Print is Dead: the Promise and Peril of Online Media for Subcultural Resistance

Jeffrey S. Debies-Carl, University of New Haven

This is the author's accepted manuscript. The published version can be accessed at


Researchers have maintained a consistent interest in subcultural resistance: marginalized groups challenging their subordinate positions in society through words or deeds. Resisting groups increasingly use online media for resistance, but we know little about the web’s consequences for subcultural challengers. In this article, I explore the promise and peril of digital media for resistance relative to traditional, printed media, from an ethnographic exploration of punk subculture. Rather than finding support for either supporters or critics of online resistance, I find evidence for an alternative, dialectical perspective in which the Internet simultaneously invigorates and problematizes punk resistance. It provides the oppositional group with many technical advantages for the dissemination of subversive culture but also entails social costs such as making the subculture more accessible to its opponents, undermining some of its more radical aspects, and making it complicit in processes of commodification and exploitation. Previous studies, which tend to focus on how the Internet empowers challenging groups, largely neglect this dark side of the web. These findings contribute to our understanding of resistance in the new millennium, and its feasibility for subcultural goal attainment, by elucidating the transformative relationship between resistance and the media through which groups practice it.