• Safety pin as a metaphor: from hard rebellion to equipment for a modern individualised youth identity

Neill, Julia, 2019, Thesis, Safety pin as a metaphor: from hard rebellion to equipment for a modern individualised youth identity MPhil thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

Throughout the post-war period in the UK, young people have formed or
joined groups that reflect their views, values, ideologies and interests. These
groups grew from physical meetings in clubs and on the streets to become a
visible part of their members’ identities, influencing the clothes they wore and
how they presented themselves to the rest of society. Over time, the collective
identity of each movement became instantly recognisable and particular
items became symbolic of the ideology of the people that wore them to such
an extent that a safety pin worn on an item of clothing today is instantly associated
with a punk aesthetic, attitude and ideology.
As a symbol that become synonymous with a subcultural group identity, the
safety pin and its association with the punk subculture is regularly referenced
throughout this paper. It is used as an example of a subculture with strong
aesthetic and compared with the views and behaviours of the current youth
generation. The safety pin itself is also examined from a purely semiotic perspective
to understand the characteristics that make an object ideally suited
to carry a deeper meaning, and what the equivalent of the safety pin could
be for the current youth generation.
The explosion of social media and its widespread use by today’s youth generation
means groups, tribes and movements can form outside of physical
spaces and exist and grow entirely digitally. Additionally, the ability for individuals
to exercise a higher degree of control over their online identities
means they can project different versions of themselves online to how they
present themselves physically. This brings into question whether today’s
young people will form or align with subcultural movements in the same way,
and if they will carry the same type of aesthetic identifiers or symbols that
made previous movements instantly recognisable.
Young people today are growing up surrounded by very different societal
conditions, a need to define and curate multiple identities both offline and
online and the apparent absence of a dominant ideologically driven subculture.
This raises a question that I kept returning to throughout my research
and practice: What, if anything, will be this generation’s safety pin?
Fashion and jewellery have long been identifiers of groups and a method of
connection for subcultures in society from early tribes and religious groups,
to the aesthetically driven cultural movements that have defined the post-war
era, such as mods, rockers, rude boys, punks, skinheads and ravers. As
John Clarke observed, “together, object and meaning constitute a sign, and,
within any one culture, such signs are assembled, repeatedly, into characteristic
forms of discourse.” (Clarke, 1976 p.104).
This research seeks to explore subcultural youth movements in the social
media age, the form they take and how they are identified through objects
and symbols. It will also look more deeply at social media’s impact on the
development of individual identity both online and offline and the relationship
between the two worlds.
Through primary research conducted in focus groups of 12-14 year old girls,
I will explore whether today’s young people feel a strong association with a
group or tribe and how that impacts how they present themselves, both
physically (in the clothes and items they wear) and digitally (through their
posts on social media). I will also explore attitudes towards symbolism and
iconography to understand whether the tribes and subcultural groups that
exist among today’s youth generation will be as visually identifiable through
objects as the iconic groups and tribes of the post-war period.
The findings will be contextualised by secondary research from leading
commentators on subculture and symbolism including Dick Hebdige, Alan
Warde, Kevin Hetherington, J. Patrick Williams and J.A. MacArthur, and presented
in three distinct areas: the historic use of iconography and symbols in
tribalism and the tribes that young people identify and relate to today; people’s
primal need to be a part of a collective and how social media is causing
a shift from physical to digital; and the overarching impact of social media on
defining an individual or group identity.
Theoretical and workshop research is brought to life by practice, creating a
series of pins that act as equipment for a modern identity.
The word equipment has been carefully chosen here and as the title for the
research to elevate the practice beyond the design and creation of an ac-
cessory or piece of decorative jewellery. The practice aims to create a symbol
or set of symbols that can remain relevant to the complex identities of the
current youth generation and respond to the particular needs and social
pressures of young people growing up in a hyperconnected on- and off-line
world. The word ‘equipment’ suggests that the practice has a use beyond
their aesthetic, as will be made clear throughout the research. The current
youth generation
The pins were created through an iterative design process informed by theory
and feedback from participants in the workshops, and is the visual representation
of knowledge gained throughout the research. The practice led
outcome of this research was presented at the Royal College of Art’s inaugural
research exhibition in 2018 as an installation of metalwork and photography.
Each pin symbolises a characteristic that makes up a part of an individual’s
modern identity. They can be worn as individual pieces or combined with
others to show a more complete picture of the individual wearer’s identity.

Qualification Name: MPhil
Subjects: Other > Social studies > L300 Sociology
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W230 Clothing/Fashion Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2019 14:31
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2020 16:06
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3944
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