and moved along the coast to Hastings and back. According to the historical event in 1066, when the Normans invaded the Kingdom of England, the riots were called “Second Battle of Hastings”[2]. After this the mod culture slowly began to dissolve. Many former mods of the upper and middle class meanwhile visited universities and followed the students and hippies. Other began to lead a “normal” life or were just not longer interested in being a mod.

In the course of to the mod revival in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the conflict between mods and rockers was also thematized in Franc Roddam's “Quadrophenia” (1979), a British film based on The Who 's concept album of the same title, which was released in 1973. The film, although it was criticised for its “large amounts of sex, violence, profanity and drug use”[3], as well as the album quickly reached cult-status and still maintains it today.

2.2 Spirit of '69

However, in the late 1960s there were still some of the so called hard mods or gang mods left, who never had enough money to buy themselves the expensive clothes a middle class mod wore and liked cheap beer better than cocktails and amphetamines. Indeed these teenagers adapted affordable parts of the mod fashion, such as Fred Perry, Ben Sherman and Levi's, but mixed it with boots and braces – typical working class accessories, they wore on weekdays anyway. These hard mods have not tried to hide their origin by wearing custom-made suits and celebrating in pricey clubs, on the contrary, in the meantime they were proud to be members of the working class.

The only thing they were missing, was the music. Their old idols such as The Who and Small Faces began to be internationally successful and became cult bands of the hippies – not that kind of people gang mods could identify with. But there were immigrants from Jamaica (until 1962 a British colony) in the neighbourhood, the rude boys, who ignored any music trend and danced to reggea and ska. The hard mods loved it. Besides they liked the style and image the rude boys had. These had short cropped hair, rolled up Levi's jeans and – as its name implies – the image to be rude. The synthesis of hard mods and rude boys, the skinhead, was born and soon became the dominating subculture among the working class teenagers: “Skinhead-Sein, das war in diesen Tagen eine Frage des Klassenstandpunktes und nicht der Hautfarbe.”[4]

3. Violence as a central aspect of the skinhead culture

In 1968 there were skinhead gangs in every street; Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham and London[5] – all these cities with their large number of workers had its gangs, which defined themselves besides their appearance and love for reggea and ska especially by the fact that they acted violently. Alongside the fact that the different skinhead gangs fought each other, the violence was mainly lived out at football matches, where several skinhead gangs forgot their local conflicts and collaborated to act together against their enemies – other skinhead gangs and violent fans of the adversary football team. In the so called “third halftime” the antagonists met and bet each other; “Spaß an der Gewalt, an der Jagdfreude und an der Angstüberwindung”[6] was the motivation. Thereby weapons were no rarity and so bottles, cobblestones, batons and knives were used to hurt the enemy. Last but not least the appearance of a skinhead was practical for those situations: the short cropped hair gave the adversary less contact surface and the boots – equipped with a steel toe cap – were useable weapons, too. Thus the shoelaces were soon collected before you could trod a stadium. Because this has got around very quickly, the skinheads took a second pair of shoelaces with them or used some kind of wire as an alternate. The police then took harder measures and forced the boot-wearers to strip their footwear until the adversary football fans have left the stadium – an action, which appealed to the skinhead honour.

Nevertheless, with these activities the violence before, during and after a football match may have partly been stopped, but the everyday sway continued. Especially the so called “paki-bashing” caused a stir; Pakistani immigrants were attacked and smashed up by a superior number of skinheads. The problem was so big that in 1969 the Pakistani government officially complained about this abuse. Furthermore 25 percent of the Pakistani student associations said that they were attacked in London.[7] Klaus Farin and Eberhard Seidel resoned the “paki-bashing” in their book “Skinheads” with the following idea: next to the “überzogenen Männlichkeitskul]t” mainly the “neuartige, rassistische Grundstimmung in der britischen Gesellschaft”[8], which was afraid of a foreign infiltration was responsible for the assaults. In addition the Pakistanis were not organised in gangs at that time and so they were an easy prey; but you will see that about ten years later this was not the case any longer.


[1] (March 19, 2007)

[2] (March 19, 2007)

[3] (March 21, 2007)

[4] Farin, Klaus/Seidel, Eberhard: Skinheads; Verlag C.H. Beck; München 1993; S. 34 5 ebd.; S. 26

[6] Meiners, Ole: Jugendkult Skinheads - böse Buben zwischen Arbeiterklasse und Neofaschisten?; Magisterarbeit; Hamburg/Berlin 2001; veröffentlicht unter http://www.du-sollst-skinheads-nicht-mit-; S. 18

[7] Farin, Klaus/Seidel, Eberhard: Skinheads; S. 39

[8] ebd., S. 39

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Skinheads - A subculture then and today
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Winston Smith (Author), 2007, Skinheads - A subculture then and today, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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