It’s hip to be scene: authenticity, esoteric knowledge and subcultural style in Saint John and Portland

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University of New Brunswick


I examine how punks, hipsters and the hipperati evaluate their scene and city through the language and rituals of authenticity and esoteric knowledge. This esoteric knowledge can be used to develop subcultures and the surrounding urban environment. It can also undermine it. I examined this using ethnographic research via participant observation. I spent eight evenings in music venues belonging to these subcultures in order to extrapolate the sorts of discourse surrounding authenticity that is exchanged during the trading of esoteric knowledge. I selected Saint John, New Brunswick and Portland, Maine as two east coast cities with similar music scenes and subcultures. What I discovered was that the demonstrations of esoteric knowledge in the two cities that I observed were similar to occurrences in other scenes in different cities. The conversational exchanges of authenticity within subcultures includes one-upmanship, reverse snobbery and carefully selected exposures of insider knowledge.